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Around The Sun: Incredibly Shy

Steve Harrison recalls the day a two-letter word brought his dreams crashing down.

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Sing like no one is listening to you. Dance like no one is watching you. Work like you don’t care about the income and always make love like you’ve never had your heart broken.

I was a very good-looking lad, though nowadays that is hard to imagine. I was also very shy and introverted. I never went to parties or dances, and if a girl so much as looked at me I would run a mile.

I had a slight speech impediment and acne, which made me self conscious and uncomfortable with my whole being. Growing up was hell.

Of course I’d started to develop an interest in girls. My next door neighbour (I think her name was Susan Irving) would go to bed at the same time as I did – funny that – she’d close her curtains (leaving just a crack between them!) turn the light on and get undressed. I could sit in the dark and because of the angle of the houses get an uninterrupted view. I never saw much, because of the curtains, but what reality denied, my imagination supplied. I looked forward with great anticipation to those fleeting captured moments. Two girls lived next door to her and eventually I ended up spying on them as well. Whenever we met in the street we would never talk or greet one another, but something always stirred in me and we seemed to exchange furtive glances.

There was one girl in my class called Janet Davis. Even remembering that name gives me a shudder of delight. Janet was the most beautiful girl in school. She was gorgeous. We were both about 14 or 15. She teased me mercilessly. She was the first girl I ever knew who wore silk stockings. I remember her sitting on her desk, casually crossing and uncrossing her legs.

During those long school days I stared at her, fantasizing. She sat two desks in front of me, and one desk to my left. She had long brown hair.

My main strength at school was an ability to draw. I imagined going to art school, where I was assured by other rampant teenage boys that there would be life classes. A chance to draw real girls with no clothes on.

Janet couldn’t draw to save her life. From time to time she turned to me for help. I would draw her a bird, or a horse, or whatever the assignment was. I was a slave to her direction.

Her best friend, Pauline Engeldowne, would tease me relentlessly about my crush for Janet. Pauline bombarded me with the names of girls who said they wanted to kiss me or meet me behind the bicycle shed. Yes, there really was a bicycle shed at the school. I always blushed and stammered goodness knows what. I was frightened of Pauline. She reduced me to a bumbling wreck in just 30 seconds. I hid from her, and tried to get away if I saw her approaching.

Every year there was a Christmas dance. I always found some excuse not to go to it. I really longed for the courage to ask Janet to be my partner at the dance. I used to stand in front of the bathroom mirror, practicing asking her to the dance, but my courage always failed me. As the time for the last dance before e left school approached, my hormones and testosterone were on a permanent trampoline.

Two weeks before the dance Pauline approached me. She said Janet was hoping I would invite her to be my partner. I blushed and fled. Could I summon up the courage? I couldn't sleep. Every thought was of Janet.

Three days after Pauline had spoken to me I left the school hall after morning assembly and looked up to see Janet walking towards me. Half-a-dozen girls accompanied her. She looked directly at me and gave me a big smile. Her hair was bouncing as she walked. She was a toothpaste and shampoo advert rolled into one glorious being.

We were the only people in the world, my girl and me. I walked towards her, aware of each step. This was it. The perfect moment. We met and came to a halt.

"Janet,'' I said "will you be my partner for the Christmas dance?’'

I wasn't sweating. I didn't stammer. The moment became an eternity.

Then, looking directly into my face, she said "No.''

The word echoed round my brain. Her friends came into focus. They were chortling. Laughing hysterically at my humiliation.

My face was red. I was speechless.

Janet brushed past me, saying "I wouldn’t go with you if you were the last boy on Earth.''

A long while elapsed before I again got the courage to ask another girl to go out with me. It was me, and my dog, and lonely walks.

Today many people think I am an extrovert, but from time to time I still suffer from an inferiority complex.

Oh the joys of growing up!

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