Authors: Gwen Kirkwood
‘Surely you will be back to visit?’ Rosemary asked.
‘Maybe one day. I am going to stay with my great aunt north of Glasgow for now. I shall look around for a bungalow near to her. She is very frail so she is looking forward to having company. I can’t tell you what a relief it will be to feel settled again,’ she added with a shudder.
Billy was in his last year at university when his secret misgivings and uncertainties were confirmed, leaving him angry, disillusioned and more wary than ever. He and Michael Appleby were still sharing the same flat where they had started off. They were aware that some of their more lively fellow students considered them a dull pair and referred to them as monks in a joking sort of manner, since neither young man ever boasted of conquests or discussed their private feelings. They were happy with their own circle of friends who shared their tastes in music and films, books and architecture. They worked hard and were reaping academic success from their efforts. Amongst the regular visitors to the flat were three Indian girls, two sisters and their cousin. The girls shared a car and were from a fairly wealthy family. One of them was an excellent musician. She had an electronic organ which went everywhere with her; her cousin played the guitar and so did Michael, although not to the same high standard. When they discovered Billy had a good tenor voice they often enjoyed a musical
evening together with plenty of laughter. They trusted each other, knowing their friendship allowed them companionship without commitment.
They accepted that free and easy relationships were commonplace but for Michael his commitment was to his studies and any spare cash was devoted to his personal interests. Billy suspected there was a special girl somewhere in his life but Michael kept his own counsel on the subject and Billy did not pry into other people’s affairs. The truth was, Michael was not sure how serious Billy considered his own friendship with Fenella Lennox and he was reluctant to hurt his friend. He had no wish to come between them but on the other hand his own feelings for her were growing into more than friendship. He was afraid Fenella looked upon him in the place of her brother, Liam, as a confidante and friend, and he also feared his family and background might not measure up to Fenella’s standards.
Billy never mentioned the reason for his own reticence but he was deeply sensitive about his
limb and wary about the way many girls might react to the sight of his stump. He needed loyalty and trust before he would consider leaving himself open to ridicule, or worse outright rejection and repulsion. Consequently he never indulged in more than light flirtations.
Usually he and Michael went home together every second weekend so he could do the relief milking and keep in touch with the farm, but Michael was planning to fit in an extra visit as a surprise for his father’s fiftieth birthday celebration. His mother had
suggested he and his sister might like to invite a friend each. Mary invited Kim since the two remained close friends. It was with some trepidation that Michael eventually invited Fenella to stay for the weekend and meet his family. He didn’t know whether he was relieved or discouraged when she said she was unable to get away so yet again he put off mentioning his growing regard for her to Billy.
When some of their fellow students heard that Billy would be spending the weekend alone, they invited him to join them but Billy was working hard and perfectly happy with his own company. He didn’t realize that his reserve had become a challenge to some of the girls, or that they considered him handsome and attractive. Pamela Wilson was one such girl. She was popular with both male and female students. She enjoyed life but she was generous with her friendship and often helped girls who were finding it difficult to settle, or boys who were suffering the effects of a broken romance. Billy knew this but he was still surprised when she arrived at his flat that Saturday evening with a DVD and a few bottles of his favourite beer, saying she had come to keep him company because he was on his own for the weekend.
‘This beer will last me a week. How did you know it’s my favourite?’ he asked.
‘I asked Michael.’
‘I see. Did he know you were coming tonight?’
‘Of course not. It was a spur of the moment thing when I realized we would both be alone. Ben has gone home this weekend as well.’
‘Dear me, Billy, you never keep up, do you?’ She
chuckled. ‘Ben Jardine is my current beau.’
‘I’d have a struggle to keep up with the rate you girls chop and change your partners.’
The living room of the flat had one easy chair and a small settee. Billy usually claimed the settee so that he could rest his leg more easily and when he and Michael were alone he sometimes removed his artificial limb and hopped his way to bed later. He was glad he had not removed it before Pam arrived. Almost as soon as the film (a scary one) began, she moved to sit beside him. It was not long before she snuggled closer, reminding him of the way Kim used to do, except Kim had had a childish innocence. He smiled at the thought. She was seventeen now and her cuddles were no longer spontaneous. In fact, he had noticed a new reserve. She was not so natural and at ease with him as she used to be and she didn’t drop into the milking parlour and offer to help him as often either. He missed both her help and her humour because she often made him laugh with her dry retorts and quirky idea of fun. It was Michael who told him Kim and Mary were both learning to drive.
‘You didn’t hear a word I said,’ Pamela remarked, poking him gently in the ribs. She was beginning to realize she would have to use all her feminine
because she had no intention of failing. ‘You were miles away.’
‘Oh, was I? Sorry. What did you say?’ he asked, jerking his attention away from thoughts of Kim. As Mary’s closest friend she was going to be at the Applebys’ family party tonight. ‘I suppose I’m a bit tired, that’s all,’ he added apologetically. ‘We’re usually in bed by midnight and it’s nearly one o’clock.’
‘So it is. I was asking if I could make both of us a drink of hot chocolate? You go and get ready for bed and I’ll bring yours in for you before I leave. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure the latch is down so the door is locked when I go,’ she added quickly when he frowned and hesitated. It seemed the easiest and quickest way to end the evening, Billy thought, and wondered later how he could have been so naïve. Pam certainly took plenty of time and he was almost asleep by the time she pushed open the bedroom door and appeared with two mugs of steaming hot chocolate. He gasped. She was wearing an almost transparent black negligée which left little to the imagination. She handed him a mug then perched close beside him on the bed. Later Billy couldn’t believe he had allowed himself to be so easily seduced but he didn’t try to pretend to himself that he didn’t enjoy the experience and he knew Pam had too. He was a healthy and virile young man and he would have had to be blind not to know he was attractive.
Although it was not an evening he intended to repeat, he was thoroughly deflated when he
one of the girls talking with a group of friends a few days later. Michael was with him and the way he tried to draw him away made him realize his flatmate already knew what they were discussing and had probably heard it already.
‘She only did it because two of us had a bet with her that she couldn’t get him into bed and find out what it was like with a cripple. We didn’t think she would want to do it really, or that she could. I mean, he’s usually such a monk. Ben was furious with her when he heard why she had done it, especially when
she said he might be a peg-leg but he was just as good as him in bed, if not better.’
‘So, it didn’t make any difference then, him having only one leg, I mean?’ one of the other girls asked curiously. Michael tried again to draw him away but Billy’s face was set, and very pale. He shrugged him off.
‘Pam says it made her shudder at the thought of seeing some kind of stump on the bed so she never looked at it, but it can’t have made that much difference if he was as good as she says. Ben has finished with her because of the bet, but she got the money. She insisted we had to pay up because she bought a DVD and some beer as an excuse to get in. It cost us a fiver each.’ Billy winced and obeyed Michael’s tug on his sleeve. It was not a subject either of them ever mentioned again but Billy knew he would not forget.
Michael was relieved when the prospect of a trip abroad pulled Billy out of his grim mood. One of the lecturers was arranging a trip to Holland to see some dairy robots with demonstrations of the cows being milked.
‘We shall be away four days. Apart from the
two of the days will be hectic and very tiring with a lot of walking and standing. There will not be much rest. Are you sure you’re up to it?’ his lecturer asked. Billy insisted that he was and it was the sort of thing he needed to see in operation.
‘I’m determined to go, whatever it does to my bloody leg,’ he said to Michael. ‘Even if they end up cutting off the rest of it.’
‘Hey, don’t talk like that. Nothing’s worth that happening,’ Michael said in alarm.
‘I might never get the chance to visit the factory again, and they’re taking us to farms to see the robots working. I believe these things are the future for dairy farmers. How much longer do you think men will want to milk cows seven days a week and start at five o’ clock every morning?’
‘I don’t know much about it. I suppose dairy farming is very labour intensive,’ Michael agreed, ‘but these machines will still need someone to operate them, won’t they?’
‘You’re as bad as my father,’ Billy said, giving Michael a playful punch. ‘They need someone to oversee them and make sure they’re working properly but it’s not a set routine like milking a herd of cows twice a day in a milking parlour. If what I’ve read is true the robot telephones you if there is a problem, even if it’s during the night.’
‘A robot telephones you? Ach, tell that to the marines!’ Michael threw back his head and laughed. ‘I don’t believe that!’
‘Well, I’ll tell you whether it’s true when I’ve seen them. The trouble is this is the only time the firm could fit us in because there’s a group of farmers going as well, but it’s just a fortnight before my final exams.’
‘I’m sure you don’t need to worry about that. You’ve sailed through everything so far, as well as doing those courses with computers. Is it true that you can get tractors with a computer which can plough without a driver?’
‘At a price,’ Billy agreed. ‘Everything will be run
with computers, or satellites, before long. We shall need people to understand them though.’
Kim never derided Billy’s suggestion that robots for milking would be commonplace before long. She knew Billy read widely, especially about any ideas which might help him make a success as a farmer and make his disability less of a burden. She knew now that there were some tasks he would never be able to do and her young heart ached for him.
When it came to deciding her own career, she refused to go away to university or to a residential college.
‘I feel more settled and happy at Bengairney than I have ever been in my life so far,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to leave home now.’ Ellen could understand how she felt and Alex was pleased she found his old home such a happy place to live.
‘My mother would have been pleased to hear you say that, Kim,’ he said. ‘She always made Bengairney a happy, welcoming place, but your aunt and I both think you should continue your studies. What about the new local university?’
‘I suppose I could make enquiries about the courses,’ Kim said doubtfully. ‘I wouldn’t mind getting some qualifications so long as I could still live here and come home every night.’
‘I’m sure you’ll soon pass your driving test now you’re seventeen. We’ll buy you a car, lassie,’ Alex said, ‘then you would be able to drive yourself in each day.’ So she had decided on a course in business studies for which she could choose different modules, with emphasis on accounts and taxation.
‘They’re subjects which affect all businesses, including farming and auction sale rooms,’ she said, ‘and I want to stay here and help both of you if I can.’
She was also studying labour law and public liability and she planned to do a more advanced course on computers the following year.
‘Nearly everything involves computers,’ she said. ‘I’ve done pretty well with them at school so that should make it a bit easier. I’m happier now than I ever believed I could be when Daddy died,’ she added.
‘I’m pleased to hear you say that, lassie and you know we love having you around,’ Alex said. ‘We’re not pushing you away, but we want to give you every opportunity to make your way in life, and be able to earn a living.’
‘But I really do want to stay here and help both of you. You both have book-keeping and accounts to do.’
‘That’s true enough,’ Ellen conceded, ‘and I would miss your help with the business already, now that I’ve built up some stock and I’m acquiring a private clientele. Mrs Brex is useful for dusting around and keeping an eye on things if I have to go out to a sale, or see a client, but she has no idea how to deal with customers who drop in unexpectedly. Her feathers get as ruffled as a broody hen. She doesn’t seem to realize it is my business to welcome customers if I’m to sell to them. It was a good idea of yours to set up the website, Kim, and show off our wares, but I don’t think I could manage that myself.’
‘Good!’ Kim grinned. ‘So if you need me that means you agree I can stay at home and travel to college each day, and then work for both of you when I’ve
finished the course?’
‘I guess so, but don’t blame us if you think you’ve missed out on the fun of student days,’ Ellen warned. Later on when she and Alex were alone she said, ‘I think I know the real reason Kim doesn’t want to go away from home.’
‘Why is that? She’s always been sensible and mature for her age and she’s done exceptionally well at school according to the guidance teacher,’ Alex said. ‘I can’t believe she would be homesick, especially if we get her a car so she can come home whenever she wants.’ He shrugged. ‘I’d miss her lively presence about the house, mind you, but I want whatever makes her happy.’
‘You’re a good man, Alex,’ Ellen said warmly. ‘I’ve been so lucky. But I don’t think it’s us Kim minds leaving. I think she’s hero-worshipped Billy for a long time now, almost since we arrived up here, in fact, but she’s grown up a lot this past eighteen months. I think her feelings are getting more serious. Billy will be finished at university and coming home in another month. I think she doesn’t want to be away when he’s living here again.’