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I suppose it’s natural for all mothers to worry how their children will cope at university – mine was no exception. Even though I’d always been a very independent child, Mum somehow doubted my ability to survive in one of the most civilised cities in England. She was convinced I’d starve, freeze or otherwise blunder my way into catastrophe within a week of arriving in Cambridge.
So, at the end of June, she’d worked out a three-month plan to ‘domesticate’ me – teaching me how to cook, wash, clean and iron (not that I was lacking in any of those skills) and trying to keep me away from any farm duties. We’d struck a compromise deal, whereby I’d cook the evening meal for the family on the days when I was working the early shift at the Campsite (maybe two or three times a week) and I’d make a half-arsed attempt at doing my own laundry (at least some of the time). Recovering from my injuries after the attack had called a temporary halt to Mum’s scheming, but I was pressed back to my chores as soon as I returned to work.
I enjoyed cooking. I hadn’t been a novice at the start of the summer by any means, but having a regular commitment of preparing a meal for my parents (sometimes joined by my girlfriend) had given me an opportunity to hone my abilities and to experiment a little. As working at the Campsite and then at the Stables had turned to routine, I found (to my mother’s delight) an opportunity for creative expression in my food. Dad was less thrilled; he was a man of simple tastes and preferred the traditional carb-laden British stodge to the more exotic dishes that I placed in front of him.
But despite my ‘newfound’ culinary prowess, Mum somehow still doubted the remainder of my domestic skills. We’d very nearly come to blows the weekend before I was due to leave, when she’d accused me of intending to go to university with only two pairs of jeans and a few faded t-shirts. She’d dragged me up to Kingston for a six-hour shopping marathon, to make sure I was “fully ready for the winter” (whatever the fuck that meant). I was met with a withering stare when I protested that I was sure they had clothes shops in Cambridge and that I could buy what I required when the need arose.
Mum’s machinations aside, it had been a very quiet few weeks; all my friends (including Amy) had left for uni in mid-September and their departures had been followed by a flurry of photos on social media as they threw themselves headlong into the excesses of Freshers’ Week. Everyone was drinking, dancing, partying – except me; my life was on hold as I waited for my term to begin.
I say ‘all my friends’, but there had been one exception – that was Billy; his term at Durham didn’t start quite as late as mine, but he’d left for the north of England at least a week after everyone else.
I’d been unsure what to do about Billy ever since the attack. Clearly Amy and I owed him a great debt of gratitude for what he’d done that night, but it wasn’t as simple as pretending we were suddenly best friends. Apart from having been at the same school for the previous seven years, seemingly we had nothing in common. I was apprehensive about going for a drink or a meal with him – what would we talk about after the first ten minutes of banal pleasantries?
By chance, Jackie (my boss at the Stables) was the one to provide the solution; as a birthday treat, her husband had bought her tickets for the theatre, but the date ended up clashing with a hospital appointment for her mother and so she offered them to me instead. Had my girlfriend been around, we’d have undoubtedly gone together but, to my cynical mind, this was a perfect way spend the time I owed Billy, without having to converse.
We met outside the auditorium with about fifteen minutes to curtain up and went straight through to take our seats. He was a little nervous and we’d exhausted the small talk on our preparations for uni by the time the house lights dimmed. I was steeling myself for more awkward chat as the evening progressed.
Despite my misgivings, the evening was a great success. There were two one-act plays on the billing – both comedies – well acted with witty scripts. We were both roaring with laughter within minutes and, by the intermission, Billy was a completely changed person – fully relaxed and enjoying himself. The conversation between us flowed easily, so easily in fact that the two of us decided to grab a quick drink together before getting the train home.
The other person I’d met up with, was Charlie. I’d worked with him up at the Campsite, but he’d stayed on into September when I’d switched over to the Stables. He was also a Cambridge undergraduate, studying engineering, and would be going into his second year as I started my first. We’d talked quite a bit about what to expect and he’d put some of my anxieties to rest. If everyone at Cambridge was like Charlie, I was going to get on just fine.
I dawdled through the farmyard, saying goodbye to the animals for the last time. I wouldn’t see them again until early December – that seemed a very long way away. I glanced at my watch; it was antalya escort about quarter past three. Mum had ordered me home from the Stables for half past, so that she could supervise my packing for uni. I was dreading the next few hours – I could see the two of us quickly falling out. Still, I thought, it would distract me from thinking about the court proceedings.
I rounded the corner of the barn. There were two cars parked in front of the farmhouse. I’d been expecting Mum to be home from her work already, but alongside her vehicle was the black Audi belonging to my girlfriend’s mother.
I froze. Jenny wasn’t supposed to be here until early evening. Why was she here now? Had something gone wrong in court?
I opened the gate into the garden, heading for the back door. I peered through the window, expecting to see two people sitting at the table, but the kitchen was empty. Had Mum taken her into the sitting room, I wondered. I crept round to the side of the house. The window was ajar – I’d be able to hear what they were saying. Feeling a little guilty, I slid down beneath it, straining to listen in.
“Jake’ll be so relieved,” Mum was saying. “He was really worried about having to appear as a witness. That’ll be a big weight off his shoulders.”
“I think it would have been a surprise if Richard had pleaded ‘not guilty’,” Jenny replied. “But there was always the chance that he’d try to contest the charge. It wouldn’t have been fair to Jake to tell him that a ‘guilty’ plea was a foregone conclusion.”
“And the other case, the student in the nightclub?” Mum asked.
“So he’s pleaded ‘not guilty’ for that one,” Jenny replied. “To both charges – the sexual assault and actual bodily harm.”
“‘Not guilty’ to both?” Mum asked incredulously. I couldn’t believe it either.
“I know,” the lawyer answered. “If I’d have been his defence barrister, I’d have advised a ‘guilty’ plea to the ABH. But from his point of view, pleading ‘not guilty’ to the sexual assault is probably the right move; the prosecution will have a tough time proving the motive.”
“So Richard’s gone back to the Young Offenders’ Institution?”
“Yes,” Jenny replied. “The trial won’t be until January, so technically he’ll still be on remand. He won’t be sentenced for Jake’s case until then.”
There was a silence as Jenny’s news sank in. All I could hear was my heart thumping in my chest.
“Does Amy know?” asked Mum.
“Not yet. She’s got lectures this afternoon. I’m going to phone her this evening. She doesn’t know the hearing was this morning.”
“Oh,” Mum said. There was another pause. “You know Jake’s going to see her tomorrow, on his way to Cambridge?”
“Yes, I did know that – it’ll be good for them to see each other,” Jenny replied. There was a pause. “And you’re going to take all his stuff up on Sunday?”
“Yes, Alan and I both wanted to see where he’d be living. And there wouldn’t be room in the car for the three of us. We’re going to head off tomorrow afternoon and then stay with some friends half-way.”
“Oh that’s nice,” Jenny replied. “Is he nervous about going up?”
“I don’t think so. I can normally tell if he’s worried, but he doesn’t seem to be. One of the other lads up at the Campsite is there already – he’ll be a second year I think, so Jake’ll know at least one person. They went for a drink together last week. And then his College has given him a student mentor and they’ve been in touch on Facebook. But I think he’s just impatient to get there now; he’s been kicking his heels round here for three weeks and seeing photos of everyone else enjoying themselves!”
There was the sound of tea being stirred.
“And how’s Amy finding London?” Mum asked.
“I think she’s settling in quite well. It’s a big change for her living in a city, but she’s finding her feet and she seems to be making friends.”
“Have you seen her since she moved in?”
“No, not since we took her up,” Jenny replied. “I was hoping she’d come home for a couple of days during Reading Week – the end of October, but she’s got designs on going to Cambridge instead!”
The two women suppressed an embarrassed laugh.
“That’ll be around Jake’s birthday,” Mum observed.
There was a slightly awkward pause. I was about to slip round to the kitchen to noisily announce my return from the Stables, when Jenny spoke again.
“I know it’s difficult working things long-distance,” she said quietly, “but I hope they stay together. Jake’s been so good for Amy, she’s really become so confident over the last six months. He’s such a responsible young man, you must be so proud of him!”
“Oh thank you,” replied Mum. “Yes I am really proud of him. And we love Amy too – she was very shy when we first met her, but we’ve always known how bright she is and she’s got such a wonderful bubbly personality!”
I felt myself blushing, but didn’t really want to hear any more. It was fine for our mothers to gossip about our relationship in private, but I didn’t want to listen to their speculation. Amy and I would work kemer escort things through ourselves.
I made my way round to the back of the house, feeling the relief already sinking in as I prepared my surprised response to the news about Ritchie. I opened the door and stepped into the kitchen.
“I’m back!” I called.
I met Amy outside the exit from King’s Cross tube station in central London.
“Hello lovely!” she cried as she threw her arms around me. She gave me a big kiss on the lips.
“I brought you these,” I said, presenting her with a bouquet of red roses.
“Oh Jake, they’re beautiful!” she smiled excitedly. She hugged me tightly again.
She looked up at me.
“You’ve had a haircut,” she said dismayed.
“Sorry,” I replied. “Mum insisted. Apparently I wouldn’t be able to find a barber’s in Cambridge!”
“But your beautiful golden curls – they’re gone!”
“Don’t worry, they’ll regrow,” I replied, laughing.
We took the bus up to her halls of residence. Amy chatted all the way – she was bright, lively and the most confident I think I’d ever seen her. I’d been a little concerned over the summer that London would be too big for her, that she’d be overwhelmed by the city, but three weeks in, she was thriving.
She’d been assigned accommodation in an apartment with five other female students, all first years, about fifteen or so minutes by tube from the main campus. Each of the girls had their own bedroom, but the bathroom and kitchen were shared between six. On the ground floor of the block, there was a canteen which served breakfast and supper (although not lunch) and there were some communal facilities, including a laundry room, for the three hundred or so residents.
“The food’s not very good,” my girlfriend confided as we took the elevator up to her floor.
Amy’s bedroom was a little smaller than I’d expected, and not just because she’d crammed it full of the stuff she’d brought from home. The bed was along the left-hand wall, and beyond that a washbasin. The desk was next to the window, which looked out over a central courtyard. There was a very small chest of drawers, a wardrobe and two chairs – but that was it. By the time I set up my air mattress on the floor, there’d be almost no carpet visible.
I set my bags down and draped my coat over one of the chairs, then turned to embrace my girlfriend. Amy wrapped her arms around me and squeezed me tightly.
“Oh Jake, I’ve missed you so much!” she cried.
“I’ve missed you too,” I replied, giving her a kiss on the top of her head.
She slid her hands down my back and grasped my buttocks with both hands.
“I love this bottom so much,” she smiled.
I bent down and cupped her face in my hands and kissed her tenderly. Amy moaned a little into my mouth as I slid my tongue passionately over hers
We broke apart and stared joyously into each other’s eyes.
“Did you bring your costume for tonight?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yeah, it’s here. I hope it’s OK,” I replied.
I reached behind me for my holdall, pulled out the top hat and placed it on my head.
“I found a green waistcoat and then there’s a cravat to wear with one of my white shirts,” I explained, showing her the various garments. “Oh and I made a cloak – I bought the material from a charity shop.”
I looked anxiously at her, seeking her approval. This was my first student party and I wasn’t really sure how elaborate the costumes would be.
Amy nodded enthusiastically. “That’s perfect; I think you’ll make a great Wizard!” She hugged me again.
Her eyes fell to the bouquet of roses that she’d laid on the bed. “I ought to get these in water,” she said thoughtfully. “I’ll have to go and hunt in the kitchen for something. I don’t have a vase.”
“Should I come too?” I asked as she picked up the flowers and walked towards the door.
“No, it’s OK,” she said. “I’ll only be a minute. I think there’s a jug I can use.”
The door closed behind her.
I walked over to her desk and peered into the courtyard below. Amy was lucky that her room wasn’t on the side of the building that overlooked the road, but I imagined it could still get quite noisy at night.
My eyes fell to the row of cards on the windowsill. One was from me, the card I’d given her after she’d received her exam results. The next two were from her family (one of which was a home-made one from the twins). Then there was a fourth at the end of the row, with a picture of two horses on the front – horses I thought I recognised.
I felt a momentary twinge of guilt as I picked up the card to see who’d sent it.
“Dear Amy,” it read.
“I wanted to write to wish you all the very best as you start your undergraduate course and to thank you for all that you’ve done at the Stables this summer. It has been a joy to watch you grow and I have received so many wonderful comments from customers about you – the children love you!
“As you know, it’s been a difficult few weeks for me after my mother’s konyaaltı escort stroke. I did think about closing down the Riding School for a couple of weeks, while I focused on sorting out her affairs, but I was so fortunate that you were able to take charge and to run everything in such a capable way. Not only were we able to honour almost all of our existing bookings, but we accepted many new ones as well. That is testament not only to your hard work, but also your incredible natural abilities. There are very few teenagers who would be able to step forward in the way that you did.
“For you also, this has not been the easiest of summers. I know there were times when you found it hard to face the world – I would have in the same situation. But you came through all the challenges with your head held high, stronger and more confident than ever before.
“You are an exceptional young woman, loved and respected by everyone who meets you and I know that you will be an excellent undergraduate student. Please do come back and visit us when you get back from university in December and know that there will always be a job for you here whenever you need it.
“With much love and my very best wishes, Jackie.”
I felt a lump in my throat. Jackie was right – my girlfriend had changed so much in the preceding six months. I was so proud of her.
I put the card back down on the windowsill, not wanting to be caught prying – Amy wouldn’t be gone much longer.
As I turned around, I caught sight of a framed, black-and-white picture, on top of the chest of drawers. I hadn’t noticed it before; it was hidden from the entrance to the room by the wardrobe. It was a photo of a young man, stripped to the waist and wearing what looked like jodhpurs, captured in the act of forking a pile of straw, seemingly oblivious to the camera. The background was dark, it was clearly taken in a barn somewhere, but the strong light shining from the left side caught the muscles on his chest and arms perfectly – it must have taken forever to set up the shot.
I picked up the frame. I was beginning to feel a little jealous – the photo was tasteful enough, but I was a little offended that my girlfriend felt the need to keep an image of a semi-naked man in full view of her bed – what did he have that I didn’t?
I peered at the lad; he was looking down and his face was partly in shadow, you couldn’t really see his features. His hair was light and curly, and he seemed to be a similar height to me, but a heavier build.
He did look a bit like me – maybe that was it; Amy had found a picture that she could pretend was of her boyfriend – that was alright wasn’t it?
I peered closer; the boy’s torso was angled away from the photographer, presenting his left arm to the camera. I did a double take: There was a faint line running down his bicep, slightly curved at the bottom – it was the same shape as my scar. Was that me? No, it couldn’t be! But it was! When had she taken it?
I heard the sound of the door opening and I looked up sharply. Amy was entering the room, carrying the roses in a makeshift vase.
“I had to cut up an old plastic bottle from the recycling,” she was saying. “I’ll get something better later on, but this’ll do for now. These look beautiful!”
She looked up at me and saw the photo in my hand. The colour drained from her cheeks; the look on her face was obvious – she hadn’t meant for me to find it.
“Is this me?” I asked gently, tilting the frame towards her.
She nodded, unhappily, looking down at the floor. “I’m sorry Jake, I just needed a reminder of you – of your body.” She shook her head. “I’ll throw it away, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have taken it.”
“No, I love that you’ve got this,” I said softly. “I really do. And it’s an amazing photo.”
“You do?” she asked hesitantly.
I nodded. “But when did you take it? It’s at the Stables right?”
Amy blushed. “It was the first day you worked with me. You’d got back from taking those students out for a hack. I put the horses away and I came back to give you a hand to finish mucking out. But there was a crack in the wall and I peeked through and I saw you and I watched you for a bit and then I thought maybe I could take a photo with my phone and, well, I did.”
She placed the flowers on the desk behind me and put one arm round me.
“I love that you’ve got this,” I said again. I kissed her on the top of her head.
We looked together at the photo for a few seconds, then I set it down on the chest of drawers.
I turned. Amy was looking up at me anxiously, searching my face for signs of disapproval, desperate to believe my reactions were true.
I was flattered, of course I was flattered, but Amy hadn’t stuck the photo in a frame to massage my ego.
We’d been separated for three weeks. Yes, we’d talked every night by video call, but in my naivety, I’d assumed that would be enough while she settled into her new life.
But it wasn’t enough – for either of us, not by a long chalk. The first thing she’d done when we’d reached the privacy of her room was to squeeze my butt. And then, when she’d been trying to explain the photo, she’d said she wanted to be reminded of my body. That’s what had been missing – the physicality of our relationship – and now I realised how much I’d missed it too.
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