This is the fourth part of a fiction serial, in 872 words.
Work at the insurance company was easy enough. I received claim forms for all sorts of things, wrote them up properly on company documents, checked the policy was valid for what they were claiming, then stamped a box at the bottom of the form before putting it in a tray for the manager to countersign. I worked in a large building right in the centre of the city, in a divided office with five others. I was the youngest by a mile, but the girl who typed up our letters was only twenty.
She was engaged, and never stopped talking about her boyfriend. No chance.
Hours were nine-to five, no weekends of course. Most days I could get away by just after four-thirty, as long as the day’s pile of claim forms had all been checked and stamped. We had an hour for lunch, and I was given one ’til two. That suited me, as it made the afternoon fly by. And we had a staff restaurant that served good meals at subsidised prices. The salary was average, but considering my age, it was enough for what I needed. My mum and dad said I had to give them housekeeping, but when I got my first month’s salary, mum said not to bother until next month.
Now I had my own money, I spent it on clothes and records. The old portable record-player in my bedroom had never seen so much action, and my suits were on trend with fashion. The typist told me she thought I looked nineteen, when I still wasn’t seventeen for a couple of months.
The Four Musketeers were not the same though. Johnny was insufferably cocky, and working one stall on his own seven days a week. I saw Terry now and again, but stopped going to his house because of Alice. If she saw me on the street she used to turn bright red, and cross the road. I had a soft spot for her, as she would always be my first. She was also going to be the mother of my child.
It felt strange to think of that, so I didn’t.
Keith was busy, planning to take three A-levels and study PPE at University College London when he was eighteen. He had to tell me what PPE was. Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. That sounded a lot for one qualification, too much for me. It wasn’t that I lacked intelligence. I just lacked motivation and application. At least he wouldn’t have to leave home to attend university. One bus and a ten-minute walk would get him there.
With Terry plumbing twelve hours a day, and his mum a no-go, and Johnny on the markets all weekend, I started to spend more time at Keith’s when I wasn’t working. He wasn’t that interested in going to the pub or the cinema, so it was a bit boring sitting in his living room with his mum and dad while they all trapped on about how well he was going to do at university. Then again, my house was like a mortuary most of the time, with mum and dad staring into space, and my brother Kevin smiling down from his photo above the mantlepiece.
There was a bonus at Keith’s too. Susan. Almost five years older than me, she still looked great. But Susan had missed the boat, so it seemed. All those years of being choosy had come home to roost. Most of her friends had boyfriends, and some were already married. One of them even had two kids. She was still at the jam factory, and still living at home. Then after my seventeenth birthday, she noticed me. Really noticed me.
One Saturday afternoon, she answered the door. “Keith’s out. He’s visiting my nan with mum and dad. He shouldn’t be long though, you can come in and wait if you want”.
I did want.
Sitting in the front room listening to music, she gave me a funny look. “You’re quite the young man now, Danny. Very grown up. How come you don’t have a girlfriend yet?” I shrugged, and replied that I hadn’t seen anyone I fancied. She leapt on that. “Well you always fancied me, no point denying that. Don’t think I have forgotten you looking up my skirt all the time, or sitting too close to me on the setee. You might as well have been holding up a sign”. She was full of herself, but undeniably right.
So she had known all along. I let the conversation hang in the air for a while, waiting to see what happened. I didn’t have to wait long.
“Your job at the insurance company sounds good. You will get promotion if you stick at it, and a decent pension later too. You have quite a lot to offer someone. How come you have never asked me out?” She didn’t wait for a reply. “If it’s the age difference, that doesn’t matter to me. It won’t seem so much when we are older”. She patted the seat next to her. “You can kiss me if you like, I don’t mind”. I moved over to sit next to her.
Twenty minutes later, Susan was my first girlfriend.