Authors: Gwen Kirkwood
Why indeed? Billy thought bitterly, overhearing the latter part of his parents’ conversation. He crept silently outside again. Obviously his mother was prejudiced in his favour because he was her son and she loved him unconditionally, but his father had always been a realist and called a spade a spade. He knew well enough that a stump of a leg would be enough to put off lots of girls, irrespective of what he did for a living.
Billy had looked forward to being left in charge when his parents went on their cruise. He was determined to prove to his father that he could manage everything perfectly well, so he was surprised to find himself feeling depressed at yet another evening preparing and eating his meal alone in the silence of the old house. It didn’t seem the same without his mother’s cheerful presence and his father either teasing or having some sort of discussion. Common sense told him his mood had nothing to do with the loss of his leg, but he blamed it anyway. He might have gone out and met old friends he had known at school, or through the Young Farmers’ Club. Even Michael Appleby was rarely home for long these days. There was no point in going to Gino’s. There were younger students there now. He could have called at the pub for a drink and a chat, but he had never wanted to drink the night away, and most of the occupants would be older than him, probably married men with families, escaping the bedtime ritual.
The truth was, if he was honest with himself, he
didn’t really know what he wanted. The previous evening he had gone round to Bengairney after his evening meal. He had had an interesting discussion with Uncle Alex about the progeny of a new bull he was trying and Aunt Ellen had insisted on feeding him tea and sandwiches before he left, but he had still felt vaguely dissatisfied. Kim had been out for the evening with some of her college friends because they would soon be finishing their course and going their separate ways. It was only when he arrived home that Billy realized he was disappointed because he had had to leave without seeing her.
Tonight it was a lovely May evening and he might have enjoyed a walk through the woods, or around the fields, for he enjoyed all aspects of nature, but he had been fencing and on his feet most of the day. His arms ached from straining the wires and his thighs throbbed with the effort to maintain his balance while he worked. It was one of the problems he was continually coming to terms with and he had been determined not to find himself sprawling on the ground in front of Jim Sharpe, their general worker. He was a dour bugger at any time and especially when there was work to be done. Billy sensed the older man was something of a sadist as well as lazy. He was just considering removing his prosthesis and stretching out on the settee while he flicked through the television channels when he heard a car drawing into the farmyard. He sighed. Who can that be? he wondered without enthusiasm. If it was Uncle Alex he would come straight in. Anyone else could go away, he decided morosely.
‘Hello, can I come in?’ Kim’s voice called diffidently.
Billy jumped in surprise and swung his legs to the floor as she popped her head around the door of the little sitting room. Billy immediately clicked off the television. ‘I don’t want to disturb you if you’re watching a programme,’ Kim said.
‘No, no, I’m not. Come in, Kim. I thought you would be too tired for visiting after burning the midnight oil last night.’
‘I was not that late! It was not long after eleven o’clock and Aunt Ellen said I’d only just missed you. She has been baking today so she’s sent you a rhubarb tart. I left it on the kitchen table.’
‘Thanks. I love rhubarb. That must be the first of the season, is it?’
‘Yes, it is. Aunt Ellen says you should eat it soon in case the juice makes it soggy but she did put a sprinkling of cornflour in with the fruit to thicken it a little so it should be all right.’
‘It will be lovely. We’ll try a slice later with some tea, shall we?’
‘We–ell, only if I’m not disturbing you?’
‘Since when did that bother you, Kim?’ Billy cocked an eyebrow at her, but she was looking serious tonight and a bit nervous. He wondered why. ‘You’re not disturbing me. I could use some cheerful company. I’ve been fencing most of the day and Jim Sharpe was a grumpy old sod.’ His mouth tightened. He was well aware that the man took advantage when his father was away. Moreover he did his best to provoke him and draw attention to his artificial leg, and any tasks he couldn’t do as well as other men. ‘So tell me about your evening out. Are you finished your final exams now? Was it a celebration? Did you enjoy it?’
‘No, not quite, and no, not really, and no, I didn’t enjoy it.’ She frowned and lowered her eyelashes so he couldn’t see the misery in them. Most of the other students were at least a year older than Kim and a few were having a second attempt at
and already in their twenties. They seemed so sophisticated, or at least experienced with life. They had made Kim feel gauche, almost stupid, when they were all gathered together, especially after some of them had a few drinks, yet she knew she was more intelligent than most of them and far more likely to pass her finals with excellent results. Billy frowned at her downcast head. He reached out and stroked the golden tresses of her ponytail. She still wore it fairly long and it was beautifully thick and silky. Billy had admired it from the first time he had seen her.
‘Uncle Alex and Aunt Ellen are really proud of you, Kim. Aunt Ellen was saying some of your lecturers think you should go further, maybe do your doctorate in economics.’
‘Oh, the study side has been fine,’ Kim said, brushing exams aside. ‘Except that I’ve had enough. I’m ready to apply what I have learned and get on with life. Besides, both Aunt Ellen and Uncle Alex are looking forward to me being able to relieve them of some of their paperwork.’
‘So? What’s the matter then, wee Kim? Are you just tired after your late night?’
‘I told you I wasn’t late! In fact I was the first to leave, if you must know.’ The colour flared in her cheeks as she remembered the laughter as she had left the room where they had moved to after enjoying their meal. All they wanted was to indulge in a good
supply of alcohol. Billy frowned, watching her.
‘What’s bothering you, Kim?’ he asked softly. ‘You’d better tell me, hadn’t you?’
‘I–I don’t know.’ He saw the glimmer of tears in her lovely eyes before she turned hastily away again.
‘Of course you must tell me. Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad. Can it?’ He hesitated at her troubled expression and his frown deepened. ‘Even if you’re … I mean, it’s not the end of the world if you’ve…. Well, you have an excuse when you have no mother, or even a sister to – to advise. You know we all love you. We’ll stand by you. Come on, tell me, Kim?’
‘Even if I’ve what?’ Kim asked sharply, turning to stare at him, blinking away the shimmer of tears.
‘Well, it does happen,’ Billy said awkwardly. ‘Lots of girls do get pregnant and….’
‘No! That’s certainly not the trouble! You d–don’t understand either.’ She bit back a sob and when Billy would have drawn her closer she shrugged him away, but Billy was already giving a sigh of relief. Then he wondered why it should matter so much to him. But it did. It mattered a lot. He reached for her and drew her firmly into the circle of his arm.
‘Nothing else matters then. I mean nothing else can be as big a problem as expecting a baby before you’re ready for one, and especially if you don’t love the father.’
‘It feels as bad to me. They all laughed and made fun,’ she said bitterly, ‘then – then t–two of the men made h–horrid suggestions.’
‘Kim, my wee sweetheart, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Start again and tell me what’s
you and who made you so unhappy. I’ve never
seen you like this before.’
‘You promise you’ll not laugh too?’ she asked, half angrily, half diffidently.
Billy eyed her steadily and nodded.
‘And – and you’ll help me?’ The colour flared again in her fair skin. She looked lovely, Billy thought, and there was not a grain of vanity in her.
‘You know I will help if I can. That’s what friends are for, and we’ve always been friends, haven’t we?’
‘Yes, I–I think so. I do hope so,’ Kim said fervently.
‘So what was so terrible and why did they laugh? Did they want to get you drunk, or….’ He frowned. ‘They weren’t trying to persuade you to take drugs, were they?’
‘No. Although I’m pretty sure two of them do use drugs, but they’ve never offered any to me. They know how I feel about such things. I know they think I’m a – a prude. Even the girls on my course, the ones I thought were friends, were laughing and making fun last night. They – they wanted to know who – who I am saving myself for.’ She hung her head
. ‘Even Mary Appleby has tried it,’ she muttered, staring at the floor. ‘She – she didn’t like it, and she wished she hadn’t done it, b–but at least she’s not a – not a….’
‘Not a what?’ Billy couldn’t imagine what she was talking about and it was not like Kim to talk in riddles. She was always so articulate – straight and to the point.
‘A virgin,’ she croaked, in little more than a whisper.
‘A….’ Billy opened his mouth, then closed it again quickly. He had almost laughed aloud but the sight
of Kim’s face told him this was really upsetting her and she was near to tears. It was totally unlike the mature, sensible Kim he knew and he guessed her companions of the previous evening had teased her cruelly, even if they had not all meant to make her feel so inadequate and miserable. As the full
of her announcement sank in, Billy’s spirits soared, though why that should be he had no idea. He seized her and hugged her tightly. ‘My God, Kim, that’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s something to be proud of. I’m glad you have stuck to your own principles!’
‘You are?’ She gave a puzzled frown, leaned back a little and stared up into his face to make sure he was telling the truth, and not making fun of her, as they had last night. ‘You really mean that, Billy?’
‘I certainly do. It’s not as though you’re one of the ugly sisters, Kim. You’re a very attractive girl and I’ve no doubt you’ve had plenty of offers, so….’
‘But not from anyone I could – could …’ she stammered. ‘Two of the men last night were sure they could persuade me to – to….’ She shuddered, and cuddled closer against his chest. ‘One of them is married.’ Billy’s arms tightened instinctively. He became aware of her soft warmth and felt his own desire stir. He summoned all his self–control. That was one complication he dare not risk. ‘I c–couldn’t do it with – with just anybody. But I know you so well and….’
‘Aah!’ Billy released her and sat up straight, his brow darkening. ‘Are you another one who thinks I should be glad of any offer because I’ve only one leg, or that I shall be different to other men, Kim?’ he asked angrily.
Kim stared at him, then blinked.
‘I–I don’t understand. I–I mean, that doesn’t make any difference to a man, does it? I – I know how important good legs are for a bull or a ram. Uncle Alex is always saying that, b–but….’
This time Billy did laugh out loud, throwing back his head.
‘God, you’re priceless, Kim.’ He saw her hurt expression and tried to control his humour. ‘Good legs and feet are certainly important for four-legged animals. They need them to stand on if they’re to be any use for breeding. I didn’t mean to laugh. I’m just relieved you don’t see me as different on account of only having one leg, unless you think I should be grateful and seize any offer?’ He scowled. ‘I know some women might be repelled by the sight of my stump in bed, but it doesn’t mean….’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, Billy,’ Kim interrupted with a frown. ‘I can’t see why it should matter because you’ve got Charlie instead of a leg.’ She rubbed his knee.
‘It’s ages since we went swimming together,’ Billy said out of the blue, remembering that his stump had never troubled Kim. He felt his spirits rise, but he also experienced a fierce urge to protect Kim from her jeering companions of the previous evening, and others like them.
‘Are you on the pill, Kim?’
‘No.’ She flushed unhappily. ‘The girls are always saying I ought to be but they take it in case they go out for the evening and end up having sex and they don’t want to get pregnant. I would need to trust a person, and know him well, and I would have to
like him – like him a lot. That’s why I thought you would help me. There’s other things besides the pill. Couldn’t you use them?’
Understanding dawned then and Billy’s eyes widened, then softened.
‘I could, but I’m not going to, Kim. At least not tonight. But make no mistake, I’m certainly tempted,’ he added quickly, seeing the look of rejection on her expressive face, ‘but you know as well as I do that if Uncle Alex discovered I’d been playing around with you, or if he thought I’d treated you badly, Kim, he would never speak to me, or allow me through his door again. Apart from that I have far too much respect for you.’ He sighed. ‘You’re so intelligent and mature the way you handle things that matter in life, and yet I see now you’re so young and innocent in some respects. Uncle Alex and Aunt Ellen have sheltered you from the real world when they allowed you to live at home to finish your education.’
‘I’m eighteen!’ Kim reminded him indignantly. ‘Most of the girls I know have been having sex since they were fourteen or fifteen, at least if what they say is true.’
‘I’m not talking about having sex, Kim. Believe it or not there are a lot of men who don’t expect it just because they have taken a girl out for the evening, and I’m one of them.’
‘You’re saying you don’t fancy me enough to help me,’ Kim said flatly and made to rise, but Billy grabbed her arm and pulled her down again.
‘You don’t need help from anyone, Kim. It’s the greatest gift a girl can offer a man to know you have waited and saved yourself for him and I’d count myself very honoured if you still choose me six months
‘Yes, six months, and meanwhile I want you to promise you’ll not have sex with anyone unless you love him, certainly not just for the sake of experimenting.’
‘Don’t say it like that, Kim. Now I know you’re ready for the grown-up world, what I would like to do is take you out as my girlfriend. I want us to be seen on dates together. I need to be sure you would not be ashamed to introduce me to your friends or to be seen in public with a hopalong man.’ Kim heard the faint bitterness in his voice and even a thread of uncertainty.