Never Let You Go
I get nervous before every game I play, I was nervous the first time I spoke to Veronica and even more so when I asked her out the first time but on the morning of my interview with Cambridge University, for the first time when faced with a challenge, I wasn’t nervous, I felt confident, like everything was falling into place, just how it was meant to and I knew it was all thanks to Veronica, she believed in me and gave me unconditional love and support, making any doubts I had about my future just melt away.
I woke up just before dawn, I had about an hour and a half drive ahead of me and the last thing I needed was to get stuck in traffic and miss my interview completely. The birds outside my bedroom window were squawking but everything else was still and peaceful, giving me time to think about the day ahead of me. I checked my phone and saw two texts that had come through while I was sleeping, one from Dad, the other from Roni, both wishing me luck for today.
The sun was just starting to creep up, casting a bright orange glow over the neighbourhood when I made my way to the teeny, tiny rental car that would struggle, no doubt, going the distance to Cambridge. Shayla’s car was still parked in her parents driveway, which surprised me, I thought for sure she’d be back in London by now.
“Are you really going to attempt to drive the clown car to Cambridge?” Shayla’s soft chuckle startles me, I turn around to find her leaning against her house, cigarette glowing in her hand, another new development.
“I don’t really have another option, it’s either this or I catch the train but the train won’t get me there on time” I regret not putting more thought into transport, I was so focused on getting my portfolio ready and ironing my clothes last night, I never once considered how it would look when I rock up for the interview hunched over from being crammed up inside the mini coupe again.
“I’ll drive you” Shayla offers, stubbing out her cigarette on the driveway, she’s dressed in what I can only assume is her work attire, black Guns n Roses tank top with dark blue jeans. “I’ll call my boss and tell him I’m taking a half day”
“I don’t want to put you out Shay or get you into trouble with work” I stress, although, her car looks like it would have loads more leg room and it would be awesome to have someone to chat to along the way.
“Don’t be daft, Jimmy is cool, he lets me come and go as I please” She whips her phone out of her back pocket, punches in some numbers and casually tells the person on the receiving end that she won’t be in until after lunch. “All set, like I said, Jimmy is cool, you should come back with me this afternoon and meet him”
“Sounds like a plan” Considering she’s doing me a huge favour, the very least I can do is come meet her boss and see where she works.
“Tell me about your love life Samual Nicholas Lions, is there a special girl waiting for you back in the land down under? Or are you just breaking hearts with those dimples and that cheeky smile of yours?” Shayla asks me when we merge on to the A12, on route to Cambridge. She makes me smile when she uses my full name, it’s a reminder of our Mother’s growing up, whenever we were in trouble the full name was dragged out.
“Well Shayla Mary O’Malley” She cringes when I use her middle name, she hates it so much, which is why I used to say it so often, just to stir her up. “There is a girl, her name is Veronica and she’s an absolute stunner with a heart of gold, the complete package”
“And how does Veronica feel about you leaving her behind to chase your dreams?”
“She’s actually really supportive and encouraging. She knew, before we started dating, that I’d be leaving and still she pushes me to achieve everything I want, she never holds me back, she’s just one of those rare gems that builds you up” My smile grows wider just talking about my girl, I miss her so much.
“I always said to my Ma after you moved that I hoped you’d meet a nice girl who would capture your heart, you deserved to be loved Sammy” She gives me her big, bright smile.
“What about you Shay? Have you got a girlfriend? Lady lover? Bed warmer?” I tease her, making her giggle.
“I had a girlfriend, we met just after I moved to London, there had been one other before her who I sort of tested the waters with but this one was different, she taught me so much and I fell really hard for her” There’s a sadness in her voice, a pain that only comes with loss.
“She had an ex, a real toxic relationship that she just kept running back to before she met me, she told me it was it was over and I believed her. We were together a year, we even got a tiny flat together just outside of London but I always felt like I never had her completely.” A single tear rolls down her cheek. “You know how they say that if you love something, set it free, if it comes back then it was meant to be?”
“She didn’t come back?”
“Not to me, she went back to the toxic ex and left me with a broken heart and an empty void inside so now I don’t date, I get the goods and I get out before I can get hurt. It’s a lonely life but I’d take loneliness over heartbreak any day” Her story echos of Veronica’s, of who she was before we started dating, that lonely, bitter girl who had so many walls up to stop herself from being hurt again.
“You deserve to be loved Shay and one day the right girl will come along and capture your heart too” Growing up, Shay was always the sweetest girl, I’d hate to see that sweetness be tarnished because of one bad outcome.
“Does your lady know you caught up with the woman who you gave your virginity to?” Shayla changes the subject, bringing the focus back to me to save herself becoming more upset.
“Ah, no.” Although I had told dad about my encounter with Shay, I thought it best not to share the details with Veronica. “I’ll tell her when I get back, she knows about you, about what we did and I don’t want to alarm her, have her thinking the worst while I’m away but I’ll tell her when I get back and she’ll be cool with it, I’m sure”
“Does she know that I’m a lesbian? I have no attraction to you or any other man, make that clear to her”
“I told her I’m not your type, I didn’t want to go into detail because that was your business, I didn’t want to share your secret if you weren’t out but I will tell her” I promise Shay
When we arrived at Cambridge, Shayla parked the car in the lot near the administration building. I had just under an hour to kill so we decided to walk around and explore the huge campus. I was so taken with the beautiful architect of the building before me, the University was the oldest in the country, established in the twelfth century.
“Prince Phillip is Chancellor of the University” I tell Shayla, she’s been obsessed with the royal family ever since she was a kid, Princess Diana was an icon to Shayla and I suspect an early crush.
“Rubbing shoulders with the Windsors, I’m jealous. Prince William is the only boy I would ever want to marry and I would turn a blind eye to any affair that he had as long as I got to be Princess Shayla” She giggles.
“I’ll be sure to put in a good word for you then” I joke. We stop at a small cafe, order tea and scones and take a seat outside, watching the students from the university go about their day, this will be me in just a few months time and I can hardly wait.
Shayla took an extended tour of the campus when I headed in for my interview, I told her I’d text when I was done. I had no idea how long these types of things would take, or what kind of questions I’d be asked but I was ready for anything.
I introduced myself to a receptionist in the administration office and was instructed to take a seat outside the office of the Dean and that’s when the nerves decided to finally kick in, to remind me of how big of a deal this truely was.
The office door swung open and a woman in her mid 50′s stepped out, the epitome of class and sophistication with her black hair pulled back into a tight bun, her large, rimmed glasses perched upon her nose, a stylish pantsuit with the jacket buttoned up, she was a bit intimidating .
“Samual Lions?” She asked, giving me a fierce once over, no smile.
“Ah yes Madame. that’s me” My voice is shaky, I need to get myself back under control fast.
“I’m Dr Olivia Hemingway” She introduces herself, giving me a tight smile as she hold out her hand to shake mine. “Come in and take a seat”
Her office is massive, with three large, completely full, bookcases lining each wall. Her desk sits in the middle of the room with a window behind her that overlooks the campus and the view is absolutely stunning. She takes a seat behind her mahogany desk and pulls out a file with my name on it. I take the seat opposite her and hand her my own portfolio, that contains my academic records and sporting achievements from the past 7 years.
“You’ve been accepted into Trinity College on an athletic scholarship Samual but your grades are what caught my attention and the reason I requested this interview” Dr Hemingway has before her my year 11 Preliminary results, I knew I did exceptionally well on my exams, as always. “I don’t usually meet with incoming students, it’s very rare but in your case I had to make an exception”
“Is there something wrong?” Panic begins to rise up in me, am I going to be rejected? I knew this was all too good to be true.
“Not at all, after reading through your application and your transcripts my concern was that you were putting all you eggs into one basket, so to speak. Your goal is to ultimately play professional football but you haven’t given any indication of a back up plan and someone with your intellect should have a plan in place, to fall back on”
“I never create a back up plan for any goal I have, a back up plan is a safety net, giving the illusion that my goal is unattainable. A safety net could deter me from me overall goal, I never wanted that” I’ve never wanted to be anything other than a professional footballer, I wouldn’t be satisfied being stuck in a dead end job. For me, it’s the Premier League or nothing.
“My concern is that you will spend four years here and walk away with nothing Mr Lions and I would hate to witness such a gifted student feel that his time here is wasted. I’m not saying that you can’t shoot for the moon but you should also have a plan for if that dream never becomes a reality. I want you to take on one academic degree, anything you want, it will be included in your scholarship but it is now a condition of your acceptance to the university” I’m fighting a losing battle and I have to give in to her or I risk losing everything I’ve been working so hard for.
“Fine, I will pick one academic degree, something basic that doesn’t take away from my time spent on the football field”
“You’re very focused Mr Lions, it’s an outstanding attribute to have and it will be an honour to have you matriculate with us this coming September” She smiles warmly at me.
“Thank you Dr Hemingway, this has all been a dream of mine since I was a kid, to attend the same University as my Mother and to work as hard as I can to win a spot in the premier league.” A weight has lifted off my chest, now that I know that I am 100% in, no more jumping through hoops.
“You’re going to have to work extremely hard to achieve that dream Mr Lions and the University will offer you every resource we have to help make it happen but ultimately it will come down to you and how focused you truely are, you can’t be getting distracted by outside sources” My mind flickers to Veronica at the mention of ‘outside sources’, I can do this, I can maintain a long distance relationship and give my time to my goal, I won’t be distracted at all. “I’m going to make a suggestion to you Mr Lions and that is that you move here as soon as you can, do not wait until the start of school, I want you to be familiar with the lay of the land, it will help get your school year off to a running start”
What she’s proposing is to leave my whole life behind now, to leave Veronica and all my friends and family in Claremont. My time with Veronica had already been cut short, I’d be going back to Australia to pack up and leave her again.
“I have to think about it, I have a girlfriend back home and I wanted to spend more time with her before I left”
“Maybe you’re not as focused as I gave you credit for Mr Lions. All dreams come with sacrifices we must make to achieve them, you have to be willing to give things up in order to move forward.” He smile quickly turns to a scowl of disappointment. She’s right though, as hard as it will be, I am going to have to throw myself into this completely or I won’t get anywhere.
“I will be back here within two weeks” It will be hard but I will make it happen.
“That’s the type of commitment that I want to see from you for the next four years Mr Lions” She shakes my hand again. “Come see me when you arrive and I will help get you set up so that by the time September rolls around you will know the ins and outs of this whole place”
My heart is racing a mile a minute when I step outside, what the hell did I just agree to? It’s going to break Veronica’s heart when I tell her but I’m hoping she will understand. I need to show her that she’s not losing me, I need a way to prove to her that she will always be with me, even when we are apart.
The sun is scorching down on me as I stand by Shayla’s car and text her that I’m done, she comes running from the side of a building in mere seconds, a look of disappointment on her face.
“This place is so boring and I can’t find Prince Phillip anywhere” She says, skipping up to me. “How was it? Did they deny you entry because you shagged a convict”
“No, they want me here earlier than September” I gripe.
“Like how much earlier?”
“Two weeks from now”
“Fuck, how you going to break that to lady love? You’re going to break her heart”
“We’re going to London, you need to get to work and I need you to help me with a surprise for Veronica”
“What type of surprise?”
“The tattoo type, something that represents my girl that I can have on my body forever to remind us both that no matter how far we are apart she’s always in my heart” It’s the only solution I have.
I’d forgotten how congested London traffic could get, I was so used to taking the train here whenever I visited now and could get around easily enough using the underground so there was never any need to drive and seeing the banked up traffic before us proved to me why I didn’t drive here.
“What do you want on you? Do you have anything specific in mind. I don’t recommend getting her name, I’ve done plenty of cover up jobs of people who get a partner’s name tattooed on them and then they break up” Shayla advises me, swerving up a narrow street in Earls Court, she pulls into a parking garage and drives up to the top level.
“I know exactly what I want, it’s not her name but the nickname I gave her when we first started dating. I want you to tattoo a blonde, long eared bunny on to the left side of my chest, right over my heart” I tell her confidently, pointing to a vacant parking spot. The tattoo parlour was a bit of a walk from the parking garage, giving us time to throw around design ideas.
Earl’s Court is well known to be a hot spot for backpackers and tourists, the streets are lined with hotels and pubs, Shayla explained to me that the shop she worked at got very busy during the week but Jimmy, her boss, always made time for walk ins because that’s where most of their income came from these days.
The shop was painted black and sat between a bakery and a mobile phone shop and like most stores in London it was built up, not out. The door chimed when we entered and a large, bearded man dressed in a black t-shirt and shorts stepped out from a room behind the staircase, his arms were covered in tattoos, from his shoulders down to his fingers, there wasn’t a space there I could just see skin but his neck and face were clear of ink. He smiled when he saw Shay.
“Hey Irish” He greeted her warmly “Who’s your friend?” He asked, giving me a good look over, in my dress shirt and trousers I looked completely out of place here.
“This is Sam, my oldest friend in the world” Shayla introduced me. “He’s come to get inked up”
“Hey there kid, I’m Jimmy, this here is my shop and any friend of Irish gets a discount. I’ll give you a tour while she gets set up” Jimmy is not what I expected at all, if I saw him in a pub I’d steer clear, thinking he could snap my neck with his bare hands but as we get talking I can tell that he’s a gentle giant, he has a tough exterior but underneath it he’s a real friendly lad, easy going and so chill.
The parlour has six rooms over three levels, with an artist working in each room, theres a bathroom on every level and a kitchen on the ground floor. Jimmy introduces me to the other artists working there, all are heavy tattooed in some of the most beautiful art I’ve ever seen. Shayla’s room is on the top floor, being the last artist hired means her room is smaller than the others but boasts the most gorgeous view of the city.
“Come in and take your shirt off” Shayla says once we reach her room.
“Words I never thought I’d hear you say to any man Irish” Jimmy laughs, patting me on the back and closing the door behind him. I took off my shirt, laying it carefully down on the chair in the corner and take a seat in the large chair in the centre of the room. I always imagined a tattoo parlour to be a seedy, dirty place, but this place was so sterile. The walls were lined with colourful pictures of designs.
“You did all of those?” I ask Shayla.
“Yeah, every single one is mine” The detail is exquisite, she’s an amazing artist and I know I’m in talented hands. “This is what I have for you” She places a sketch pad in my hands, she’s drawn a rabbit, so realistic, side on, laying down, ears pulled back across her body.
“That’s even better than how I pictured it looking” I can’t stop admiring the effort she’s put into this. She takes the pad from my hands and places it on the bench behind her.
“It’s going to hurt so if you need to take breaks then let me know, don’t just push through because the last thing I need is you tapping out on me and I have to call Francesca and explain why it is that her favourite grand son has a half finished bunny on his chest” she warns me, placing the sketch print on my chest. “Remember what happened last time we were this close? I promise you that that won’t be repeated this time” She laughs.
She wasn’t wrong, it was painful but nothing I couldn’t take, the smell of burning flesh wasn’t the best either but I managed to get by with only taking one break. When she was done she showed me to the mirror, my chest was red but I could see my beautiful bunny girl, long ears pushed back to create a V at the end and a cute little tail
“Shayla I love it, it’s everything I wanted and more, it’s bloody brilliant” She’s done such an outstanding job, I can’t wait to show it off to Veronica when I get back.
“I may have to come back with you and meet this girl” Shayla muses, wrapping my chest in plastic wrap.
“I really think you should, Dad would love seeing you again and you’d get to meet Veronica and her sister, Bridget, she reminds me so much of you” I pull the picture of Veronica and Bridget, taken at Veronica’s birthday party, out of my wallet to show Shayla, she grabs the photo from my hands and studies it intently.
“The blonde is hot but the brunette looks a little too innocent for my liking, too tame but she is stunning, they both are really but the younger one is drawing me in, like she has an untapped wild side that needs awakening” She hands me back the small photo and I place it securely back into my wallet.
Leaving here with Shayla would be awesome.