It was the end of my first year in university. We were going through exams at the time, not that that worried me, I was doing more private research. I woke at my desk, a habit I could never quite break, and there was a piece of blue paper taped to my forehead. Initially, I thought it was some kind of prank – but the thickness and the weight of the blue paper meant something else entirely. It offered an address, then read, Wear a tie.
I resisted the urge to acquire a phone book and proceed to call every ‘Helen’ in the book. He couldn’t have provided me with a surname – that would have been too easy. It has often occurred to me if the Doctor might occasionally make things harder for himself. The Doctor didn’t make friends with people who weren’t important, that much was obvious so, this Helen, whomever she was, must be someone vital to the Doctor.
Of course, now I began to doubt myself. He had entrusted me with her care, and as much as I respected him, the Doctor and I rarely ever spoke at length. When I would try to ask him about his own past, or offer parts of my own, he would suddenly gesticulate very rapidly, and say, ‘Don’t say another word, save it for later.’ I had made my own deductions about him – that he harboured great amounts of guilt, with equal parts joy and that he could never take himself as seriously as other people did. But, you know that. I have used words I didn’t have to. This story isn’t about the Doctor, it’s about Helen.
I arrived at a tiny town hall a half hour early. I always liked to be early. I had worn a suit, not a tie, as instructed by the Doctor. It was obviously some kind of…function. It was a high school graduation dance, a ball. I was a little peeved, when I learnt this I will admit. I had only just left high school myself and still harboured that great sense of superiority young people have when they are marginally ahead of someone else. Only by age, not by maturity or merit, of course. From a park bench, I saw the young girls wearing incredibly high heels and long dresses pile in, chatting to each other. And I wondered, who might Helen be? She might be one of the teachers – she could be anyone. That was the great mystery.
I approached the man at the entrance, who asked to see my invitation. I took out my little blue square of paper, and showed it to him. He was baffled, I was not. I moved past him before he could say another word. I still think about that man occasionally, and wonder if he thinks of me. If he ever asked me what happened that night I would tell him the truth. A very old friend sent me to meet the love of my life.
You know Helen, of course so you know how easy she is to spot in a crowd. She was talking to one of the teachers, rambling away in the way that is particular to her, and…Forgive me for being poetic, but it looked like her ideas and thoughts were just slipping off her curls of hair. Most of the other girls wore long, wide-skirted dresses of a particular satin and silk mixture. She was in…a long-sleeved white lace dress that looked like a family heirloom from the 1930’s. She was beautiful.
I touched the man’s shoulder, who turned his head, and then turned on his heel, relieved, and left.
It was the first thing she had ever said to me. I was caught a little off-guard – was she reading, observing me?
It was not a question, but a statement of fact. Her inflection was not like the girls of her age and it was quite, intimidating.
“Hello, Arthur Holmes.” Words I would never tire of hearing.
“One dance?” I suggested, and held out an arm. “Then I’ll go.”
“One dance. Two, if you’re lucky.”
I was very fortunate. I was very, very lucky. My mother had sent me to dance classes when I was quite young. It wouldn’t hurt. You never know when you might need them. I thanked the stars I had learnt that night – Helen seemed very impressed. I suppose, if she was comparing me to the groups of young men milling around the walls listlessly then I would appear to be quite the catch.
She talked, she talked, she talked. I listened. She was fascinating – truly. Incredibly intelligent, and so lovely. She talked about how she played the violin, how she wanted to be married and have a tribe of children. How the Doctor had always been good to her, even if he was sometimes late. She talked about philosophy, I talked about science – she corrected my theories quite readily. I was not offended. I was in awe.
I had always had a good awareness of the time, not necessarily down to the minute, but it was quite natural for me to be on time to things. (Provided I hadn’t fallen asleep at my desk.) To wake up naturally without an alarm clock. But I lost track of time that night. We were standing on the steps to the entrance, when Helen had an idea.
“I’ll show you my school – where I’ll be graduating from tomorrow. So you can tell the Doctor.” Perhaps she was grasping at straws – but I didn’t care. I accepted instantly, almost too quickly. She took me to the school oval, where the stands would be set up, how the names would be called. All the while walking through silvery dew and being both so gentle and so fierce about how she did everything.
She then thought that perhaps it was getting late – she should be getting home. I offered to walk her, and walk we did. She told me later, that we had walked the longest way home. I was surprised when she had told me this. It didn’t seem very long to me at all. This time she asked me a lot of questions, and I answered them only to get five new questions each time. Her house, nestled in between rolling moors and wind that bent trees would later become the family home. It was not a castle, not a mansion – more a, home for the gentry. She was clearly wealthy, but it didn’t bother her, and it didn’t bother me.
It was a long good-bye. We never very good at saying good-bye, were we Helen? No. I always thought that was a good thing. After she had gone inside her house, I had done something I hadn’t really done before in my life. I loitered. I loitered a lot. I sighed finally, after a while, I’m not sure how long – and I began to walk down the driveway from her house. I had nearly finished the drive, when I heard my name and saw an image I will never forget.
It was Helen, dressed in a baggy jumper, still wearing her shoes from the evening, and running towards me. Her hair was so wild. Apparently, her words, she had taken off her dress once she had gotten inside, and then stood in her room for 25 minutes having no idea what to do with herself.
“Arthur!” She had found her way into my arms somehow, she was so slim at that stage it was like she had just catapulted herself into me. She kissed me first, quite fiercely. As if to say, This is a kiss, this is not an accident. It was, and is, to this day, the greatest kiss I have ever received. She slipped a scrap of paper into my breast pocket.
“Don’t lose it.”