Love on the road: guidance from a veteran teen
‘There were three in the bed and the little one said…’
You can’t always get what you want, but you may just get what you need
‘Can you see her?’
It’s 1980 — quite a time before my eyesight has moved the horizon forward — and Joe and I are on a beach in Wales, trying to spot a girl he fancies from school.
It isn’t rhetorical but should be.
How do you find a diffident, pale blonde 17-year-old on a mile-long stretch of pale blonde sand? She is with her family, holidaying.
It is Joe’s mission. I am riding shotgun in his parent’s rusting VW estate, a car long enough to sleep in, feeding him drinks during our three hours on the road.
But really, I am there to shore him up, pump air into faltering confidence (did she even like him?) and prepare him for approach and landing, a co-pilot with a keen eye, looking for a short runway on a tiny island.
Think needle, think haystack.
I mean this girl could be anywhere. We are even in another country for God’s sake!
We have no idea what her family look like, or where they might be. If they are on a beach, which beach? A hotel? But where?
It doesn’t matter. We have eschewed our usual Friday night routine of beer, Bowie and a strangled rendition of A Stairway to Heaven for Joe’s romantic, yet spontaneous, adventure.
Well, I hadn’t.
I had been banking on a car ride, perhaps two if we couldn’t find her, a few drinks (crossing the border from England to Wales is a big deal when you’re 17) and some time with my best friend.
But that’s not how it went down.
‘Hey you two! What are you doing here?’
This is some Voodoo magic.
Suddenly, she is right here.
Does she sound angry? Ok, she is angry. We aren’t expected. Her father will be angry, her mother. Oh God no, what the fuck are we doing?
I feel myself begin to heat up, chagrined, ashamed.
‘How the hell?’ ………It was as far as she got.
Joe is unflappable, a schmoozer, an operator par excellence, a teenage titan. His confidence needs puncturing not bolstering.
‘Hey,’ he smiles, ‘Let’s go and meet your family.’ He strides off; we ride his slipstream.
They are all sitting around a fire. Hands are shaken. Parents and siblings charmed.
‘How did you get to be here?’
‘We were in the area.’
What!? I can’t even look.
‘That’s incredible Joe…well fancy that,’ says the mother, smiling, her crucifix dangling.
‘And who’s this nice young man you have with you?’
Oh Jeez, don’t drag me into this. I am just a bystander.
I say my hellos and try to bury myself up to the neck in sand.
‘Right,’ he says, ‘We are taking your daughter to the pub. Won’t be long.’
The father begins to open his mouth but Joe already has the daughter by the hand, turns his back and walks, purposefully, away.
No one’s going to stop him and the three of us are soon sitting in The Three Lambs, shaking off the sand, watched by the locals.
I should say at this point that in those days the Welsh like to torch Welsh cottages bought by the English, preferably with us inside them.
There is always a warm welcome in the valleys.
But in the brief period we are there, I notice something unexpected, and probably unwelcome.
Helen is quite attractive. In fact, she is very attractive.
How hadn’t I noticed this before? She is in the year below me, but all the same.
Surely, Joe wouldn’t mind. After all, it’s not as if they are going out or anything……
I was on my third beer. I needed more, had more.
Suddenly, it’s bedtime and we are back at the VW. We unroll the sleeping bags and lay them over the three of us. Cozy see, as they say in Wales.
I will never know who or what persuaded her to get in with us, but we are soon lined up like three sardines in a tin can. Boy-girl-boy.
It’s the right order. I think, though my maths is bad, especially after a few drinks.
But it feels right. And wrong.
It feels both right and wrong.
As Joe talks away, my hand finds hers under one of the two sleeping bags.
Her touch is soft, and tender, intimate. She reaches for me, she likes me. She likes me not him. That much is clear.
Should I feel bad? Yes. Do I? No. It’s her choice.
I am about to embark on a degree in Marxist critical theory and a course in feminism and fiction.
Women have choices. I am pro-choice and I am hers. Her choice.
Our caress grows more passionate. I never knew that hands could be so fucking erotic!
And we go on and on. Ten minutes, 15, 20. Joe is oblivious, babbling away, but we are in another world.
Clearly, she is not interested in him (that’s okay then).
It’s like we are making love. We are making love!
But suddenly, the world turns and up go her hands, into the air, as if she is riding a rollercoaster.
‘’Look, no hands!’ she exclaims, grinning, widely, powerfully.
Joe raises his head and looks at me; I look at him; she looks at us both, dismisses us both with a single gesture.
There is a huge intake of breath and the three of us bellow with laughter.
I never knew a man’s hands could be so smooth.
© simon heathcote