Stephen Buxton had just turned thirteen. He was quite tall for his age and well-built. He had short blond hair and blue eyes. This morning he was wearing a clean white shirt tucked in and his navy school tie with yellow stripes was neatly tied. Instead of his usual navy school trousers, today he wore a new pair of smart grey flannels, fastened with a black belt. His black shoes were well-polished.
As he was walking to school a girl in his class came up behind him. She was slightly shorter than he was and had long dark hair. Her name was Rachel Pearson. She was wearing a white blouse and a navy skirt.
‘Good morning, Mr Buxton,’ she said. Stephen blushed. She had always called him Stephen until now.
‘Good morning, Miss Pearson,’ he replied.
‘You look very smart today,’ she said.
‘Thank you,’ he replied. He hadn’t overcome his uneasiness, knowing that she was looking at him admiringly, as if trying to work out what was different about him.
‘Mr Buxton,’ she said, ‘have you got some new trousers on?’
‘Yes, Miss Pearson,’ Stephen replied.
‘They’re lovely,’ Rachel said. ‘I think they suit you.’
‘Thank you,’ said Stephen. ‘I got them for my birthday.’
‘At the weekend.’
‘I didn’t know.’
Stephen was at a loss for what to say. He and Rachel were friends, but he didn’t know her all that well. The trousers had been part of a suit his parents had bought him for his birthday. He hadn’t had occasion to wear it yet, but decided to wear the trousers to school for a change, as boys were allowed to wear grey as well as navy, though very few did. He hadn’t really expected anyone to notice. No-one else seemed to for the rest of the day. He didn’t really think about Rachel again, until he was at home in the evening, when an envelope was posted through the front door. While he was watching television in the front room with his younger sister Louise, their mother came in and handed Stephen the envelope.
‘There’s a card come for you,’ she said to him. It was addressed to ‘Mr Stephen Buxton’. ‘Who’s calling you Mr Buxton, I wonder?’
‘Mr Buxton!’ Louise laughed.
Stephen opened the envelope. He didn’t recognise Rachel’s writing but he knew it must be from her. He was right. The strange feeling he had felt that morning was with him again.
‘It’s from Rachel at school,’ he said. ‘A late birthday card.’
‘Is she your girlfriend?’ asked Louise.
‘Don’t be silly,’ Stephen replied.
‘Is that why you had those posh trousers on today? Trying to impress her?
‘Leave him alone,’ Mrs Buxton said. ‘He looked really nice.’
‘I bet Rachel thought so,’ Louise continued.
‘She did actually,’ said Stephen.
‘You see. Or did she think you looked like an old man? Is that why she’s calling you Mr Buxton?’
‘Louise, I’ve told you - leave your brother alone,’ said Mrs Buxton. It was good of her to send you a card,’ she continued, turning to Stephen. ‘Make sure you thank her.’
‘I’ll call her,’ he said.
Stephen kept thinking about Rachel. Was she teasing him, or did she like him? Certainly the card was a lovely idea.
Rachel, meanwhile, was doing her homework in her bedroom. Her sister came in with the phone.
‘It’s for you,’ she said.
‘Who is it?’ Rachel asked.
‘This boy - I didn’t ask his name.’
Rachel smiled as she took the phone. She knew it must be Stephen. ‘Good evening, Miss Pearson,’ he greeted her.
‘Good evening – who’s that?’ Rachel said, pretending not to know. There was a pause – Stephen was wondering what he should say.
‘It’s Mr Buxton,’ he replied.
‘Hello, Mr Buxton,’ said Rachel. He obviously liked being called that.
‘I was just ringing to say thank you for your card. It was very thoughtful of you.’
‘It’s a pleasure.’
‘I’m sorry I never told you about it – my birthday, I mean. I never thought about it.’
‘That’s all right. I’ll remember next year, now I know the date.’
‘When’s your birthday, Miss Pearson?’
‘The tenth of August.’
‘In the summer holidays.’
‘Not long now.’
‘Well, thank you again for the card.’
‘Thank you for ringing, Mr Buxton. I should get back to my homework.’
‘I won’t keep you. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
When Stephen had said goodbye and hung up, Rachel went out of her room to put the phone back. Her sister Elizabeth was standing in the hallway grinning.
‘Mr Buxton?’ she said.
‘Were you listening?’ Rachel asked, blushing.
‘Who is he?’
‘A friend, from school.’
‘An older friend?’
‘He’s in my class.’
‘And you call him Mr Buxton?’
Rachel was uneasy. ‘Stephen is his first name. I usually call him that, but – just today, well. . .’ She couldn’t find the words to express herself. It was what she wanted Stephen to ask her; she didn’t want to talk about it with Elizabeth. ‘He looked so smart; he had a new pair of trousers on, grey trousers. They made him look so, well – so grown-up, so manly.’
‘Mr Stephen Buxton, the handsome young man in the smart grey trousers. Not my type.’
‘Is he your boyfriend?’
‘Well no, at least -’
‘You want him to be? You fancy him?’
‘I – oh, I don’t know, just leave me alone.’
Elizabeth laughed as Rachel walked away with the phone. ‘Rachel’s in love,’ she said.
Rachel tried to continue with her homework, but she wasn’t focused on it. She had always liked Stephen, but she had seen him in a new light today. She had called him Mr Buxton to express her admiration for his smart appearance, and she had wanted it to be a private thing between them. Now her sister knew about him and what she called him, and probably his sister and perhaps his parents had seen the card she had sent. And yet part of her was unashamed of this. Perhaps tomorrow they would spend more time together at school – how would they address each other in front of the other pupils?
Now he knew when her birthday was, would he remember? He had asked, so he obviously planned to.
Later, she and Elizabeth were in the front room.
‘I’m sorry I teased you,’ Elizabeth said. ‘I didn’t mean to upset you.’
‘It’s okay,’ said Rachel, pretending not to care.
‘I suppose I’m jealous, really.’ Elizabeth was two years older than Rachel. ‘So, what’s he like, this boy?’
‘Sorry. Mr Buxton. He’s handsome, obviously?’
‘Oh, blond, with blue eyes?’
‘How did you know?’
‘Just guessing.’ There was a pause. ‘Well, like I say, he doesn’t sound like my type. But if you like him, you should tell him.’
‘I’m worried he’ll think I’m weird now. I think I’ve embarrassed him a bit.’
‘Well, he rang you, didn’t he?’
‘Yes, he rang to say thank you. I’d sent him a birthday card. And he asked me when my birthday was.’
‘That’s good, isn’t it? It must mean he cares.’
‘I hope so.’
‘And does he like being called Mr Buxton?’
‘I think so – I think I took him by surprise. And it never occurred to me he would call me Miss Pearson. I’m not sure I like that.’
‘Ask him to call you Rachel, then. And ask him what he prefers to be called.’
It seemed like a good plan.
Next morning, it was not such a nice day, and Rachel had her jumper on. When she caught up with Stephen, he was wearing a navy blazer, which she thought made him look even smarter than yesterday. She was glad to see he had his new trousers on again.
‘Good morning, Miss Pearson,’ he said.
‘Good morning, Mr Buxton,’ Rachel replied. ‘Mr Buxton, you can call me Rachel, you know.’
‘All right. It was only because you called me Mr Buxton yesterday.’
‘I know. Don’t you like being called that?’
‘You shocked me, that’s all. No-one’s ever called me that before. Why did you?’
‘You looked so grown up. In your new trousers. You look even nicer today with your jacket on. I think the name suits you, like your clothes.’
‘Well, thank you.’
‘Would you rather I called you Stephen?’
‘I don’t mind. Whichever you prefer to call me.’
‘Mr Buxton, then.’ She smiled at him, and he smiled back. They continued walking to school. Rachel thought he was such a gentleman, for allowing her to decide.
Rachel and Stephen began to spend more time with each other over the following weeks. Neither of them had many other friends, so they sat together in class, and had lunch together. They occasionally wondered what other people thought, but they didn’t really care. They came round to each other’s houses to do their homework and talk about things. Stephen was always dressed smartly – usually he wore a smart checked shirt, tucked in, and brown corduroy trousers. He didn’t really like wearing jeans or trainers – at least, not when he was with Rachel. She always looked nice too.
When they broke up for the summer holidays, Rachel was not as happy as she normally would be, as she knew she wasn’t going to see Stephen for a while. He was going away with his family to France for two weeks. He would be back for her birthday, but would he remember it? She missed him more than she thought she would, but was delighted one morning to receive a postcard from him.
Stephen had been missing Rachel too, and said so in his card. He addressed it to ‘Miss Rachel Pearson’, though he began with, ‘Dear Rachel’ and signed it ‘Stephen Buxton’. He wanted to put ‘Love from’ but decided against it. Still, Rachel loved it, and said so when she saw him next. It was the day after he’d got back, and he’d gone round to her house. Her parents were out at work. Elizabeth answered the door. Stephen wondered for a minute what to say.
‘I came to see if Rachel was in,’ he said.
Elizabeth smiled. ‘Mr Stephen Buxton, I presume?’ she said.
She led him up the stairs. Rachel was in her room. ‘You have a guest,’ Elizabeth said to her sister.
Rachel’s face lit up. ‘Mr Buxton,’ she said. ‘Come in.’
Elizabeth laughed and went downstairs. Rachel left her door open – she didn’t want Elizabeth listening outside or telling their mum she’d been shut in her bedroom with a boy. Then she might not be allowed to see him.
‘Did you have a nice time?’ she asked him.
‘It was okay.’
‘Thank you for your card.’ She picked it up off her desk. ‘You have beautiful writing, Mr Buxton.’
‘I brought you something back,’ Stephen said, ‘but you’ll have to wait till your wait till your birthday for it.’
Rachel felt sorry for doubting it. She didn’t care about her birthday much, so long as she saw Stephen. It fell on a Saturday, and her parents would want to take her out for the day. She wished she could invite him to join them, but she didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable. When she heard they were going out in the evening for dinner, she asked her mum if he could come. She was pleased that she said yes, but she hoped Stephen would accept, and that his parents would let him go.
Stephen was grateful to be invited, and his mum and dad gladly approved. ‘You can wear your suit,’ Mrs Buxton said. His face dropped. ‘Don’t worry about Louise,’ she said. ‘I’ll make sure she behaves.’
He felt really nervous as he was getting ready on the day. This was the first time he’d worn the complete outfit – a grey blazer to match his trousers. He wore the white shirt he wore to school, with a deep red tie.
When he got to Rachel’s house, he knocked on the door, hoping she would answer. He wished it could be just the two of them going out – he wasn’t sure how he would feel around her family. She did answer.
‘Happy Birthday,’ he said.
‘Thank you, Mr Buxton,’ Rachel replied. He looked better than she had ever seen him. ‘You look stunning.’
‘And you look very pretty.’ Rachel had a dark blue dress on.
‘This dress was a birthday present. Come in.’
They went through to the front room. ‘Where are your mum and dad?’ Stephen asked.
‘They’re getting ready.’
‘So, what else did you get for your birthday?’
Rachel held out her wrist, displaying a new silver watch.
‘Wow,’ said Stephen. ‘That’ll match what I got you.’
‘Here,’ he said, handing her a small red box.
She opened it. There was a silver heart ring inside. ‘Mr Buxton, it’s beautiful,’ she said.
‘I got it in France.’
‘I feel so bad. I only got you a card for your birthday.’
‘Don’t be silly. That was my fault, for not telling you. I got you a card too.’
She opened it. He had written ‘Love from Stephen’ this time. Rachel wanted to kiss him, but she didn’t want to spoil the moment. ‘Thank you so much,’ she said. Stephen took the ring out of its box. He took hold of her right hand and placed it on her third finger. It fitted perfectly. She wore the watch on her right wrist too, and the two things complemented each other well.
Rachel could no longer resist. She kissed Stephen on the cheek. Their eyes met and she put her arms round his neck and kissed his lips. He held her.
The door opened and Elizabeth walked in.’ ‘We’re ready to go – now,’ she said, realising too late she had disturbed them. ‘Sorry,’ she said, smiling.
They had a delightful evening, but Stephen and Rachel wanted to be alone together again, so that their moment that had started could be finished. It had been abruptly cut short, and there were things they wanted to say to each other. When it was time for him to go, she saw him out.
‘This has been the best birthday I’ve ever had,’ she said. ‘Thank you for everything.’
‘I’ve enjoyed it too,’ he replied.
‘I love you, Stephen,’ Rachel said, looking serious. She had been calling him Stephen all evening, as had her parents and Elizabeth.
‘I love you too.’
She smiled again and hugged him.