by Susan Thomas
When Kathy Anderton discovered dating as a young teenager she also discovered just how eager teenage boys were to have sex. As she was the daughter of a young single mother, that scared her and she began to wonder why a girl had to be so willing to get her knickers off just to keep a boyfriend.
One day Ellis, her boyfriend said, "Well I really like you Kathy but if you're not prepared to...."
She felt resentful. "Well I really like you Ellis but if that's how you feel..."
Ellis had a brief moment of randy hope before Kathy walked off waving goodbye. Unsure what to do about dating any other boy, she moaned about it to Kelly, a nice girl she often sat next to in class.
"Why do I have to have sex just to go out with him? I just don't want to. I don't feel ready."
Her friend replied quietly, "I'm not allowed to date boys on their own. My parents don't think I'm old enough and my church discourages it. Why don't you come to my church? There are loads of kids our age and we all have a good time."
The church was a friendly charismatic Anglican church with a great many families and a policy about dating - don't date, go out in groups. Kathy happily fell in with this enjoying the company of boys in a mixed group and feeling happier and unpressured. She wasn't really a believer but she was accepted just as she was. Her mum was happy about it and Kathy enjoyed the various youth activities.
Kathy's mum wasn't in fact unmarried. She had gone touring North America during a gap year and at just eighteen had met, married and fallen pregnant to a young American man. Kathy was six months old when the responsibility of being a husband and father had sent him scurrying for the hills never to be seen again. Kathy's mum had fled back to England to a family that promptly disowned her. Their view was she had married a foreigner in a foreign country without their permission; she had made her bed and must now lie on it. Knocked down but not destroyed she set to and worked hard to build a life for herself and her daughter. In spite of having no qualifications beyond A-level she managed to work her way up to quite a well-paid job, bought a flat and although she had to be careful with money, managed a reasonable life for the two of them.
Was Kathy a perfect daughter? She was, as all daughters are, a mixture of adorable and a pain. Sometimes they had screaming rows. Sometimes Kathy was grounded. Sometimes they laughed and talked together without any barriers. A normal relationship. Kathy's mum, Annie, was relieved that Kathy was wary of a sexual relationship with boys. She could see that Kathy just wasn't ready and that was fine with her - she had been all too eager to have sex and ultimately it had led to her current situation.
Kathy was bright like her mum and doing well at school. The predictions for her A-level exam results were outstanding and she was able to apply to some good universities. It was during that final year of A-levels that Kathy's mum developed some odd symptoms which took her to the doctor who sent her straight to hospital. The diagnosis was not good. More tests and chemotherapy followed, but her mum hid from Kathy the true situation which was that she had very little time left to live. She hid her pain, her discomfort and her fear so that Kathy could concentrate on her exams. She put her affairs in order and talked to the vicar of the church Kathy attended. He, much moved by her love and strength, promised that Kathy would have the full support of the church in every way when she passed on.
Kathy finished her exams with a school prediction she would do outstandingly well and several offers for good universities. Then her mum broke the truth to her and allowed herself to be moved to a hospice. She died two weeks after Kathy's last exam, peacefully and pain free with Kathy holding her hand.
The church kept the promise made by the vicar. Kathy was whisked off to stay with the kind family of her friend Kelly that had brought her into the church. The vicar organised the funeral and a solicitor member of the congregation gave his services free of charge and arranged everything to do with the estate. Kathy did feel loved and supported but she also felt alone and at night she thought about the future and thought very hard.
She knew she would do well at A-level and could easily go to university but she was worried about student behaviour. She had no stomach for the drinking and sex culture she heard so much about. She also knew that how much she studied was up to her and that scared her. She knew her weaknesses - was aware of her procrastination and casualness, but until now her mum and her teachers had pushed her through those. Without that support what would she be like? She also felt angry. Here she was among strangers when there were her mother's parents who'd never so much as sent her a birthday or Christmas card. And what of her father and his family - why had they never reached out to her mum?
It was the anger she felt that made her research her father. Her mother had a copy of his birth certificate so she looked it up. A small town in a rural area of a mainly rural state it looked very pleasant. A search of the town's residents revealed a whole cluster of Andertons. Her father was named Kevin Gary Anderton, but he wasn't there and search as she might she could discover no trace of him anywhere in the US. No residence, no Facebook or any similar account. The man seemed to have literally headed for the hills. A further search showed her that his parents still lived there, and without becoming obsessional there were a fair few Andertons resident in the town that in all likelihood were her relatives.
Kathy wanted nothing from them or even to see them. They had never reached out to her mother or to her even though she was their flesh and blood. She wasn't even sure why she researched them other than anger that they were alive and her mother dead. It all seemed so unfair. It was while she was researching what high school her father had likely attended that she made her discovery.
Some twenty miles outside the town was a college that took only girls. Most of the graduates became teachers but it was the organisation that was even more interesting. It was an extremely strict Christian college. There was a curfew and a lights out time. In fact even to leave the college campus required permission. Every set of ten student rooms had a woman or an older girl who was in charge and responsible for discipline. Any rules broken could mean the imposition of chores or even a CTC (Confined to Campus). A weekly Sunday attendance at the college chapel was mandatory. On top of all that each student had a weekly meeting with a personal tutor to review work rate, grades and attitude. Kathy was fascinated. Such an arrangement was simply not possible in England but it would answer all her fears and help her to move on with her education in a disciplined and structured way. The thought of a regular university with her grief all too raw was just not supportable. She checked out its standing. Not a high flying college but equally not dreadful, about midway in the rankings she felt.
Kathy checked the time. Six hours behind GMT so she would have to wait until the afternoon to phone. She waited impatiently for the college to wake up and have breakfast and finally she rang the admissions office. She explained her situation in her usual clear way and reasons for being interested, asking if it was too late to apply. Patient kindness best describes the lady she spoke to. Though Kathy struggled sometimes with her accent and the woman struggled with Kathy's rather broad Lancashire they got on well. The Dean would have to be consulted she was informed but he would phone her back in an hour or so. Kathy half suspected that she would hear nothing, but she did.
The Dean was kind and Kathy was extremely honest about her failings, her fears of normal university life and her grief. When asked about finances she explained that her mother had insurance that paid off the mortgage and that the flat would be sold, a pension policy that provided a small lump sum for her and an annual sum as long as she was in full time education. Additionally her mum had some money saved. She had ample to get her through college and give her a start in life. Satisfied with Kathy and her ability to pay the fees he asked that she obtain a reference from her school, another from her vicar and copies of her university offers. A week later she was accepted and her A-level results weren't even in yet.
When the time came, leaving Britain and all she knew was hard, but Kathy felt that wherever she went would be that way. She was alone in the world and she just had to get used to it. Her mum had to cope but with the additional burden of a baby and no money. Her friends at church made her promise to keep in touch by Skype and assured her that if she was unhappy over there she could come back and find a welcome with them. She thanked them and whispered another to her mum for her provision before setting off on her long journey.
All students had to share a room with another. Kathy's room was pleasant and generous in size. There was a wash hand basin but the bathrooms were located further along the corridor. When Kathy finally arrived her roommate was already unpacking with her parents fussing around helping her.
Kathy liked her roommate immediately. Stacey Bukoski was bright, bubbly, friendly and clearly rather scatty. Her parents tried to organise her but she seemed terminally disorganised and Kathy ended up not only unpacking her own stuff but helping Stacey's parents.
Mr Bukoski was large and stern and when all was unpacked and it was time for her parents to go he addressed Stacey sternly. "Well Stacey, you know our expectations. I trust that your behaviour will be all we should expect from a good Christian girl."
To Kathy's surprise he then turned to her. "I hope you understand the high standards expected of you. It is a shame your parents aren't here to say this to you."
Kathy bridled. Her reply was extremely stiff to say the least. "I agree it is shame that my mother died only a few months ago. Neither of us wanted it I can assure you. It is also a shame that my American father ran off when I was six-months old. I don't care about that but my mum did. Since I deliberately chose this rather strict college when I already had a place at a British university I think you may take it for granted I understand what is expected here and shall live up to it."
It was clear that Stacey's father was utterly lost for words and simply turned on his heel and left, leaving her mother to mutter apologies and, "Sorry for your loss."
"Wow! I've never seen Dad lost for words before. Boy did you put him down."
Soon the two girls were chatting as if they had known each other always.
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