Andy Craig met the love of his life in the dinner queue, the first day of Grammar school. She chatted with friends, Andy stood alone, silent and overwhelmed with the vastness of the place. His primary school had been tiny and parochial and Whiteland Grammar School vast by comparison. She chivvied him along the queue. He’d been lost in thought and allowed a gap to form. Both were eleven, but she’d beaten him to the mile-post by one month and eleven days. She’d never let him forget it.
The initial a mutual disinterest moved gradually into a grudging, awkward friendship, and this developed into an unacknowledged love. Later, they’d fumble in dark corners during school dances, but it never went further than that. Not that Andy would have minded, of course. As a teenage boy, with the accompanying exploding hormones, acne and doubts, he would have to explore her developing body and take their fledgling romance to another level. But Sandy, sensible and studious, never allowed herself to be carried away by it all. She always remained grounded.
Andy and Sandy, became the joke of the school and remained so for the duration. Andy would never deny his attraction for the diminutive blonde, but he’d never shout it from the rooftops either. He’d put up with the good-natured taunts from friends. Andy never knew what Sandy had to contend with, she never told him.
An ordinary pupil and occasional athlete, Andy posted C’s across the board. He never excelled at anything. A couple of A’s in biology and history, had shown promise, but they were never followed up with any consistency. Neither popular nor unpopular at school, he simply survived the academic experience. Only his one constant, Sandy, brought out the best in him. He’d been there to support her through the bad times: a broken leg from a bicycle fall, and the loss of both grandparents in a car accident.
Sandy became a science nerd, a high-flyer. When she won a national award for a science project in the Sixth form, Andy had been to see it. Hidden in the back of the auditorium without her knowledge, he’d seen her joy at the recognition and revelled in it. Being a school day he’d been refused permission to attend the ceremony, so he’d journeyed, alone, from deepest Wales to London. His saved pocket money had only taken him as far as Cardiff, so he’d hitch-hiked the rest of the way there, and all the way back. Without permission from his parents, or the school, he’d been punished on his return by frantic parents and a vengeful Headmaster. He’d been gone for the best part of two days.
Sandy has been there for him too: cajoling him into finishing his homework; cheering from the crowd on the one occasion he made the Cricket First XI; and consoling him when he dropped the catch that would have won the match. When her family moved to the next village, they’d meet half way and she’d cycle with him to time his laps when he tried to make the grade at middle distance, even though she hated her old boneshaker.
Disaster struck a week before Sandy’s sixteenth birthday. Andy would never forget the day, Wednesday, sixth of January, 1993. The day Dizzy Gillespe died and Andy’ father had played Dizzy’s, Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods at full volume three times through. Andy had been about to scream when the LP started up again with the sixteen minute version of Oro, Incienso y Mirra, when Sandy crashed into his room early afternoon. Desultory Christmas decorations still adorned the tired walls, and had been the first time she’d ever entered his bedroom. Distraught, she broke down in a flood of tears.