KISSES FROM A FRIEND
Brian F Kirkham
It had been a harsh winter that year, old Jack Frost had laid his frosty hand on the debris of the previous season and the chill hung in the air.
Winter was now turning to spring. The flowers were starting to wake up and fresh blossoms appeared on the trees. The sun was clearing the fog and the birds were returning from their foreign retreats. The local wildlife was waking up to a new season. Squirrels awakened by the light of spring were scampering around for fresh spoils. The parks and gardens went from a canvas of white to a pallet of pastel colours, the snow was hanging on but the signs were there. Spring had arrived.
I woke up to the everyday sounds of family. First, there was the sound of the radio, which I happily turned off with my hand. Then I heard the sound of a key in the front door, and the sound of my dad coming in from the late night shift – you could set your watch by that sound – it was half past six. This meant half an hour before the morning rush of getting to school, waiting for the bus, avoiding the traffic, and all that other fun stuff that came in an attempt to get to school on time. Beyond the window was the sound of birdsong, happily chirping away since half past five.
Bleary eyed, I pitter-pattered into the bathroom. I turned the hot water tap and watched the water fill half way, and stared at a dreamy face looking back at me. The bathroom mirror then turned foggy. I washed and fumbled for the towel, and saw myself again. Breakfast time, I thought. I picked up my toothbrush and scrubbed my teeth.
I returned to my bedroom and started to get ready for school. Fumbling with buttons on my shirt and fiddling around with my high school tie, finally fiddling with my shoelaces for the seventh time. By now mum was up and seeing to my little sister getting ready for junior school, bags packed, luncheon money, yes….then there was a break in the conversation. Dad greeting Mum … I went downstairs.
My head was full of facts that morning, why I did not know. Funny things like what a rotten egg smells like and how a rainbow formed. Had I done my homework? Of course I had, the question was just one of many rolling around for fun in my head. The sound of the milk and cereal in the bowl made a welcome distraction. I heard the postman walk up the path, whistling as he went, and carried on with my cereal.
“I’ll get it!” the call came from the corridor.
This was a regular part of the daily routine now, Dad getting mails from ‘BILL’. Before my fifth year of high school I had thought they were requests from my Uncle Bill – I was told the real reason but still raised a smile at the comic routine that was to come ahead. He came into the kitchen, and dished out the pile of letters in a grand manner.
“BILL! BILL! BILL!”
I raised a smile as my hands went for the orange juice. Dad continued.
“Letter for Mum, ooh – postcard for Anne-Marie? From her old teacher…” “Mum can I have a look?” – I loved it when Anne-Marie did that.
As usual, nothing for me I thought
“And one for little Bri!”
“EH?” I sat in amazement at the news, spilling my orange juice. This was a surprise! You could arrange your diary by when I got post. Christmas had passed, it wasn’t my birthday. Three other things came to mind, and I thought of each one, discounting each of them in turn. Scouts? No! Travel club? No! Perhaps it was a note from the doctor. It seemed the obvious choice – It’s a mistake surely, or was it a late library book? –
The name on the envelope was marked quite formally – my name in full, the address was correct too and was date stamped a week in advance. However, there was a hand written address on the envelope. The library never sent reminders in envelopes. The colour of the envelope caught my eye… Pink. There was that smell coming from the envelope…it smelt of flowers.
It was definitely not the Doctors! I thought.
I opened the envelope – and read the handwritten note on the small card inside. On one side of the card was a smudged lip-print, on the other a message.
“Kisses from a Friend”
The spoon dropped into the milky cereal and my face went the colour of the envelope. I remembered.
Ah! It was that day.
The day I had vowed to stay in the safety of my bed with only my old bears for company. A day I had tried to avoid.
It was St. Valentine’s Day, the day of the school dance.
I decided to get off the bus a stop early to avoid attention. The wind was cold, but it was worth it, with my woollen hat, scarf and duffle coat on I could have been mistaken for a Polar Explorer. Shackleton and Amundsen had nothing on me. I was putting fresh footprints in the remains of the leftover snow and enjoying it, occasionally looking back down the street to see the trail I had left. I even played dare-devil cracking the frozen ice puddles in the broken paving slabs. The bus soon passed – girls blowing kisses through the bus window as it went by
By the time I reached the school gates, my friend Paul was standing by the front gate with a great big smile on his face, and my sunny disposition left with the prevailing wind.
“Look, I’m not going to the dance!” I protested.
“I’m not going to be sitting on my own like a fool!”
Paul looked at me with a look of innocence, swinging his bag over his shoulder as he laughed. “Aw, come on, It’ll be a laugh!”
The first word of the line was almost comical, but Paul knew not to push, at least for the moment. The knowing I had actually got to the school had increased my angst at what was to come. The bell rang for registration and we headed up a flight of stairs for the classroom. I sat on a chair and spoke out when called , then headed out for the first lesson of the day; Double Maths…
“Marvellous!” My mood darkened even more than before. The problems of complex formula twinned themselves with the romanticism of love struck fools at the back of the classroom. I tried to keep focus on the task in hand, the trigonometry mountain, but the shenanigans in the classroom turned my mind to the earlier event of the day.
For a moment my eyes peered away from the book and scanned the room – I caught a
glimpse of the girls sitting by the back table… Carmel, Susan, Jenny and Sandra were whispering to one another, and they were not talking about trigonometry. They were looking around the room and then at my table occasionally giggling as if they were back in primary school. I knew three of them since infant school…
The adventure writer in me went wild. I tried to figure out if it was one of the four who had sent the card. That would have to wait for now, as Lt. Kojak and Inspector Poirot were not around to help me. I picked up the mountaineering pick that was my sharpened pencil and continued to climb the trigonometry mountain.
The weather had returned during lessons. A member of staff with Greyish hair entered the room and made an announcement to the class – if the snow stopped falling we would have permission to go outside, this provoked a cheer from one of the tables to the right of mine. It was to be a short-lived expectation.
Paul was in another classroom for Mathematics class, so I was sat with Mark and Andrew at my table. I knew both of them from primary school, and we were good mates in class.
“It’s coming down heavy now”, Said Andrew, sitting by the table by the window.
“You know what that means…” Said Mark with a sad look in his eye.
“We’re indoors!” I groaned “it’s a good thing I brought a book!”
“You’re having a laugh, Brian!” said Andrew with a smile “You’re never out of the library!” We all laughed, and the conversation changed.
“Who are you going to the Dance with Brian?”
At that very moment, Mark jabbed Andrew in the Ribs.
“Ow!” cried out Andrew “What’d you do that for?”….Mark just winked at Andrew.
“Look lads, I know you’re all going” I sighed “but I’d rather not. I know you mean well and all – but no one’s asked me and all the girls will have a date already – I’m the last one they’ll ask!”
This raised a sympathetic tone with the girls in class.
“That’s not what I heard!” said Mark with a cheeky smile.
“Eh?” that puzzled me. Mark had gone very quiet, but was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
As the bell rang for break, the wind changed.
The snow had drifted back by break time, which let the classes have the run of the canteen and gym, all under the eyes of the prefects and teachers. Most faces pressed against the canteen windows, lamenting the falling snow. I bought myself a hot cross bun and found a ‘sort of quiet’ place to read my book, taking bites out of the bun in-between chapters. I gingerly picked out hot currants that were oozing with melted butter. The combined effect of eating the bun and reading my western lifted my mood once more and I looked forward to my remaining lessons. I looked away from my western for a brief second at the timetable. I enjoyed my computing class, Spanish too. English would finish the day off perfectly. Sheriff Kirkham went back to chasing Nasty Canasta on his noble steed.
Hi Ho Tinfoil!
“Hi Bri! What are you reading?”
I fell off the horse I was riding and landed back in the cafeteria.
The vision sitting opposite me was Dee, the girl of my dreams. There sat Beauty in the eye of its beholder…Beauty and Brains. In school, she was one of the numbers who had risen through the year and was destined for greatness. She’d also been given responsibilities in school – prefect or librarian, something like that…Way out of my league, I thought.
She had quietly made her way through the horde taking shelter from the bad weather and was now sitting at my table. It was probably the worst kept secret in school that I had a crush on her since third year. By now, even the school caretaker knew. I knew it was not going to lead to anything, as we lived on opposite sides of town. There was something special about Dee. It made my heart skip when she was near. The thing was although I had not acted on it, I had been the perfect Gentleman towards her. This meant greeting her politely each time we met, opening doors for her when I was around, that kind of thing.
For that brief moment, time stood still.
“Oh! Ah! ‘Wagons west’! Have you read it?” – The clock moved forward briefly so I could answer. I did not elaborate. She was looking at me. Me! No girl ever looks at me! Ever I thought. Inside, my ego was screaming instructions at me like a sergeant major. I quickly wiped the melted butter from my chin with the serviette that sat on the tray.
“No, is it a good book?” she asked coyly, looking at me intently. Her eyes were dazzling.
“Umm…Yes!” I answered, swallowing a mouthful of currants. I twitched ever so slightly. A kind of nervous energy. It was almost comedic. Good grief, I thought, get a grip! I managed a few broken sentences here or there, but it was no use. I felt like a prize salmon, caught completely and ready for cooking. For a brief moment, voices around us fell eerily silent. I was dreamily looking into those emerald eyes. We had been teleported to a special place, a magical place. My ego was singing. She is smiling at me! Me! Her hand touched mine, as the conversation veered towards the dance. She asked if I was going.
“Brian, I was just wondering….”
We had attracted attention. Nearly every girl in the canteen was looking in the direction of our table, hanging on our every word. We were the talk of the cafeteria.
“If Maybe, if you’re going to the dance tonight…”
She was waiting for me to ask the question. She was toying with the palm of my hand. My Heart skipped.
For Once, there was no escape, no emergency exit. If I had needed proof of the worst kept secret, this was it. The pack was circulating, waiting for an answer.
Then the bell went. It was time for matters of the mind and not the heart. How’d i managed that? Lessons had begun. The pack dispersed and Dee’s question remained unanswered, for a while.
Back in the computer lab, I headed for a terminal, as I was aiming on a good score on my graphics project.Even the dry wit of the teacher was not getting me down. There was that scent again, the scent from the card in the envelope. It was fainter than the last time, but I could smell it coming from the corridor, and for a brief moment, it made my heart beat faster.
I knew Dee was nearby. The thought of that made me happy.
Lunchtime approached – we passed like ships in the night as the need for pie and chips overridden my need for an answer. She smiled at me and I smiled back. It was turning into a chess game.
In Spanish Class, there was all the usual banter and joking about Valentine’s Day, with Senor. Stewart talking of Amore among the group, and getting the class to sing Spanish love songs, which led to a breakup of the group into two camps – one going ‘AWWW’ and the other ‘UGH’. The ones going ‘AWWW’ were part of the pack –
so I went along with the charade.
As the class was coming to an end one of the girls passed me a note from the back of the classroom. There was no envelope – just on a plain note of A4. It simply read – your time is up. What it was written with I was unsure, eyeliner, lipstick, pastel, who knew? What I did know was the pack had called my hand, and was getting my mate to do the deed for me. If I did not ask Dee to the dance, someone else would for me. I was literally living on borrowed time. Quickly, I put my head round every door of the science block – They were deserted but for the Lab Technicians.
I looked at my watch, with fifteen minutes to my English lesson I took the shortest route to the Humanities block praying for time. I had never run as quickly before. I turned the corner, saw Paul with the note in his hand and I saw red. When Paul saw me he hurtled down towards the cafeteria corridor like a bolt, and I followed just as fast.
Saturday morning cartoons came to mind. Road Runner always outruns Wile E Coyote I thought, “Not this time!” I growled through gritted teeth.
“Stop that running!” Called out one of the Moustached teachers on hall duty “Sorry Sir, Late for class sir!” I yelled back as I ran
“It’s only 10 to 3!”
Away from the chase, and unknown to me, Dee had permission from the Headmaster to help in the Library that afternoon. She was carrying books for one of the Science teachers, who needed them for a lesson at the end of the day. She was not expecting to see Paul hurtling towards her at speed, and was span round in a circle – with all the books and herself falling to the floor. This stopped me in my tracks.
Whoa! My head put the brakes on my feet. I had stopped and was standing in a pool of literature.
“You Idiot!” came a voice, my conscience came calling. “What are you doing?” It screamed. It had a point.
Whilst I was scanning the cafeteria for Paul, the girl of my dreams was in trouble. Books covered the scene of the incident, and Dee, lay amongst them on the floor. I stood there frozen to the spot.
“What a fool you are!” Now my ego was chastising me, I Didn’t like that.
It seemed like everything was in slow motion, both voices shouting in tandem. Go on then! Help Her!
It was for that few brief seconds between the collision and the teacher arriving, everything changed. To me, Dee was the fair maiden in distress. To Dee I was her valiant knight, coming to her aid.
I yelled down the end of the corridor where the moustached teacher was on duty. He went straight for the school secretary and the First Aid box. One of the girls came down the corridor as I went over to Dee.
“Are You Alright, Dee?” I called out, touching her cheek. As she reached out for my hand, I gingerly helped her up, books falling away from her as she lifted herself from the pile of books.
“I think so,” she replied, looking at the patterns of books on the floor. “What happened? Who was that?”
“Oh some daft third year I reckon” – That squared it with Paul. He was not going to be given a dressing down, though he’d have to get me a drink for keeping him from a meeting with the Deputy Head. For a brief moment as we were waiting I wondered if I saw him smiling at the end of the corridor, but by then Mustachio had returned with the secretary, and Paul’s figure had disappeared into the assembled crowd gathered by the commotion , so I stepped out of the way.
“Haven’t you lot got classes to go to?” boomed Mustachio “Sandra, you can stay here whilst Miss Raby checks out Dee – the rest of you, back to class!”
As soon as the crowd had arrived, they departed.
The examination was swift but precise. “You’re all right Dee!” said Miss Raby, the school secretary, “but if you’re not feeling well during class let Ms Leigh-Baker know….”
“I will do Miss…” Dee replied. She looked over at me, and I at her. “Are you sure you’re alright, Dee?” asked Sandra
“I’m Fine, but if Brian hadn’t called for help…”
“Quite the hero eh Bri…?” at asking this Sandra nudged me and I felt my collar. The fair lady Dee was making her move.
The chessboard was set. Dee then played a masterstroke,
“Sir, Is it OK if Brian sees me to my class, I’ve done what I was doing in the library. I just need to get these books to Mr Garner. I don’t think I can do it by myself?”
I suddenly remembered my English class, and looked at my watch. There were five minutes to get to class before I was going to be involved in the melee of the crowd on the stairs. However, this was all part of the end game.
Mustachio pondered, “I don’t see why not!”
“But Sir,” I started to plead “ I’ll be late for Engli..”
Mustachio cut in.
“Don’t worry Brian. I’ll speak to Mr Pope!” He paused and then started thinking aloud. “I should really talk to the Head about getting you a special mention at assembly…”
This particular fish was not escaping from the line. Dee then stepped in to spare me further embarrassment. “That won’t be necessary Sir! I’m just grateful Brian was there!”
She is brilliant! I thought.
“Well, two people carrying those books are better than one! Off you go, Sandra, get back to class, Ms. Leigh
Baker will be wondering where you are! And Brian, get to class when you have helped Dee deliver those
When Sandra, Mustachio and the Secretary left the scene, we were alone again, with only the books observing.
Once we picked up and divided the books between us we slowly made our way together, up the stairwell towards the science block, saying nothing, just exchanging glances and smiles between us. As we got to Mr Garner’s classroom, Dee stopped at one of the high stools, sat down and looked up at me.
For some reason – I was looking down at my shoes…
Eyes front Brian ….came a voice – my ego again….
“Thanks for helping me back there Brian!” The chess game was almost over. The final pieces of the game were in place. Dee had captured me and although I did not know it yet, she had me cornered.
“It was nothing, Dee, Just helping a Friend!” – I looked up and smiled back, not knowing what was to happen next.
“Brian, wasn’t there something you wanted to ask me?” she stood up and took a step towards me.
Those pools in her eyes had returned. I could not look away, not this time. There was that smile again.
Again – I looked at my shoes – Why am I looking at my shoes?? I yelled inwardly
“Ah Um, Yeah…Dee, look, I know should have said this earlier…at lunchtime but…” I paused and rubbed the back of my neck. I was fluffing my lines.
Through a space in the door, two members of the pack were watching us. It was the familiar faces of Carmel and Susan, watching the two of us from their desks in the Biology lab.
“I’ve been a bit of a fool! What I’ve been meaning to say was,” I paused and looked at Dee again. She was smiling at me. It seemed she was hanging on my every word.
“What I meant was,”…what was happening to me? Those books were coming closer and so was the beautiful girl holding them. In your own time, said my conscience.
“Would you do me the great honour, of coming with me to the dance tonight?”
Phew! I had asked the important question. For another moment, I thought I had fluffed it.
For a few frantic seconds…panic set in. My thoughts had now turned to her reply.
“What if she said no?” – I thought. The question revolved in my head.
Dee saw the panic in my eyes and put my mind at ease.
She put her index finger to my lips, smiled, then giggled sweetly at me.
“I thought you’d never ask me!” and then taking her finger away she kissed me softly on the cheek. It was a warm and tender kiss, and it hit me for six.
Check and Mate.
“See you later….” she smiled.
Then as she walked in the direction of the lab door with the books, I shuffled my way down the corridor with my hands punching the air. I was stifling my joy by biting my lip. My heart was skipping. I was dumbstruck in love.
As I reached halfway down the corridor, the reality set in. I heard cheering from the lab behind the wall. Dee had just entered the Chemistry Lab. The cheers came from the rest of the girls – they had heard most of our conversation over the Bunsen burners.
“Brian!” – I stopped, and turned round. It was Dee, by now I was at the end of the science block corridor and she was happily calling out my name in excitement.
“Yeah?” I smiled at her again. My tongue had loosened.
“I should have asked – What time are we meeting?” – she was smiling back at me. “What time’s the dance?” – I asked with a grin. I didn’t have a clue.
“Eight!” – Dee laughed, and my grin got bigger.
“Meet you at the gates at half past seven then!”
Now the entire science block knew.
I did not care! My Cinderella would be going to the ball!
By the time I had reached the English room, the jungle telegraph had beaten me there. It had made its way from Chemistry to English via Metalwork, home of the school sprint champion. I opened the door to a burst of spontaneous applause and cheering. Mr Pope, the English Teacher, having known where I had been and why but not knowing what happened, greeted me with a comprehension exercise on ‘To Sir with Love’, which I got on with immediately, still smiling. The rest of the day soon passed.
I arrived back at the school gates as arranged at half past seven on the dot, dressed in a casual suit, over which I was wearing my duffle coat. Dee arrived at the gates soon after my arrival. She was wearing a black jacket over a pastel dress. She was both elegant and beautiful. We held each other tightly and as we did, she spotted the bag over my shoulder.
“What’s in the bag?” she asked.
“Wait and see!” I smiled, trying my best to keep the surprise.
We noticed the gates were locked, so we walked hand in hand in the park. We never lost sight of the school building. I put my coat down on the grass so Dee’s dress kept dry and we sat under a tree, watching the stars go by.
I had bought Dee a flower for her to wear and a small gift of chocolates. A couple of bottles of fizzy drink finished the surprise off, the alcohol waited in the hall. This made Dee smile, and I loved her for that.
I helped her attach the flower to her dress then she put her head on my shoulder. She held me tightly. We were alone, Lady Dee and her Knight Protector, sitting under a blanket of stars. I pointed a few out, and she listened intently.
“I wish we could just stay here,” she suggested, “and watch the stars all night!”
“Couldn’t do that,” I sighed at that thought. It was a great idea.
“The gang wouldn’t allow it! We’re expected over there!..”
“We’ve got everything here, the food, the drink..”
“and the wonderful company!”
We laughed together and then we kissed again.
We both looked ahead down the path that led to the gate. It was Sandra. The rest of the group had arrived .The pack were looking for us and she found us first. She saw the scene and smiled.
“Come on, you two lovebirds, the party’s starting!” she laughed.
As we walked back down the lane towards the school, Carmel, Susan and some of the lads were waiting for us. They were dressed up to the nines in their fancy gowns and suits, every colour of the rainbow. Some lads wearing bowties, some wearing coloured ties and different coloured jackets and shirts.
They were all smiling away at the two of us – “the happy couple”. The dance itself went its usual way, but it was when the slow dancing started, that our dance started.
Dee grabbed my hand tightly – “Dance with me Bri…!”
“It would be my pleasure Dee!”
People made way as Dee held my hand and we waltzed around the dance floor.
Time stood still again. The crowd’s eyes were on us, and there were lots of “ooh’s” “aww’s” and “Ahh’s” but we hadn’t a care in the world.
We were the happiest couple dancing, and Dee’s smile warmed the room.
Mark and Leon shook my hand and congratulated me, undeserved, but I thanked them all the same. Even the teachers were gracious.
What would happen after that night, we left in the hands of the gods. It was our night that night. We danced, we talked and we danced some more, there were moments we were apart meeting friends and there were moments when we never apart, never keeping eyes off one another, giving each other loving glances till it was time for my Cinderella and I to leave the ball. We would have danced the night away if time allowed.
The music stopped playing, the light-ball stopped twinkling, the empty punch cups swept away and a row of lovelies lined the streets, waiting for their carriage home in their parkas and coats over their fancy dresses along with their male companions.
We ended the night the way it had all started, back by the school gate. I reached for my coat and pulled out a bag of jelly babies from one of the pockets – Dee took one out of the bag and put it in her mouth. She giggled – it was a strawberry one. She liked the strawberry ones. I smiled again. I was the luckiest lad on the planet, everything was right in the world and I wanted it to last forever.
“Thank you Brian” she said to me softly, as she lent by the gate.
“What for?” I asked smiling away, I was too happy for worries.
“For Everything – Tonight, Walking with me in the park, the picnic, the dancing, the stars…” I stopped her, the same way she stopped me in the science block.
“Look, Dee”, I paused for a second, and just let my feelings take over.
“You made me the happiest lad in the world tonight” – I paused again to watch the moonlight shimmering in Dee’s eyes “It was worth it to be with you for five minutes – let alone the last five hours – and you were with me for the whole night! I love you, Dee!”
She reached out for me and we kissed again – Strawberry Flavoured Kisses.
We hugged each other to keep warm and talked until the cab I ordered arrived. I paid the driver and asked him to take her home. A month’s pocket money had gone towards that cab, and it was worth every penny.
I watched her blow a kiss at me from the taxi and smiled as her carriage drove away. I watched her waving out of the back window until she was out of sight. I then went towards the bus stop and got the night bus home, my heart skipping away happily.
Saturday and Sunday came and went. Two whole days had been and gone since I had seen Dee. It was the start of a new school week. I had arrived early and picked up the register for the form tutor.
The cheering that had taken place on Friday night continued upon my arrival in the classroom. It was if I had just won Olympic Gold.
I sat down at a bench and waited for my name in the register, the form tutor issued the relevant notices and we filed out of the classroom, one by one.
As I was heading for the door I passed her, and she stopped me in my stride.
“Ah! Mr Kirkham”, all very formal, “There’s an envelope here for you!”
She took a Plain White Envelope from the leaves of the register and handed it to me. The envelope had my name on it in silver ink. “Miss Raby inserted it in the register for you. You can thank her at lunchtime. Please remember, we are not the post office!”
My heart started skipping again. I knew who had sent it, and felt the hair on the back of my neck. Nervously taking the envelope from Ms Leigh-Baker I fumbled at an apology… “Um, Yes, Miss – sorry Miss, won’t happen again miss, Mr Garner’s waiting for me in Physics Miss…” – and almost dropped the envelope. I grabbed hold of it tightly and left the room.
I walked the short distance from form to the Physics lab and as I did, tore open the envelope with abandonment to read the simple note. It was from Dee. It was like the note that had come through my door, with the same scent. Only this time, it was a thank you message – she had signed it and marked it with a kiss. We would meet again at lunch.
I smiled as I read it and carried on smiling as I went to my Physics Class. The school day could go on and on. I was looking forward to the delights of lenses, of lights, and of lunchtime.
(P) and (C) Brian F Kirkham Dec 2009
(Fifth Rev Jan 2017)