Sunday , July 14 2024

An Indyref Romance: Harmony and Dissonance – Chapter 2

No one had mentioned the word ‘boyfriend’, but having someone take you to the ball was sort of like having a boyfriend. She’d known Paul for ages. But for the longest time he’d just been one of a series of men she’d known who turned up at the flat. She was thus part of quite a large social circle. There were people she knew from her course. But these were people she’d have the odd cup of coffee with and rarely see in the evening. There were people she knew a bit and would chat to when she saw them. Some of these people she’d likewise known for years although frequently she wasn’t quite sure of their names. But then there were the people, both men and women, who would regularly come to the flat. They were Susan’s friends or more often they were Lorna’s friends. Jenny knew that they rarely came to the flat because of her. But surely some of them were her friends, too.

How long had she known Paul before she began to hope for this moment that had just arrived? They were dancing. He looked fine in his red kilt and his prince Charlie jacket. As he spun her round, she was conscious of how he held her. It was possibly the first time he had touched her. She thought back to the first time they had met. She had an image of Lorna bringing him into their kitchen saying: ‘This is Paul’. How long ago was that? Perhaps, it had been as long ago as two or even three years ago. Or was it more like four. She couldn’t remember. He began coming rather often. But he was just another one of a long series of boys coming to see Lorna and with eyes only for her. Yet at some point Jenny had noticed him and liked him. Perhaps, it had been at some evening when he’d turned up when Lorna hadn’t been there, but they’d chatted for a while. Was it then that she’d noticed his blue, blue eyes? It came upon her slowly, like a drip, drip and even when she began to realise it herself, it took her a long time before she said anything out loud. Some time ago she’d found a time when she could talk to Susan alone. She’d mentioned Paul. She’d mentioned him shyly, without really saying what was on her mind. But Susan had picked up the hint as Jenny had known she would.

“You like him, don’t you?” Susan said.

“I don’t really know. I don’t know him very well,” said Jenny.

“How long has he been turning up at the flat?”

“But you know he comes to see Lorna.”

“I think, he also comes to see us. Besides, none of them are going to get anywhere with Lorna. You know that as well as I do.”

“Still what chance do I have?”

“Jenny, it’s not as if Paul is some sort of film star. He’s nice enough looking, but it’s not as if women are falling at his feet.”

“How do you know?”

“Mark told me. Paul’s been single for a long time.”

“And I’ve been single forever.”

“You’ve never?”

“I’ve always been very shy and I’ve had to work so hard. I’ve been scared, too. You know my beliefs; I’m very traditional, old-fashioned. And it seems all the men just want. Well, you know.”

“Many of the women, too. You’ve seen how they go around displaying the goods on offer.”

“It’s not a world I fit into.”

“But they’re not all like that. Look at Mark and me. He’s a good person and he respects me.”

“But you…”

“Yes. But we’ve been together a long time and it all happened very slowly without any pressure and whatever happened, happened because I wanted it as much as he did.”

“I like Paul, but I’m a little scared as well.”

“He seems nice to me. Why don’t I talk to Mark about it? See what he thinks. Maybe he could help.”

“Would you?”

“You do like him, don’t you?”

“Oh, terribly. It’s just I don’t know what to do with men.”

“Don’t worry, Jenny. It all comes pretty much instinctually.”

Like every other person who goes to school in Scotland, Jenny was made to go to dancing classes in the gym. The ball was a mixture of Scottish dancing with every now and again something more contemporary thrown in for variety. She wasn’t a good dancer, nor was anyone else really, but she knew what to do. 

Jenny found herself exploring the feeling of having a man she liked holding her. She found herself focusing on the parts that joined them together, his hand holding hers, his hand touching her back, moving a little up or down.  The touch was unfamiliar. She had rarely been touched by anyone since school and then each boy touched each girl with distaste and as little as is possible for people who are continuing to dance. She forgot that she was dancing as her attention lingered on his touch, but she didn’t need to concentrate as he guided her.

During a pause Paul said: “Did I tell you already that I liked you dress?”

“Loads of times, you’ve been very kind about it,” she said.

“But I mean it. Some of the dresses around here are indecent; or rather I suppose the girls in them are.”

“I know I’ve a reputation as being rather prim. I’m sure you actually like what she’s wearing,” Jenny nodded towards a girl in a low cut taffeta dress. “Don’t all men?”

“I like and I don’t like,” said Paul “Do you ever watch old films?”

“Yes, why?”“You know who Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn are?”

“Doesn’t everybody? Monroe is the blonde, rather silly one, while Hepburn  was in ‘Roman Holiday’, you know the film about a princess and Rome, they were on a scooter.”

“I think, I’ve seen that one, too.”

“And so?”

“Well, men might say they like the Monroe type, but in the end most men much prefer the Hepburn type. I know I do. There’s something not very attractive about showing too much, while there’s something very attractive about showing just enough.”

“I doubt Audrey would wear my dress though”

“I don’t know. It’s simple, classy, modest and suits very well the person wearing it.”

They danced a few more times and Jenny found her nerves were lessening. She was getting used to the idea of being with someone and was beginning to speak and act without first planning what to do and say. She felt a pleasant feeling that was unfamiliar and yet she knew what it must be from some sort of instinct or memory. Perhaps it was from something that she’d read. She liked this moment and wanted it to continue, not only today but tomorrow also. She liked Paul.  She wondered if he was here more out of duty. She knew that Susan and Mark had helped arrange things. Did Paul really want to be with her? They stopped dancing and stood for a second wondering what to do next.

“Shall we get a drink?” said Paul. “I’ve had enough dancing for the minute. There are a couple of seats over there.”

“I’d like to be able to talk for a bit so long as the music’s not too loud,” said Jenny.

“What will you have?”“I don’t really know, I don’t drink often.”“Perhaps, some wine; we’ve got to celebrate a little, don’t we?”

“OK, but you’re not to get me drunk, Paul.”

A few minutes later she was sipping some white wine, while Paul was drinking his pint of beer like a marathon runner drinking water.

“I don’t think I’ve seen your tartan before,” said Jenny. “It’s a pretty colour with the reds and the greens.”

“It’s Drummond of Perth,” said Paul.

“You’re from somewhere in the West Highlands, aren’t you? I remember picking that up somewhere. I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Yes, some wee place with less than one hundred people that’s not quite on the map.”

“It must be pretty though.”

“We look out over Raasay, Skye and when it’s clear, we can even see the Hebrides, but when you’ve seen it every day, it seems rather dull in the end.”

“I thought only Mackenzies lived out that way. You’re called Grey, aren’t you?”

“Yes. I know it doesn’t sound much like a Highland chieftain.”

“So is your family from Perth? Is that why you have your kilt? Perhaps, your mother’s family?”

“No, I picked it up second hand and mainly because I liked the colour. I’m glad I did though as it’s a Jacobite tartan. One of Charlie’s advisors or some such was a Drummond of Perth.”

“Do you really like the Jacobites?”

“I’m joking mainly. I’m not trying to bring back the “King o’er the Water”, but I sympathise with what they fought for. The Scottish King had been wrongly overthrown, and they were trying to get him back and our independence, too.”

“Were they? I can’t have been paying attention in that lesson.”

“Now that you know about my kilt I have to confess I feel rather embarrassed. We’ve known each other for ages but I don’t think I’ve ever known your surname. It was always just Jenny.”

“Davidson. You know I’m from Glasgow though?”

“There’s a hint of it in your accent, but it’s very subtle. I don’t even think you roll your ‘Rs’”

“Not really, though I can if I try. In my school we were discouraged from having too much of an accent. Besides I’ve got relations all over Britain and Ireland. I’m a bit of a mongrel I suppose.”

“It’s a nice mix.”

“Thank you.”

“But you are Scottish?”

“Yes. But I’m not sure if there even is a Davidson tartan. Does it matter?”

They continued in this way for the next couple hours, dancing a while and then sitting down and chatting. Jenny was now on her third glass of wine and feeling it slightly.

“It’s getting rather hot. Do you think there’s anywhere else we could sit?” she said.

“Let’s go out and have a wander about. There might be a nook somewhere that’s a bit cooler.”

Outside the ballroom there were corridors, another bar and a large staircase descending towards the reception. The stairs were wide and lushly carpeted and a few couples were already scattered about.

“Let’s have another drink and we can find somewhere to sit that’s got a bit more air.  Quieter, too” said Paul.

“I’m not sure I ought to have another,” said Jenny.

“It’s not a sin to drink wine, is it? I remember some people who did so a long time ago.”

“No. It’s not a sin. It’s just I’m not used to it.”

“You’ll be alright, Jen. I’ll look after you. We’ll sit for a bit and then we can go home.”

“I like having someone to look after me. One more glass of wine then, but don’t blame me if you have to carry me back.”

“Sit down there. It looks about as quiet a spot as we’ll find on the stairs. I’ll be back in a minute.”

Paul came back with another pint and another quite large glass of wine for Jenny. She sat on his left in what amounted to a sort of nook on the stairs. People passed up and down, but Jenny and Paul didn’t impede anyone and indeed they were barely noticed.

“We should do something else again soon,” said Paul.

“I’d like that, I’ve enjoyed this evening more than you know,” said Jenny.

“Me, too.”“It was good of you to take me. I know Susie and Mark had something to do with it.”

“If I hadn’t been such a fool I’d have asked you myself long ago. It’s just I’m not very good with girls.”

“I wouldn’t have known, you’ve been good with me.”

“I try to hide it but I’m rather shy. How are you supposed to know if a girl likes you?”

“She can tell you,” Jenny took his hand and squeezed it.“I know, but beforehand. I’ve come to your flat loads of times. If I’d asked you out and you’d said ‘no’, it would been difficult to come again.”

“I hope you come every day from now on. But why did you come? Lorna?”

“We’ve all sort of fallen into being a group of friends. I suppose I did meet Lorna first. Does it matter?”

“No. Not if it doesn’t matter to you.”“Lorna wants many men. To be honest, I’d rather have one woman.”

“She’s yours. You just have to ask her.”

Gradually he’d moved his hand around her back and she had snuggled herself closer to him. They had lowered their voices and moved their heads closer so that they might hear and be heard.“This is all rather new for me,” said Jenny. “I’m not sure I know what to do.”Paul made a move towards her and slightly tilted his head. She found herself knowing what to do and then they were kissing. At first just their lips met and then only for a few seconds.

“I’d hoped you’d do that,” said Jenny.

“Me too, but the first time is always a bit difficult. Not easy to know how to start.”

“Because of British reserve.”

“I think of it more as Scottish shyness.”

“You know I’ve never really had a boyfriend.”

“That seems strange, Jenny. You’re very pretty.”

“I suppose I just haven’t met the right man. Until now, I hope.”

“Don’t worry, Jen, we’re together now, sealed by a kiss. You’re my girlfriend if you’ll have me.”

“And you’re my boyfriend, my very first.”

“But, Jenny, we’re both fourth years. You must be twenty-two. Haven’t you wanted to meet someone before?”

“I’m only just twenty-one actually. I came a year early.”

“Even so?”“Yes, of course, I wanted to meet someone. Who doesn’t? It’s just I’ve studied rather hard and, well, most of all I’ve worried about what he might expect. I’m rather old-fashioned.”

“About what?”

“Well, you see I believe people should wait until marriage. The trouble is I sometimes think that only I think that way.”

“Oh!” said Paul unable to hide his look of astonishment.

“I know it rather comes as a shock. When I tell them what I believe, most boys rapidly lose interest. You can, too if you like.”

“Don’t be silly, Jenny, we’ve just got together, don’t split us up after five minutes.”

He leaned in to kiss her again, and this he suggested with his tongue that she open her mouth further. He remembered reading something in Chretien de Troye’s ‘Perceval’:
Qui baise feme et plus n’i fait,Des qu’il sont sol a sol andui,Dont quit je qu’il remaint en lui.Feme qui se bouche abandoneLe sorplus molt de legier done.
He’d rather liked the quote and so had remembered it. He went over the translation in his mind. ‘He who kisses a woman and doesn’t go further when they are alone, then it’s his own fault, I think. A woman who surrenders her mouth gives the rest quite easily’. He’d liked the idea of a woman being like a citadel, but that a kiss was the key to the drawbridge and really her final defence. He’d know what Jenny was like, but still it had been unexpected what Jenny had said. It was partly this which made him think of the quote. She was like someone from another time. He felt a sense disappointment also after their kissing had made him think of what soon might come.  But the quote reminded him that women always begin by saying ‘no’ and that ‘no’ of course didn’t mean ‘no’. Otherwise humanity would have died out long ago. He found her very attractive indeed at this moment. But above all he liked her. He hadn’t expected to have such a good time. She was definitely worth pursuing, if that was the right word now that she had, so to speak, been caught. He had his foot in the door. He could be patient.  She was worth waiting and seeing what would happen.Soon afterwards they decided to call it a night.

“What do you think, Jenny?” said Paul “Shall we get a cab or walk it?”

“It’s nice enough outside and I’m sure you noticed I don’t have heals.”

“Thank goodness you don’t or you’d be taller than me.”

That’s her only problem really thought Paul, that and the nutty Christian business.  He much preferred short women, indeed very short woman more like 5 foot rather than five foot nine. 

“I must be only a few centimetres less than you,” said Jenny. “At least we’ll fit together nicely.”

They got their coats and started walking towards Old Aberdeen. It was one of those clear February nights: a bit cold, but no frost, no wind and no rain. It was about as good as it gets in Aberdeen in winter.

“It hits you a bit when your first get outside,” said Jenny.

“What hits you?” asked Paul “The wine? A walk will do you good.”He reached out and took her arm, and she gratefully arranged things so that they could walk comfortably together.

“It’s strange,” she said, “how everything seems changed since a few hours ago. Even the streets look different.”

“What’s changed?”

“Well we have, haven’t we? Before there was just you and me and the possibility of something, I didn’t quite believe it.”

“That’s a little deep for me after four or five pints.”

“You’ll have to forgive my tendency to analyse.”

“Someone told me you’re one of the best students at the uni.”“Oh, I think they exaggerate.”

“What are you going to do afterwards?”

“I’m staying on. It’s pretty much all set already. What about you?”

“I don’t really know. I’ve done alright, but nothing special. I’m busy campaigning. It takes up a lot of my time.”

“Campaigning for what?”

“Independence. After we finish in June I’m going to campaign all summer. You should see what we’re planning.”

“Well, I’m not sure I’ll be here to see. I’ll be in Russia.”

“What on earth for?! It’s going to be the most important summer of our lives and you’ll miss it!”

“I have to try to get my Russian good enough. I have a course there. It’s all arranged.”

“I don’t get it. You study religion, don’t you?”

“Theology and some philosophy, and some literature as well.”“What’s that got to do with Russia?”

“My tutor suggested it. She’s been helping me for the past couple of years or so individually.”

“What do you mean? This is Aberdeen, not Cambridge”

“I’ve been very lucky. She’s been giving me tuition in the evenings. Completely unofficial, of course , and for no pay.”

“What do you do in these tutorials?”

“I write an essay, give it to her a couple of days beforehand and then we discuss it.”

“How many essays have you written?”

“One a week for the past two years or so.”“Good God! And that’s on top of the ones that everyone has to write?”“Well, I tend to recycle for those.”

“I see you’ve been busy. But you’re interested in Scotland, too. Aren’t you?”

“Yes, but I’m not sure we’ll agree on politics. Let’s not argue now.”“What’s you tutor called?”“Dr Shch—- “, Jenny said a long Russian word that Paul couldn’t catch.

“She’s known in the department by her maiden name: Effie Deans.”

“I know of her,” said Paul.

“How? Have you met her in the department?”

“No, I’ve come across her online. She’s a No campaigner. Quite well known. She writes a blog.”

“Yes, I know.”“People say she’s a Tory as well.”

“I think, it’s more subtle than that,” said Jenny.

“And what about you?”

“I’m not that interested in politics. I think theological and moral issues are much more interesting.”

“But you’re left wing anyway?”

“I wouldn’t describe myself as such. You see I believe in individual action rather than collective action. I’d like to see a smaller government.”

“You’re a Tory. I didn’t think they existed amongst Scottish students our age.”

“Yes, I’m a Tory. My family are and I am, too.”

“But it’s immoral.”

“I think, when you know me better you’ll find me very moral in my own way.”

“I’m sorry, Jenny. It just came as a bit of a shock. You’ll vote ‘No’, too, I suppose?”

“The UK is my country. I don’t want to see it broken up. But do let’s not argue about it. I want to find what we have in common as two human beings who’ve just found each other.”

“We can agree to differ about this and other things, but you’ll allow me the chance to persuade you.”

“But of course! I try to be open-minded and enjoy reasonable discussion.”

They were approaching Jenny’s flat.“Please come in,” said Jenny. “I want to say goodnight to you properly.”

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea. I remember reading something about not leading me not into temptation.”

“But I feel I can trust you. You should trust yourself.”

Paul hesitated for a few seconds and various thoughts went through his mind including the lines from Perceval and the fact that she was the first woman his age who had expressed trust in him. It felt rather good for someone to say something like that that.

“OK, I could do with some coffee,” he said.

They sat down in the kitchen and spoke in low voices.“You haven’t much experience with men, have you, Jenny?” asked Paul.

“None at all,” she answered.

“It probably isn’t a good idea to ask someone in. There’s a sort of expectation.”

“I know, but we’ve already discussed that.”

“It’s not always easy for the man. It’s a bit like being in a sweet shop, but not being able to eat any sweets.”

“I understand. Don’t you think it’s the same for me? I want to be held. I want to be caressed. I want to be loved.”

“But you said?”

“And I meant it. But we’re both intelligent. We can keep our ideals and our principles intact while finding warmth in each other’s arms. People have been loving in this way for two thousand years. You have to trust me on this, Paul. I’ll not lead you into temptation. I trust you, you must trust me also. Now come to my room and we’ll spend some minutes saying good night.”

They went into Jenny’s room and he saw the books, the crucifix on the wall and the icons in the corner. She put on a side light and sat down on the bed next to him. She put her hand around his neck and started kissing him passionately.Half an hour or so later Paul was on his way home. No-one had taken any clothes off and yet he couldn’t remember a nicer half hour in the arms of a woman. Their kissing had soon led them to an embrace that toppled onto the bed. They each kicked their shoes off and enjoyed the fact that for the first time they could hold each other and caress. There was no need to explore further. Who could know just then when or if that would occur? He was conscious of Jenny’s shyness and wanted to prove that he was worthy of her trust. So there were no struggles. No battles with wandering hands. After a few minutes he sensed that she felt safe in his arms, which meant that she was the one taking the lead. She was the one exploring more than he was. He found it exciting to let her make the choices, but he also knew that this sort of excitement had its limits and so suggested going home after their first bout of passionate kissing had subsided into a calm embrace with whispers.

“You can stay,” said Jenny. “We can sleep just like this.”

“Let’s be content with where we are just now,” said Paul.

“I trust you.”

“I know and it’s a big compliment, but there comes a point when it’s easier, you know, not to continue.”

“Oh there’s so much I don’t know. Let’s be honest and open with each other.”

“I’ll try Jenny, I’ll really try. When shall I see you tomorrow?”

“I’ll be back from church about one.”

“You don’t fancy giving it a miss? Having a break?”

“Well, I need it. It’s the time I can relax most and forget everything else.”

“Oh, well. Why don’t I come round about two and we can go for a walk if it’s still nice out?”

“Let’s do that.”

As he wandered the short distance to his flat he reflected on what had happened. She was great; he’d loved the whole evening and especially had loved kissing her. But a couple of things still nagged. He had very little time for Christianity. He not only thought it stupid and obviously false, he thought it positively harmful. How on earth were they going to continue kissing and embracing like this? Even the shiest girl was expected nowadays to sleep with her boyfriend after a few weeks at most. It just wasn’t done to keep on as if it was the 19th century for months, even for years. He’d never seriously thought of marriage, no-one he knew did. What for? If you met a girl, you were supposed to get all of the benefits of marriage and none of the downside. Marriage under those circumstances was pointless at best, downright risky at worst.It had been more than pleasant that last half hour or so. It had been, if anything, more exciting than any time he’d ever been alone with a girl. But there really could be too much of a good thing when there was no chance of reaching the goal of all this kissing and caressing.Then there was her politics. She obviously was more concerned with her studies, but how could he tell his friends at the local ‘Yes’ campaign that he was going out with a ‘No’ voter, and a Tory to boot. He’d obviously have to try to persuade her not only about politics but about other things as well. There was time. He could be patient. She was definitely worth it, but she clearly needed to change in a few respects. He’d have a look at a few web sites to see if he could find some good arguments.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog:

About Effie Deans

Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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