Chapter 1: Prologue
Eggsy didn’t stop to think about it. He jumped.
He kept his eyes clamped shut against the murky waters of the canal until his head broke the surface again. His clothes clung to him and hindered him, even though he'd torn off his jacket before he'd jumped. His jeans and shirt stuck to his limbs like seaweed as he struck out for the spot he’d last seen the flailing toddler while people on the bank shouted incomprehensible directions to him and pointed.
He kicked, took a deep breath, and submerged again, trying not to think about what sorts of awful things were in the water, and this time he opened his eyes despite the gritty feeling.
The boy had been wearing a big yellow coat against the late-Autumn chill, and that garment was both currently drowning him and bright enough for Eggsy to see through the murk. The water was freezing. His blood pounding in his ears, Eggsy reached out, his questing fingers found the boy’s feebly floating hand and he grabbed him. He kicked, hauling him upwards; Eggsy still had plenty of air, but the boy didn’t.
There was a cheer when both their heads bobbed above the surface but Eggsy wasn’t celebrating yet. The little boy was pale and cold and unresponsive in Eggsy’s arms.
Half a dozen hands were offered to help them out of the canal and someone said they’d dialled triple nine. Eggsy barely heard them, focused on the task at hand. He’d done first aid as part of basic training, and he knelt by the boy’s side, still dripping water onto the concrete, and started administering CPR.
Please breathe. Come on, kid.
In the end, they both ended up in hospital. The boy was breathing by the time the paramedics arrived, and he and Eggsy were taken away to be looked at. The boy's mother sat in the ambulance with them, thanking Eggsy endlessly through her tears. She wasn't any older than Eggsy himself was.
Eggsy was back in time for dinner, and the next day there was a small story about him in some of the papers. Michelle bought a copy of each one and clipped them out. She was proud of him.
Eggsy wasn’t so proud. There wasn’t much the papers could say about him other than he’d had some military training. Occupation: unemployed, and probably unemployable.
The next day Michelle woke him up.
“Denise just rang,” she said, perching on the end of his bed. “She says she might have something for you.” Denise was their social worker; she'd started visiting them a few months before Daisy was born, but she mostly communicated by phone now Daisy had settled in and Eggsy hadn’t seen much of Denise for months. He didn’t dislike her exactly, but she was yet another well-meaning person who went on about how he apparently had massive potential but seemed a bit short on concrete things he could do to tap into it. Sometimes she could help them out. Mostly she was sorry she couldn't.
Her job was to look after Mum and Daisy, not him.
Thus, he was suspicious.
“What does she want?” he asked, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
“She says someone saw that story in the paper and wants to offer you a scholarship or something.”
“Sounds dodgy,” Eggsy mumbled.
“Eggsy, it sounds like a decent bit of money. It can’t hurt to see what it’s about, can it?”
Eggsy sighed, “What do I gotta do?”
“Keep your appointment,” she said. She handed him a piece of paper torn from the magnetised notebook stuck to the fridge that was used for shopping lists. “She says she doesn't know how long this offer is going to last.”
“Yeah, people with money always like making us scramble through hoops for it,” Eggsy said, remembering without affection the endless forms and complex requirements that had to be met before they could obtain their government allowance. Like anyone would want to subsist on the grudging charity of the public purse if they had much choice.
“Either way, unless you’ve got somewhere better to be, you get your arse out of bed and go see what it’s about,” Michelle said crossly, and left him to get dressed.
He knew he'd go. He knew he'd be suitably grateful and tug his forelock or do whatever this person required for the money, but only so he could help out his family. He had more pride than that.
When pride was all you had, you guarded it jealously.
By the time he’d made it to the community centre, Eggsy was really in a hurry. Despite it all, he didn’t actually want to come home and say he screwed it up without first hearing what the catch was. He was almost late, fuck it all.
As he jogged around the corner he caught a glimpse of a tall man in a suit getting into the back of a cab. Not the sort of person one would expect to be hanging around this sort of place, and Eggsy wondered if he was a government inspector, some fucking Tory making sure everyone was meeting their benefit sanction quotas. Eggsy gave him no further thought as the cab pulled away.
Denise was frowning when he arrived, looking thoughtful, but she smiled when she saw him. Her next appointment had arrived already, but Eggsy wasn't late. Just.
“I'm glad you decided to show,” Denise said, sitting down behind her cluttered desk. There were children’s toys on the floor, and the walls were covered in posters illustrating various government initiatives.
Eggsy hated this place; it wasn't quite a police station, but the smell of government authority clung to it anyhow.
“Did you see the gentleman leaving as you came in?” she asked.
“I saw a bloke in a suit, can’t say if he’s a gent or not.”
Denise seemed to make her mind up about something. “He is a ‘gent,’ as you put it.” Her glasses flashed. Very protective of this bloke; not a government inspector then. “He saw the story in the paper yesterday, about how you saved that little boy, and was moved to do something about it.”
“What, fence off the canal?”
Denise got to the point. “He is familiar with your history, don’t ask me how.” She looked slightly uneasy. “I suppose people like him have their ways. He contacted me and explained that if you are willing to meet a few conditions, none of which are taxing, he is willing to pay for you to go to university. You will have to apply like everyone else through UCAS, of course, but he wants you to apply for Oxford, to be specific.” She was reading most of this off a piece of notepaper, clearly quoting. “The reason why he was so specific was that he wishes you to join Hertford College. I believe he is an alumnus and he seemed quite confident you would be accepted as long as you were offered a place at the university. You may study whatever you wish.”
“Oh, very generous of him, all I have to do is get into Oxford,” Eggsy said. If it was that easy, wouldn't he already be there? This bloke wasted his time.
“Your marks were excellent, Eggsy. Michelle told me many times. Your stint in the army probably won't work against you; they make allowances for that sort of thing, and it may even help you. In some cases it's easier for older students to get a place. I can refer you to someone if you want some help with your application.”
“Hang on, hang on, I haven't said I'd even do it yet. Who is this guy? Is he gonna pay for everything? Cause I can't hit Mum up for textbooks and shit. You know that.”
“He's going to give you an allowance so you will not be obligated to work as well as study. As for who he is.” Eggsy could tell she wasn't so keen on this part. “He doesn’t want you to know. He doesn't want you to feel obligated.”
“Like hell he doesn’t.”
“I’ve got another client waiting, so this has to be quick. You need to be quick. The UCAS cut-off for applications is in October. This isn't an official scholarship; this is an individual making you an offer, and he said nothing about it being open next year. You'll sign a contract to ensure the money keeps coming as long as you pass your classes while you are there and keep your benefactor up to date via handwritten letters care of his PA, to which he will not reply. That’s all.”
Eggsy stared at her in disbelief. Letters? He'd written about five letters in his entire life. And he wouldn't even get any back, although Eggsy was sure he wouldn't want letters from some rich old bloke anyway.
She shrugged. “You’re not going to get a better offer, Eggsy. Opportunities like this are once in a lifetime. It's eccentric, but it's genuine.”
“Can I think about it?”
“I’ll be honest, do you think you can get an offer from Oxford?”
That was the question, wasn't it? He had to decide if he was good enough. This guy knew nothing about him, but was willing to spend thousands of pounds on him anyway. Like he knew something Eggsy didn't. It kind of pissed him off, but at the same time, Eggsy knew he'd never forgive himself if he backed down.
He lifted his chin. “Yeah.”
“Then I’d spend less time thinking and more time working on your application.”
Chapter 2: Michaelmas 2015
The Letters of Mr Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin to Mr Daddy Long-Legs 'Galahad' Smith
You wanted letters, so here I am writing you a letter. I haven’t written many so if they suck you’ll know why. I received your cheque, which I thought was a very generous amount until I’d purchased textbooks, stationery and a really stupid-looking gown that I have to wear for almost everything, and then I realised it was a sensible amount.
I feel like I'm cosplaying Harry Potter. I saved the leftover money just in case they spring something else on us, but I figured you'd want to know where it went.
It’s Thursday evening and classes don’t start until Monday, but we freshers had to move in by today so we can get oriented. There are lots of activities on involving large amounts of drinking but everyone else is so young and rich and boring, I've had enough of them for today. I'm about three or four years older than most of the others but it feels like twenty. I'm not sure how many social orientation activities I'm going to bother going to. I’m the only person in this wing so it’s really quiet, although I guess you already knew that though, as you’ve stayed at Hertford College yourself.
Look, I’ve got a bone to pick with you. I don’t mind writing you letters, but do I really have to address them to John Smith? It’s barely a name at all. It's so obviously fake. You'd make a terrible spy. Anyway, since you don’t seem to care what I call you (and if you did you know where to reach me) I think I’ll pick a name for you. I’m the one that’s going to be using it, after all. Fair’s fair.
This is harder than it looks. I just spent five minutes trying to think of something. Speaking of names, is your PA really called Merlin? What would that make you then? A knight in shining armour? Lancelot or Galahad maybe.
Trouble is, I don’t want to call you that when I don’t know what sort of person you are. It might not fit at all. I’ve only seen you once.
Things I Know About You:
Wears a suit (every day? Just when visiting the plebs to offer them university degrees?)
Lots of money.
Probably went to Hertford College.
It’s not much, is it? Some sugar daddy you are. Maybe I should call you Daddy. Would you like that? Let's not go there so early in our relationship. How about Daddy Long-Legs? That's less weird, slightly, and really that’s all I know about you.
Bollocks. Reading over it it’s not very respectful, is it? Look. I am grateful, and I’m going to work my arse off so you won’t waste your money, I promise, but I’m not gonna write to you like we’re in an Austen novel. What you get is what you get.
Sorry. I guess if you don’t like it you can always cut me off.
I’m not used to this my hand is sore already.
Eggsy Unwin (I don’t really like Gary)
Dear Daddy Long-Legs Smith,
My. Neighbour. Is. A. Wanker. One Charlie Hesketh by name. I hope he’s not a relative of yours or anything. There are a lot of wankers here, and right now most of them are in Charlie’s room making a racket.
Had to wear my gown at dinner. Managed not to get it in the soup; not bad for one of the common folk right?
You know I’m this close to telling them to shut it. I hope you don’t expect me to turn out like one of them.
Classes start tomorrow. As proof of my dedication, you should know I’ve read all the pamphlets and shit they handed out to us. Long-Legs, I dunno how to break it to you, but this place may drive me mental; did you know that seniors can walk across the lawn of the Old Quad all year round but the rest of us are not allowed to until third term, and during third term you are allowed to play croquet there but only on Fridays and Sundays? You can sit on it at any time though. Well thank fuck for that. Wouldn’t want to sit on the grass on the wrong day and get expelled or nothing.
Did you like this shit? Did you play croquet on Fridays and Sundays? Or did you think it was a fucking joke. I hope it’s the latter.
Right that does it. I’m gonna go talk to them.
They were fucking rude and then they asked me to join their rowing team. W.T.F. (that means ‘what the fuck’; I gotta remember someone who still wants handwritten letters probably doesn’t know this stuff.)
I said if I wanted to get up early and stroke off with a bunch of guys I didn’t need to go to the river to do it. Weirdly enough they thought that was a huge laugh and offered me a beer.
Fucking snobs, man. I don't understand them.
Yours Obligingly, real obligingly since I’ve written you two letters in three days that I didn’t have to,
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
You'll be pleased to know I just finished writing an essay. You'll be disappointed to learn that I'm procrastinating on my reading list by writing you this letter. I've got a tutorial every few days, and I get set an essay for each one. Two weeks down, six to go.
I know I shouldn't be complaining, but it's Friday night and I'm stuck in here reading law theory while Jamal sends me snapchats of this party he's at. At least I'm not the only one stuck here I guess, although I bet I'm the only one writing letters to an anonymous rich person.
Charlie and his mates kept trying to trip me up. I told them I wasn't on a scholarship but they didn't believe me. Last Sunday Charlie invited us all out for lunch and I could tell he was hoping I'd have to say the place was too pricey for me. So I'm sorry, but I spent fifty of your quid on lunch. It was really good, and I appreciate it. Thank you, Daddy Long-Legs, and I promise I won't be so profligate in future. It took Charlie another three days to nut up and ask me how I was affording the place.
So I told him. I told him a nice chap thought I had potential and paid for me, and I expected them to laugh. But they didn't. They just accepted it as something that happens, because people like them can just decide on a whim to drop thousands of pounds on someone else's degree, I suppose. I didn't tell them exactly how it all came about though; I think they think I'm a friend of your family or something. And they understood when I didn't want to give your name, like it would be vulgar to even ask although I think Charlie's pretty curious.
My room's very nice. I have a view of the Old Quad that I'm not allowed to walk on until senior year, and it's nice and warm. I'm the only freshman in the building though. Most of them live around the New Quad. I can't help but wonder if this was your doing. If it was it was very nice of you, but I think the view is wasted on me because I barely have time to look up from my books.
I know, I'm not allowed to ask you questions. I should start my reading anyway.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
You know what they say about all work and no play. I just got back from the college gym. Did a bit of practice on the parallel bars and one of the seniors signed me up for the athletics team. It feels pretty good to be doing it again, but I'm gonna be sore tomorrow. Also, Roxy told me there's a subterranean bar at the Hollywell Quad. How did I miss that? Too much study, that's what.
Right, I haven't told you about Roxy. She's doing law as well, and she's way smarter than I am. We don't have the same tutorials but I saw her around in the library with her friend Amelia, who is on some sort of student exchange for a year from Germany. She's doing Engineering but most of her stuff is online so she can hang out in the Law Library with us. Studying with a friend makes things a lot easier.
Anyway, I'm going to see about this bar.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I actually forgot to post this, so I figure I'll just keep writing. I thought it would be a pain writing to you all the time, but you're a good listener. You never interrupt. I know I only owe you a letter a month, but here I am sending you dozens. I suppose you're not obligated to read them.
Fuck, I forgot what I was going to say.
Oh yeah. Now Roxy's giving me a reading list. Well, recommendations. I'm halfway through The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. Have you ever read it? It's like a tenth century blog. It's surprisingly readable, and makes a change from law. To be honest, my favourite readings so far have been the historical ones; the rest are so dry.
But I won't give up.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I'll definitely post this tomorrow. My tutor tells me the effort I'm putting in shows. I should fucking hope so. Things were a lot easier in the army. I mean, yeah, it was hard, but I could see the purpose for everything. The things I'm studying now seem so divorced from the real world. I made the mistake of telling Roxy this and she had like five examples on hand of the real-world applications of our current studies.
I don't feel like I'm making sense. I have an essay to write.
Looking over it, this seems pretty whiny. I guess I feel I can't complain to anyone else; Roxy tries to cheer me up and it has the opposite effect, and I don't want Mum to worry that I'll drop out or anything. And Charlie? Forget it. Like it or not, you're my listening post.
I train for gymnastics in the mornings three times a week now, but tomorrow I'm going to sleep in. Tonight, I write essays.
Wish me luck,
Don’t be too pleased, I’m just trying it out.
I've been thinking about you a bit recently, and I think I've underestimated you a little. I was wondering why you set me to write you letters in the first place. I thought you might be lonely, but then, wouldn't you want to write back or invite me to tea or something? But I think you're more devious than that. Because to be honest, I don't know what I've already told you, and after four years of my letters I expect you'll know me better than I know myself. Which is a bit of a scary thought.
I wonder what you think of me, really. You had to know almost nothing about me. Maybe I don't want to know. Anyway, it's always in the back of my mind now, wondering what to put in my next letter or making mental notes to tell you about something. I've never had anyone like you to talk to before; it's like, I can't tell you what I think you want to hear, because I don't know what you want from me, other than to pass my classes. I'm always trying not to worry Mum, and while I had a couple of good teachers, I couldn't really trust them.
I guess I can't trust you either, necessarily, but you're legally obligated to keep paying me to be here, and we have no other relationship so I'm free to be as frank as I like.
Fuck this sounds bleak. I think it's more that I wish I knew more about you; I don't want you to dislike me, really. Whether or not you're a good person in general, you're good to me and it's natural to want to reciprocate, right?
I'm in the Law Library right now. I spend a lot of time here. It's miserable outside; dark and rainy and cold. It's mid-morning but it could be dinner time it's so dark. Roxy caught a cold the other week, and is studying in her room, and Amelia is more her friend than mine, so she's not here either. I don't really want to talk to anyone else so I've built a little wall of books on the table.
I bought some proper notepaper to write these letters on. I'm sure you've noticed. It was really fucking expensive; no wonder no one writes them any more.
Charlie has started joining our little study group.
He's keen on Roxy, which is a bit of a laugh because I'm pretty sure she plays for the other team. I'd tell him and put him out of his misery, but I don't really want to, and Roxy seems to enjoy shooting him down just as much as I enjoy watching her do it. Charlie has, against all expectations, decided I'm all right after all, and I'm sort of included in his little group of dickheads. It's not so bad, I guess, in small doses. They're just so up themselves; most of them have jobs lined up for after they graduate. Charlie goes on and on about his uncle who owns a firm or something, and then he gets this constipated expression and says he can't talk about it because their clients are so important or something.
Fuck. Obviously I'll be looking for a job once I graduate, as distant as that seems, but I'd feel like I hadn't earned it if my uncle just gave me one. Especially if I was as hopeless as Charlie is. (He's not really hopeless; his marks aren't bad, and since I'm doing the same course I can respect that, but he's no Roxy.) You gave me this opportunity, but at least I did something to earn it in the first place.
Speaking of which, Mum says Simon, that's the kid I rescued, is doing well. His Mum brings him around for tea sometimes. Daisy's a bit young for him to play with just yet though. Have I told you about Daisy? She is my little sister, and she's learning to walk; Mum's managed to stop her tumbling head first down the stairs twice now. She's so adventurous.
I'll be seeing her when I go home for Christmas. The break is only in a couple of weeks; time's really flying.
Which reminds me, I should get back to work. This letter's a bit of a monster; I hope you appreciate it.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I'm home again. I could stay at college over the break, but I was feeling a bit homesick, and Mum could use a break. Dean's here too. He's my mum's boyfriend. He's being really polite to me; I think he's hoping I'll have cash to spare on him. Keeps dropping hints about cash flow and how we should go out and do man things or some bullshit.
Nevermind, you don't need to worry about him.
Even though Christmas is a few weeks off, me and Mum set up the tree this morning. Daisy loves it, although she keeps trying to put the ornaments in her mouth. We've kept all the non-chewable ones out of her reach though. Even if it's not exactly what it's for, I'm going to spend some of your money getting her something good this year. I haven't decided what yet; maybe some little shoes now she's trying to walk, and a new coat, and a fluffy toy or something. I'm gonna get Mum a new saucepan; I know it's not very exciting, but she's been putting up with this old cheap one for years.
And I don't think Dean will be interested in it; probably has no clue how much they can cost—I've been looking them up online.
What are you doing for Christmas? Do you have a big family? Wife and kids? Parents? Maybe you're on holidays somewhere warm and won't get this letter until you get back. Maybe you're working. I hope you get a break if you are. It feels so good not to be constantly churning out essays. I know I have a lot of study to do, and I will do it, but I really needed to relax a bit too.
Merry Christmas, wherever you are, and I'll write again in January, so Happy New Year as well.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Sorry it took me so long to write. It was a bit of a shock to realise I'll be back at Uni next week. A bit of a panic if I'm honest.
Firstly, THANK YOU for the cheque. I've got a copy of our contract so I know you weren't obligated, but it was very generous of you and I'm very grateful. Do you want to know where it went?
1. A proper Christmas Dinner. We got a goose even.
2. New winter coat for Mum.
3. Loads of games and stuff for Daisy.
4. Bottle of scotch for Dean, just to placate him.
5. A couple of Xbox games for my mates.
6. Books from my reading list.
Thank you for all the presents. They were all very appreciated and I feel a bit rotten for not getting you anything, if I'm honest. Next year, right? Or you could write me back and tell me when your birthday is. You don't have to share your age of course, although, looking back, I didn't think you were that old, really.
I've been pretty busy on the break. I try and look after Daisy as much as possible so Mum can have some time to herself. Dean's not much use on that score. Hung out with my mates a bit; got to show off when we went parkouring; getting back into gymnastics has really paid off. (If you don’t know what parkour is look it up on youtube.) They could barely keep up. It was grand. We'd go for a drink after or back to Jamal's to play video games. His older sister makes the most amazing food; spicy enough to make your eyes water.
I'm not really looking forward to my exams, even though they don't count towards my degree I'm kind of nervous. At the same time, I am looking forward to going back to college. I've done my best but it's very hard to study here; Daisy can't help needing attention, and it's just a lot noisier. Hard to concentrate.
And I miss it, if I'm honest. Even if it's got a stuffy atmosphere and ridiculous rules, I miss the polished wood and stone, and the atmosphere. I miss my new friends there, and I miss the gym. I even miss the food; Mum's great but she doesn't have time to cook anything fancy and I'm not really great at it either. I guess I can see why people get so attached to their colleges. When we have formal hall sometimes an alumnus will be invited to speak as a special guest and they're always nostalgic and tell us how much they miss living there. Each time I wonder if he's you, but so far, I don't think so.
Would I know you if you got up to speak after dinner? I don't know. I like to think I would.
Chapter 3: Hilary 2016
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Are you well? I hope you're well. I'm well. Shit. I've been putting off this letter.
As you probably know, I had some exams when I started tutorials again. They don't count for anything but I didn't do so well. I’ll enclose my tutor’s actual comments with this letter; I’d rather never seen them again so please don’t post them back. I think I should have stayed here over Christmas maybe. I don't know. I've asked my tutor to give me another set of examinations in a couple of weeks; he's very understanding and said he would arrange an extra tutorial for it, even though I don't have to.
I just don't want to remain behind and not know it.
Please don't be too disappointed in me.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I got my latest allowance, so I guess you haven’t cut me off yet, despite my woeful marks. Thank you. I actually had a lot to tell you last time but I kind of got a bit distracted. I want you to know I’m studying hard. I pretty much only go out to go to the gym.
I wanted to write to you and update you properly now I’m back. Roxy went skiing over the Christmas break with Amelia and her family and she brought me back this amazing jacket. Charlie went somewhere too but I wasn’t paying a lot of attention. Now the term has started properly, it’s hard to remember that we were ever on holidays in the first place. It was really easy to slide back into the routine.
Roxy’s been helping me study. She says it helps her study, but I think she’s just being nice. Long-Legs, I’m sure I had more to tell you but I think I’ve crammed my head so full of legal Latin I’ve forgotten it all.
My unofficial unoffical exam is this week. Wish me luck.
To John Smith,
You know, I’m getting pretty fucking sick of this. It’s like talking to a brick wall or something. I put a lot of effort into these things and I get nothing back. I don’t even know if you read them or not; you probably just check the date and toss them in the bin.
I’m obliged to inform you that I passed my exam, and my tutor said I was ‘much improved.’ I shall write again, as required, next month.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Please ignore that last letter. Tear it up and throw it out, if you haven’t already. I’m really sorry; I was feeling awful after my exam, headachy and faint and guess what, the next day I was down with a fever that they tell me was pretty bad. I honestly don’t remember much. I think I have to thank Charlie for calling me a doctor and embarrassingly I got carted off to the medical centre. I was so dehydrated they put me on a drip and I was really too knackered to do anything but text. Apparently I’d been fighting the flu for days, but I guess I was too focused on the exam to let myself get sick.
If I had your number I’d have contacted you earlier.
Nevermind. Mum predictably freaked out a bit, but I’m on the mend now and back in my own room, although I’m still mostly sleeping and reading and eating soup.
You DO read them! I was an idiot to ever doubt you, really. Thank you so much for the flowers. One of the staff brought them up for me. Everyone’s really curious as to who they’re from, but I didn’t feel like explaining so I said they were anonymous. Which they kind of are, really. You didn’t have to send them, but I’m glad you did. No one’s ever sent me flowers before. To be honest, if anyone had asked me if I wanted someone to send me flowers I would have looked at them pretty funny. I never saw the point.
But I get it now. It’s so miserable being sick, and the view from my window is all grey and wintery still, and they really cheered me up. Roxy tells me they smell lovely; I can’t smell anything right now. The card cheered me up too; thank you for addressing it to Eggsy rather than Gary.
You didn’t have to sign yourself John Smith though. Unless that is actually your name, in which case I’m going to feel like a right plonker if I ever find that out for sure.
Maybe I’m sentimental because I’m still sick, but it meant a lot to get that card. Now I’ve seen your handwriting, it’s like you’re real in a way that you haven’t been until now. I’m tempted to try and analyse it, but I’m pretty sure that stuff is all bullshit. It’s all right if you don’t write back; I’m sure you’ve got your reasons. It’s enough to know you’re reading.
P.S. I am feeling better, thank you. I’ll probably drag myself down to my tutorial on Monday, although I have a doctor’s certificate to excuse me from having to write an essay for it. Also, your flowers reminded me how much I’m looking forward to warmer weather. Let’s hope spring comes soon.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I really hope you respond to this letter. I don’t write it lightly, but I think the longer I leave it, the worse it might get.
Here goes. I’m thinking of quitting law. Not university! Not if you’ll let me stay on, but I feel like the things I’m really interested in are only tangentially related to what I’m doing. I’m more interested in people than laws. I’ve been talking with some people—okay, everyone I know, because I really don’t want to make the wrong decision here—and I think I might switch to politics. I know it’s possible to be an activist and a lawyer, but to be honest, it’s killing me to force myself through the work I’m doing now, and the thought of doing it for another three and a bit years makes me feel a bit ill.
I hate admitting defeat. I told myself if I knuckled down I could do it, and I can, but at the price of being miserable. This is my chance, and I don’t want to screw it up.
Galahad, with your experience, what do you suggest? I wouldn’t ask you if I really wasn’t sure what to do. I know it will be hard to catch up, I’m a semester behind last year’s intake, but when I think about it it feels like a challenge, not a chore.
Please let me know what you think.
“Mr Smith wishes to remind Mr Unwin that the terms of the contract they agreed to state that Mr Unwin is free to study whatever he wishes.”
Your Merlin’s certainly got a way with words, don’t he? I’m actually really happy to get a response; thank you, Galahad. I feel a lot better about my decision now I know that you approve—or at least that you don’t disapprove. It’s not a matter of the money you spend, it’s a matter of my pride. And yours.
I’m going to talk to the University about transferring. I’ll keep you updated.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Sorry it’s taken so long to write. You must be wondering what’s become of me. I’ve become a history and politics student, that’s what. Lawyer Eggsy will now never be, and I’m glad to see the back of him. I think he would have been a dull and sad person. I’ve got new tutors and timetables and I’ve been working flat out to catch up.
I had to take a history exam before they let me in and now I have to attend five lectures a week, and there are tutorials too, but I only have to do one essay a week! It feels like a holiday (no it doesn't) so I've been ploughing through my textbooks like mad.
It’s going to take a while, but I’m going to stay here over the Easter break and keep at it. No holidays for me. I’m all fired up; I felt like I got out of a holding cell (a feeling I’m sure you’re not familiar with, but if you’ve seen my file you know I am. God look at me, prattling along about stuff like that. I normally wouldn’t talk about it but I’m just SO GLAD I made this decision. And I’m so glad you helped me.) Close parentheses. Whew.
I see less of Roxy now, of course, but by now we are approaching something dangerously close to Best Friends so it's not going to come between us, and I think she’s relieved that I’m happier too. Charlie was condescending, but honestly who gives a fuck.
And the weather has finally turned. Maybe that’s why I’m in such a good mood. There are little green shoots on the ivy all over the Old Quad, and all over campus you can see spring is trying hard to arrive. I’ve been saving some of your allowance, and I went and bought myself a bicycle, second hand. Actually it might be twenty-fifth hand, but I spent an afternoon giving it an overhaul and while I’m not going to win the Tour de France it gets me across campus in half the time.
I’ve also sold my old textbooks and bought new ones and a whole lot of other boring administrative stuff. One of Charlie’s friends, Digby, is also doing politics and history, and he’s doing terribly. He was really happy when I transferred and keeps asking me to help. Weirdly enough, Roxy was right; getting things through his thick skull helps me keep them in my own. He’s very grateful and keeps taking me out to dinner and things as thanks; he spends money like water. (Are you like that? You’re very generous to me, but I wonder if you’re the kind of rich person who spends as little as possible on themselves; your suit suggests otherwise.)
Anyway, I was telling you about Digby. He’s not a bad person, I guess. He’s better when Charlie isn’t around. Charlie is better when he’s not around. It’s like once you get a certain critical mass of twat in the room, there’s a chain reaction and they all turn into utter whoops sorry. Excuse my language (this letter is too long for me to edit it and write it out again so you must endure my censoring scribbles.)
They went to the same school of course. Must have been hell.
Once I’ve caught up, I think this course won’t be anywhere near as demanding as law, so I’ll have more time to do other things; soak up some culture maybe. Amelia does theatre stuff, even though she’s not studying it and she and Roxy are always going to plays. They tell me theatre students hold the best parties too.
I hope your life is going as well as mine,
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
The end of term is here already. I can’t believe it. As I think I told you, I’m not going to go home; I’m going to stay here and study. My tutor helped me write out a schedule to hopefully get me up to date. Firsts feel like they're much closer than I'd like them to be. I’m really enjoying my new course though; I have a lot more freedom to study what I find interesting although I haven't decided on my optional subject yet.
To be honest, I don’t have a clear idea where this degree will take me. Do you have any suggestions?
Speaking of life after university, Charlie’s uncle really exists after all. I haven’t met him, but he’s apparently invited Charlie ‘and whoever you’d like to bring’ out for an end-of-term celebration somewhere posh and Charlie asked me to come along. I think he wants his uncle to be entertained. I said yes. Why not? I should get a decent meal out of it at least, although I’m going to spend some of your allowance on some proper trousers and hope it’s not too cold that I’ll need an overcoat.
That’s about it for now. I’ve enclosed a picture; that’s Roxy in the middle and Amelia and you can see Digby’s elbow on the left. The idiot in the loud jacket is Yours Truly.
Until next time,
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
College isn’t as quiet as I expected over the break. A lot of people are staying on to study. I guess it’s not like Christmas. There are a lot of parties and things too, but I’m sticking to my schedule, don’t worry.
Do you want to hear about the dinner? Charlie’s uncle is a guy named Chester King. Charlie invited some of the other guys but everyone but me begged off. So it was just me and him. Chester brought a friend as well, a Harry Hart who works in Chester's firm, although no one mentioned a specific job title. I get the impression Chester owns it but is semi-retired. The way they talked it was Harry who’d technically be giving Charlie the job.
Anyway, Chester was polite. I guess. He has this rich way of being polite that’s also really rude at the same time but you can’t put your finger on it. They were all wearing fancy suits so I felt like a bit of a muppet really. Chester grilled Charlie on his marks but Charlie wasn’t worried; he’s told me he’s doing well enough to get the job and that’s what matters.
And then Charlie went and told him that I’d quit law and I was braced for paternal disappointment in me but Harry just said ‘Good. The world’s got enough lawyers’ and changed the subject. Harry’s alright. He found out I’d been in the marines and he said he’d served as well so we had something to talk about at least. He said he went to Oxford as part of his officer’s training. Hertford College of course; I wonder if Chester’s firm employs anyone who didn’t go.
To be honest, I think the dinner would have sucked if Harry hadn’t been there. He kind of kept things going when the conversation dragged. Chester did the grandfather act a bit; told me to knuckle down and make something of myself, all that sort of useless advice.
I like your style better, Long-Legs. No advice, just a chance to do something.
We got a lift back in Chester’s Bentley and that was that. The food was good, although my head was a bit swimmy after all the wine that was served with it. The rich can really put it away, and they have the hide to say it’s the vice of the working classes.
Oh, before I forget. Happy Easter!
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Do you think it’s possible to miss someone you’ve never met? (unsent)
Roxy and I saw a play. It was about a bloke who was having an affair and this girl got into a car accident and they met in the emergency room and she ended up marrying a doctor but the doctor’s ex-gf met the first bloke and I think someone went to NY in the end. BUT. It was confusing and also boring. Oh and one of the blokes pretended to be a girl on the internet.
We went to the party after though. It was at one of those townhouses that have a wall knocked down and converted but everyone kept tripping over the step. Mind the step mind the step all evening. There was lots of drinks. Anyway, Mike was in the play and Charlie and that make gay jokes alll the time so I thought he was just taking the piss but he wasn't
I haven’t been snogged like that in ages. It was so fun. I wish you’d been there. Unless you don’t like gay ppl in which case fuck u. Shit. Y havn’t I used txt speak in these letters b4? Anyway Mike doesn’t want a bf but he said I was ‘truly cute’ and no1 has ever said that b4. Someone did send me flowers though U KNO WHO U ARE
Why don’t I? (unsent)
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
It’s still Easter break, and the weather is nice and very sunny today. Very bright. I was going to write you a letter last night but I fell asleep halfway through and it didn’t make a lot of sense in the cold and very bright light of morning.
Roxy and I went and saw a play last night, a student production. Roxy was going to take Amelia but she had something else on so I said I’d go. It was a pretty boring play; it was just about relationships but all the characters were pretty hopeless. I didn’t really care how it ended. I told Roxy this and she said she’d take me to a Sarah Kane production and blow my mind. She had a really funny look on her face when she said it, so that’s going in the ‘to be googled’ pile.
There was a party afterwards and I met one of the actors, a guy named Mike. We hit it off a bit, although maybe not that much? There was some drinking involved, but I have his number at least so I might give him a
Bollocks this is stupid. (unsent)
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Since you never ask any questions, I know I’m not obligated to share everything that happens to me, but I just wanted you to know- (unsent)
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Are you homophobic? The reason I ask is probably pretty obvious now that I’ve actually asked. And of course you won’t answer but I guess it means something to me to tell you- (unsent)
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I just want to come out to you why is this so fucking hard? (unsent)
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Roxy and I saw a play on the weekend. I think I prefer movies overall. I googled Sarah Kane after Roxy mentioned her and holy shit I’m glad I didn’t see one of her plays. Roxy is a demon.
We went to an afterparty at someone’s house later. Met this guy Mike, got his number. We’re going out for lunch tomorrow.
Still studying though! And the weather’s turning nice, isn’t it?
P.S. Did you watch the Boat Race on Sunday? I wasn't feeling well, okay I was pretty hungover, and I missed it entirely. I feel a bit of an idiot. I'm going to make a note of it for next year; Mum was very disappointed I wasn't there. She said she watched it on telly and was keeping an eye out for me. Whoops.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I went back home for a week. I needed a break before third term starts. Eight weeks til my Honour Mods really doesn't feel like long enough. I've been thinking about my thesis though and I might do something on political prisoners. I've been reading Foucault all break. I don't have to decide until after I pass my Mods but I feel happier having some idea.
The law students had their Prelims at the end of last term, and I forgot to tell you Roxy aced hers. She's aiming for a double first and I think she'll probably get it. Because I'm still catching up, I'm going to be happy with a pass, I think.
The weather is getting really good when it's not raining. I've been doing a bit of study outdoors (not in the Old Quad of course, not until tomorrow. I can't wait to play croquet too. Also that's sarcasm.) I like to load up my bike with a few books and find somewhere new to sit each time; it's almost like a holiday.
Anyway, yes. I went home. I've enclosed a picture of Daisy at the park.
Isn't she cute?
Chapter 4: Trinity 2016
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I’ve been too busy to write to you recently. Not only am I living in mortal terror of the exams at the end of the term and am spending every spare moment studying for them, it is also the term for sport and athletics. Did you do any sports while you were here? Everyone’s gone a bit mad for it, and for the first time I envy Charlie and his lot for attending a Public School.
I was expecting more gay jokes when I told them I was training for the gymnastics, (did I tell you about them? Maybe I didn’t. They’re so weak it’s not like they bother me, but I hope you’re not the type to laugh at them.) Speaking of which I said hello to Mike and he gave me a speech about being cool and casual. Fucking hell, I suggested we hang out and eat chips, I didn't go down on one fucking knee. Whatever. His loss.
Anyway, Charlie got really interested in the gymnastics and I figured he was setting me up for a huge laugh but instead he wanted my professional opinion on our chances. It didn’t matter what I was doing, I was representing Hertford and they approved. It’s not like I looked for or needed their approval, but I must admit, if I’d had that sort of response from my mates when I was twelve, well, maybe things would have been different. As it was, it all kinda got too much for me, sucked all the fun out of it. If no one but your mum lets you feel proud for winning, why even compete?
There’s lots of chanting and really expensive bets laid against other colleges. To be honest, I don’t think we’re going to win any gymnastics cuppers this year. Not to put myself down or anything, but I’m still really out of practice; you can’t just quit for a decade and get it all back in a few months. My teammates aren’t really much better; by the time you’re our age you’re either a professional or you’ve quit. None of us are in the university team.
It’s all right though, we might not win but we’ll do our best and have a few laughs, and it’s fun watching Charlie go green at all the girls I get to hang out with.
Charlie and Co. are getting into the rowing thing now the weather is better. He reckons we've got a good chance in the Summer Eights this year, although I have my doubts. I looked it up; Hertford has won the Summer Eights only once in the entire history of the contest and that was in 1881.
Charlie wakes me up most mornings clattering out of his room at five to make it down to the river before the sun’s up. I go back to sleep after; rather him than me.
Roxy got me to try out for the Quiddich team; she joined way back at the start of the year and says it’s lots of fun, but there weren’t any places. I have enough on my plate anyway, but I go along to practice sometimes. I can’t believe it’s one of the official sports here; this place is mad.
I kind of love it.
P.S. I finally got to sit on the lawn in the Old Quad. Bit of a let down if I’m honest. Haven’t played any croquet yet though.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I’m afraid I didn’t do Hertford College very proud in the gymnastics this year. Better luck next year, right? Roxy’s dragged our Quiddich team into the semi-finals though. Gonna go along and cheer myself hoarse.
The Summer Eights are next week. I’ll try and go at least one day, I guess. Show Charlie I care and all that. Might be fun.
I hope you’re well.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
The Summer Eights finally happened, on schedule. To hear Charlie talk about it, it would be non-stop excitement for three days. The reality was a little less overwhelming. There's no overtaking. If you catch up to and bump the boat in front of you, both crews stop and you get to go past. On the other hand, the weather was lovely, and it was nice to get out and enjoy the river.
We managed to get a spot with a good view on top of one of the boathouses on the second day; we got there way too late on the first and I didn't stay long, because gotta study, you know?
On the second day Charlie asked Roxy for a good luck kiss before they started racing. I thought she was gonna deck him, but she bowed and kissed his hand instead. “For Hertford College, no sacrifice is too great,” she said. Smooth, isn’t she? Charlie was gallant about it at least. And I think he’s finally noticed Amelia holding her hand half the time.
Charlie might not be full of hot air after all; he got his team through the qualifying rounds easy. It was going so well and then it just kind of didn't. The competition is really fierce and we started slipping behind on the third day.
We didn't place. We did better than last year though, and everyone was celebrating, except Charlie. He's not good at losing, I guess. He's probably not used to it. I can't really feel much sympathy; a little failure is character building, don't you think? And we haven't won for over a hundred years, so I'm not really surprised, but he must have been convinced he could do it.
Anyway, we all went back to the bar after the regatta was over, and Charlie got a lot worse. I told him to stop pissing in everyone's cereal, and I know I shouldn't have. He got really nasty and it took all I had not to deck him. It kind of took the fun out of it all to be honest, and that's why I'm back here writing to you, rather than still down in the bar.
He's such a fucking prick. I got caught up in all the competitions and I guess I mistook his interest in sport of genuine human friendship or something. Roxy wasn't even there; she predicted the celebrations wouldn't be much fun, and I guess she was right.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Lest you think I'm feuding with my neighbour, you should know Charlie actually sort of apologised. I suspect it was less because he felt guilty and more because he's been approached to try out for the university team and that's soothed his bruised ego no end. He told me I was a good sort and meant no harm, and that he'd been drinking. It was whatever; I'm not going to hold a grudge over his basically awful personality.
It's not like he can help it, right?
I'm kind of annoyed he got that offer, even though I guess he's earned it this time. He could use some more character-building.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Only two more weeks of term. If you are the religious sort, please pray for me. It can’t hurt. Most of us first years are quietly freaking out, except for the law students and a couple of others who had exams last term. I think I’ll pass, so you’ll be stuck with me for another two years, but I want to do better than pass.
I want to make you proud. I don’t want you to think that you’ve wasted your money (and your time, reading all these letters.)
Mum sent me a care package; all my favourite chocolates and stuff.
It’s really weird, cause half the student population doesn’t have exams at all, and they’re all making plans for the summer holidays and the summer ball season. When we sit down to dinners you can see the difference; we are pale and wan and pick at our food as we frown and mumble over things we need to remember, our hands dyed with ink, while they eat heartily and compare holiday destinations.
I can’t even think about it; as far as I’m concerned, life beyond exams hasn’t been proven to exist yet.
I apologise for the awful handwriting, I’ve been doing practice exams and my fingers are practically numb. I can’t believe the Summer Eights were only a week ago. How quickly time flies.
I gotta wrap this up before I use it as an excuse to procrastinate further.
Ave Daddy Long-Legs! Morituri te salutant!
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
It’s over. I’m going to sleep now. Maybe for a week. I’ll send my results as soon as I receive them. I feel a bit numb, and I realise I have no plans at all for my summer holidays. I guess I’ll probably just head home. I didn’t really get much of a break over Easter, so I’m going to take a proper one now, assuming my marks aren’t so awful I have to spend the entire summer revising. Please no.
I won’t think about it. Sleep is calling me.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
No results so far, not that I’m expecting them until next week at the very earliest.
No one told me about Commemoration Week. Some people have left for the summer already, of course, but a lot of people are staying for the summer balls. I mean, I knew about it, but I had no idea they were such a big deal; I knew I wasn’t going so I didn’t pay a lot of attention, but every night sees dozens of students dressed up in gowns and suits heading out to wherever the ball is this time. They’re all crammed in during this week, so there are a couple every night.
Roxy and Amelia went to the Hertford one but they skipped the others to hang out with me. We went clubbing to celebrate the end of the year, and to farewell Amelia. Her time at Oxford is over and she’ll be going back to Frankfurt University next term. I haven’t asked Roxy what she thinks about it; long distance relationships must be tough. I’m going to miss her, but I guess Roxy is going to miss her more.
Maybe I should suggest they write letters.
It’s such a relief not to have to study all the time though. I’ve spent my days either hanging out with Roxy or with whoever’s in the common room watching telly. I’m going home this weekend. Amelia’s leaving on Sunday and Roxy’s going to go with her.
Charlie’s already left. He said he’s going to attend the ball next year, he’s going to New York for a holiday or something, followed by half a dozen other places. The floor’s pretty quiet without him.
This summer I’m going to do a lot of reading that’s not on the list. I used to read heaps when I was a kid but fell out of the habit. Now I’ve picked it up again I don’t want to lose it before next term. Roxy wrote me out a list.
Got any recommendations? Do you read? Now my head’s not completely stuffed with study I can think about you again and wonder how you’re doing. I’ll do my best to remember to write.
Please find enclosed a printed copy of the results for one Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin. Eyeball it closely and celebrate, cause I fucking passed! I passed everything! (Okay skin of my teeth for Quantitative Methods of Political Analysis.) I’ve been checking every day for the results and it was driving me mental. When I saw they’d been posted I went all cold and suddenly didn’t want to look.
You should have seen me. I shouted and I woke Daisy up, but Mum forgave me when she found out why. The three of us danced around the room a bit; I figured I was going to pass but there’s always been this fear in the back of my mind that I won’t and that I’ll get to stop writing you letters.
Speaking of which, once I graduate, which I’m definitely going to do B.T.W. (by the way,) should I keep writing to you? It would be nice if you started writing back, but it’s sort of a habit by now. No one else I know writes letters and I don’t think any one else would want me to write letters the way you do.
Now I officially have nothing to worry about until next term, which is months away. I’m gonna play all the games, and hang out with my mates and watch a lot of telly and not have any problems for a while. Sound good? And I’ll play with Daisy and help Mum out and things like that too, of course. I can’t wait.
Have a good one!
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
It’s stinking hot today. It was stinking hot yesterday, and I’m gonna bet it’ll be stinking hot tomorrow. The flat’s like an oven; Daisy’s all sprawled out on the kitchen floor cause the tiles are cool. I made sure to mop it first, but she’s always shoving weird things in her mouth when we’re not looking so it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if I hadn’t. I’m sitting next to her, notebook on my knees and my back to the fridge.
What are you up to? The way I see it, you’re either working, or you’re on holidays somewhere. Are you at the beach? Did you swap your suit for a pair of bathers and some sunscreen? It’s a pretty amusing mental image, even if I don’t know what you look like.
I am, if you couldn’t tell, really fucking bored. Jamal got a job at the same packing place his sister works at, and Ryan’s working nights at a 7-11 so he’s spends most of the day sleeping, so I’ve got no one to hang out with, other than Mum and Daisy, and that gets a bit old sometimes.
I suppose I could spend some of my allowance on something, but that feels a bit dishonest, and I’m saving it all up for textbooks and that for next term.
Charlie keeps sending me pictures of all the things he’s been up to in New York, all the shows and shit. He’s invited me to join him; smug wanker knows I couldn’t afford it in a million years, but even if I could, he’s the last person I’d want to hang out with on my holidays.
Dean’s still hanging about. I can generally make him go away if I ask him to hold Daisy, which is a bit sad since he’s her dad and all. At least she’s too young to understand for now.
Speak of the devil, she’s woken up. We’re going to go and get ice cream.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I'm returning your cheque. I know you're just being kind, but I don't need that sort of charity. We have an agreement, and it is more than generous. It's meaningless if you just send me money when I mention being bored for fuck's sake. It's summer holidays; I'll find something to do. Please don't do this again.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I apologise for my last letter. I've spent the past few days feeling terrible about it; it was very rude of me and I regret it. I don't regret returning the cheque though. But I shouldn't have been so angry at you; I know you're just trying to do good by us, and it does mean a lot that you care about Mum and Daisy and that.
This is hard to write.
Look, I'm obliged to tell you about my marks, and obviously I tell you about lots of other stuff, but I don't have to tell you everything, and I don't, and you can't know what my life is like, even if you think you do. Money like that might mean nothing to you, but it would make things difficult for us. Once Dean got it into his head I could just ask for cash I know he'd never stop, and I don't know what he'd do to try and convince me to share it. I didn't want to tell you this stuff and I want you to promise not to do anything about it. It's not your business, okay? This last year has been good for all of us, and I like things to keep going as they are for now.
I guess I could have kept the money for myself, but I'm not going to lie to you about that, Galahad. So, thank you for the thought, which is what I should have said last time, but I respectfully cannot accept your gift.
There. That's a weight off my mind. I wish I knew what you were thinking sometimes, it's a bit hard to hold a conversation like this.
P.S. I still have that note you sent when I was sick. Maybe I should get myself hit by a bus and you'll send another one.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Where did all the time go? I've barely got more than a week before I have to go back to Uni. I've been studying, although it's a bit belated. At least I got a good break. Too good, if I'm honest, I'm having to force myself to concentrate. It's hard to be motivated when I know I've got two years until my next exams.
I've definitely decided I want to do my thesis on political prisoners. I know what it's like to be locked up, even if it's just overnight and I feel really motivated to investigate it further, even though I think it's going to be pretty grim.
Roxy sends me texts sometimes. She went skydiving the other week; apparently she’s scared of heights and Amelia said she should face her fears. She made it back to ground in one piece but she says she’s still scared of heights. She was pulling some pretty funny faces in the pictures she sent.
I miss her.
She and Amelia are still pretty cute together. Makes me feel a bit lonely sometimes, but I dunno, I'm pretty busy overall. I'm not sure how Roxy finds the time to get such good marks and do all the other stuff she does, but I need to concentrate on studying.
Chapter 5: Michaelmas 2016
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
It's about two in the morning, and I'm writing this in one of Roxy's notebooks. She said I could borrow it. Well, she nodded weakly when I asked. I'm sitting on her bed and she's fallen asleep across my knees. I can't get up unless I wake her, and I'm not sure I want to. I think she needs the sleep. So I've decided to write to you instead, although this is probably the strangest spot I’ve written you a letter from.
Amelia broke up with her.
She said that it was the fair thing to do, rather than tie each other down in a long distance relationship, and that if they were still single once they'd graduated maybe they could get back together again.
All this happened on the summer, but I didn't know about it until today. Roxy has been trying to keep a stiff upper lip, which is fucking stupid. Did she think I wasn't gonna be sympathetic? She tries too hard sometimes. She's really good at hiding that stuff; I didn't notice anything was off until she said she wanted to go drinking tonight. She normally paces herself pretty well, so I knew something was up when she started knocking back margaritas.
Anyway, she eventually spilled the beans and here I am, being a supportive friend. I guess I can see Amelia's perspective but it's kind of cold-blooded, don't you think? I'd at least try to make it work before splitting up.
I don't know. I'm not very experienced in these matters.
Roxy will be okay though. She's gorgeous and smart and when she feels like dating again I bet there will be dozens of pretty girls queuing up.
I think I'm going to try and sleep, even though I'm sure I'll regret it in the morning.
P.S. When I got back to my room this morning Charlie was on his way out for rowing practice. He knew Roxy and I had gone out the night before and he literally made a kissyface. Is he twelve? I nearly told him what was up but a) that's for Roxy to share not me and b) fuck knows what he'd do with the information. Try and convert Roxy to dudes probably, and she has enough on her plate right now.
So I just ignored him. I also have a terrible crick in my neck.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
The weather’s getting colder again. The quads are full of leaves and the libraries and cafes are packed now no one wants to sit outside on the grass and study. I just take my coffee back to my room, unless I have research to do, even though I like the atmosphere of the library.
My tutor’s given the me green light for my thesis topic; I think she was a bit surprised I’d given it so much thought already. I’m still ploughing through a lot of preliminary readings. You should see me, a big stack of books on the back of my bicycle as I tear up the fallen leaves. I’ve been chipped already for riding too fast and recklessly on the footpaths; don’t say I don’t tell you everything.
Roxy’s doing okay. She says she’s going to study even harder and just focus. To be honest, if she focuses much more than she already does she’s gonna burn a hole in her textbook. She’s a bit different without Amelia around. I didn’t realise how much Amelia’s seriousness reflected back on her. I gave Roxy a lift on the back of my bike and she kept telling me to go faster. It was a lot of fun.
And she says she wants to take up karate. She’s been going to lessons twice a week.
Guess who I met on the weekend? Harry Hart. He is, if you recall, the bloke who works for Chester’s firm and is going to give Charlie a job once he graduates. I heard someone knocking on Charlie’s door yesterday morning and I opened mine to tell them that he wasn’t in.
I’m not sure if visitors are even supposed to wander around like that, but I guess Harry sort of looks like he belongs. I wasn’t game to ask if he knew if was against the rules or not.
He remembered me, and asked how my studies were going, and I invited him in for a cuppa while he waited for Charlie. I got the impression it’s got back to him that Charlie’s made the Varsity rowing team, and Harry wants to remind him that he needs to do a bit of law occasionally too.
I don’t think Harry’s as keen on giving Charlie a job as Chester is. So I told him, flat out, if he wanted the best law graduate for the job, he’d be better off hiring Roxy. Unfortunately, she’s a year behind Charlie, but Harry said if she’s really that good she’s more than welcome to apply for the firm once she graduates, and that new blood sometimes meant more than just a younger version of the old blood. I have no idea if Roxy would even want to work there; she could go anywhere and do anything, after all, and she doesn’t need my help finding a job.
Anyway, Harry’s not quite what I expected.
I made a joke, said that sounded great and could I have a job as well, and he handed me his card and said it couldn’t hurt to send my resume in once I graduated. He knows I’m not doing law any more but I guess there are more than just lawyers at a law firm. I’m not sure I’d want to work in a place with Charlie and Chester and he might have just been being polite but I was pleased anyway. He hung out and had a cup of tea for about three quarters of an hour and then he said it looked like Charlie wasn’t coming back.
He said he’d dropped in on a whim and he’ll make an appointment for next weekend. He said I was welcome to join them, his treat.
I said just as long as Chester wasn’t invited too and he gave me this look, I can’t describe it exactly, conspiratorial maybe?
If I get invited, I’m definitely going.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Lunch with Harry and Charlie didn’t happen, but Charlie did knock on my door to pass on Harry’s apologies. Since I’d forgotten to tell him about Harry’s visit last weekend it all must have seemed a bit mysterious. Anyway, you and Harry would make a good pair; who sends formal apologies to something that wasn’t explicitly organised in this day and age? At least he didn’t send a letter.
I had to hide my disappointment though. I’d been looking forward to it.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I have found someone just like me.
I’ve been keeping up my training in the gym, despite the awful weather (I still have grand plans of actually being a threat at next year’s cuppers) and if I go late rather than early, because I have been sleeping in a bit lately, I’ve noticed this girl practising. She’s really, really good, even though, get this, she has no feet.
She’s got these sort of blade things that she walks on, and they don’t seem to slow her down at all. She doesn’t really talk to anyone, and I guess she’s a bit intimidating, but tonight I thought fuck it and went over to say hi when she’d finished her routine.
She looked me right in the eye and said, “It was a land mine.”
I guess she was answering the question she knows everyone wants to ask her. I asked her if she was in her college's team and she said not yet. This is her first term, which is why I haven’t seen her around before; she’s not the kind of person you forget. She said her name was Gazelle and I have no idea if that’s her actual name or not.
Anyway we talked about gymnastics for a while, and then I discovered she’s got a Daddy Long-Legs as well. Well, not quite. She knows who he is for a start; have you heard of Richmond Valentine? I googled him once I got home. He owns this big tech company but does a lot of charity work as well, which is where he met Gazelle, I guess.
She said she owed him everything, that he’s paying for her to come here etc. and I must confess I spilled the beans.
Do you know how odd it is keeping you a secret? I suppose I don’t have to keep you a secret, I mean, my mum knows I have to write to you to keep you updated, but I don’t think anyone knows just how much I write. It’s so weird being in this kind of situation, and it was just nice to have someone else who knew what it was like.
Gazelle actually lives with Valentine when she’s not at uni, and I can’t tell if she in love with him or thinks he’s family, but they’re pretty close. She didn’t seem surprised that I didn’t know who you were though; she knows enough wealthy philanthropists to understand that some of them would rather not have to face up to being thanked for the good they do.
She said the best thing I could do was make something of myself, which I already knew of course, and I’m trying.
When we said goodbye she held out her hand and said we should be friends. I don’t think she’s ever had too many, somehow.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
It kind of pisses me off the way people stare at Gazelle. She’s probably faster on her blades than the rest of us are on our feet, but they treat her like she’s gonna fall apart in front of them. Gazelle thinks its funny that I get so annoyed about it, she says she just uses their discomfort to her advantage.
Roxy said I must have stared at her too at first, and I said yeah but she was doing amazing things on the parallel bars at the time.
Roxy and Gazelle get on really well. It was like they recognised a kindred spirit instantly. Gazelle’s doing medicine. She says she wants to specialise in cutting flesh.
I don’t think she needs the feet-blades to make people feel uncomfortable. Charlie’s frankly terrified of her; it’s great. I may have set him up a little, told him about this amazingly flexible girl I met at the gym and all of that. He got me to describe her, but he never asked if she had feet so I’m blameless for his choking on his drink when they finally met at the bar.
Once he’d fled Roxy told me I wasn’t being very nice, but Gazelle said to warn her next time so she could hide her blades until the appropriate moment. She’s got prosthetic feet she can use, but says she prefers the blades.
The term’s more than half over already. Where does the time go? Are you well? Everyone’s coming down with the flu, it feels like, but so far I have escaped.
Rather belatedly, I finally got to have that lunch with Harry. And Charlie, of course, but since I eat with him almost every day the novelty of that has worn off a bit. The lunch was apparently to celebrate yet another term completed, and Harry took us both to a nice little Japanese place on Southbank.
I can’t say I’ve had a lot of Japanese food in my time, but it was very good.
As I suspected, Harry had an ulterior motive. He must be an excellent lawyer, because he spent the first course expertly cross-examining Charlie about his studies, much to my amusement.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. When he came to collect us, he had a cab waiting and he walked with us. When we were crossing the Old Quad he just strode right across the grass. Charlie tried to stop him and remind him of the rules, but he just shrugged and said what were they going to do, expel him and kept going. Please don’t report me to the authorities, Galahad, but the three of us walked where only seniors are permitted to tread. Charlie went super fast, I guess he was worried we’d get caught. I suggested we should stop for an illicit game of croquet and Harry laughed.
So yeah, then at the restaurant Harry reminded Charlie not to get too excited about the rowing, and he said that if he wasn’t up to standard he wouldn’t hire him, regardless of what Chester said. Charlie said later that he was just bluffing, and that he has a stick up his arse. I think Charlie was pretty pissed off that I got to see it all, but he had to be polite with Harry there.
He’s wrong, B.T.W. I don’t think Harry has a stick up his arse, I think he’s probably realised that Charlie is used to being given everything he wants and is trying to wean him off the idea.
Anyway, after that the talk was pretty pleasant. Harry dropped us back and wished us both a Merry Christmas. We were heading in when Harry called me back from the cab window.
This next bit’s amazing. He said it was probably just a coincidence, but did I have a father in the army as well. Turns out, he knew my dad! I can’t believe it. He said the thought had occurred to him the first time we met, but that he dismissed it as too unlikely.
I was just amazed. I barely knew my dad, see, and of course Mum didn’t know much about his time in the army cause she wasn’t there. I always wondered what his time in uniform was like. Harry and I didn’t have time to talk about it, but he said to call him sometime next term and we’ll have lunch without Charlie and he’d answer all my questions.
It’s a really small world isn’t it? I don’t know if I’ll tell Mum or not yet; the army stuff is a really sore spot with her. That was why I quit in the end, you know. At the time I wondered if I was making the worst mistake of my life; a lot of my friends thought I might be.
But it turned out for the best. I’d rather be here than there.
Merry Christmas and all of that. I stayed on at college for an extra week or so to keep working, but now I’m back home again, the tree is decorated, and this year Daisy was old enough to help decorate it. Sort of. It’s really amazing how much she grows while I’m not around. She’s walking pretty much everywhere and she tires poor Mum out. She’s always trying to climb on something; she’s gonna be a parkour champion someday, I know it. When she’s older her big brother will give her lessons (but don’t tell Mum that; she’s already forbidden me.)
This year, as I think I promised last year, I have a present for you. Well, it’s from all of us really. I hope you like it; it’s my Mum’s recipe and there’s a list of ingredients taped to the inside of the tin in case you’re allergic to something. I hope you’re not though, cause it’s really good.
Also find enclosed a card from Daisy. I’m not sure she’s very clear on who you are exactly. I think she thinks you’re Santa Claus. I swear I didn’t tell her you had a bushy beard or that you were quite so spherical. She’s quite an artist, isn’t she?
They reckon we’re going to have blizzard conditions or something soon. A White Christmas maybe. It certainly feels cold enough. Be safe, wherever you are, and have a Merry Christmas.
Eggsy, Daisy, and Michelle Unwin
I’m sorry for taking so long to write to you. My grandmother was visiting, and she’s really quite frail so I spent most of the time either keeping an eye on her or Daisy. She’s a bit deaf, and it’s hard to know if she’s understood what you’ve said, but she clearly liked seeing Daisy. She took my room while she was here; I’ve been sleeping on the couch.
Thank you very much of the cheque. This year I gave it all to Mum to stash away from Dean and spend it on Daisy as required. I felt like I couldn’t really spend it after you bought me another present. The pen is beautiful. Although, as you’ve probably noticed, I’m not very proficient at using it yet. I guess I could have scribbled a thank-you note in biro but I wanted to wait until I had the time to write it properly.
Do you use a fountain pen all the time? I keep getting ink blobs—see, there’s one there. I don’t think I’ll be taking notes with this, but I will admit it makes beautiful letters when I slow down and be careful with it. I will practice with it, I promise. I suppose you think handwriting is just as important as letter writing.
(Which reminded me; I still had the get-well card you wrote to me in first year. I dug it out and had a look; you used a fountain pen for that at least. You have nice handwriting, but kind of spiky and hurried. I suppose you have to write a lot.)
Christmas was all right. We didn’t get a blizzard although I saw some other parts of the country did. Miserable weather though.
I’m so slow with this pen I had to stop and have dinner.
Did you like the fruit cake? I hope your Christmas was a good one. Roxy stayed in the UK this year, and I met her a couple of times before Christmas to go shopping and such. I bought her a hat that she thought was too cute for her to buy herself; I think she still feels she needs to be serious, and she bought me a stack of books I’d been intending to use the library for. She says I can write in them this way, although I’ve used library books for most of my life and it seems wrong to write in anything (not that everyone agrees, given the state of some of the books I’ve borrowed.)
We’re planning on meeting up now all the family stuff’s over. She says she wants to meet some of my friends. The lads are going to go mad for her; I just hope no one cracks their skull trying to do anything too stupid to show off.
Should be a good time before I get back to studying.
Chapter 6: Hilary 2017
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Back at Hertford again. It’s telling that I keep almost calling the place ‘home.’ I’ve never had a home that wasn’t my mum’s flat before. I’m going to try hard to move out once I graduate, even if it’s more expensive. I just can’t face the thought of living there any more long-term, and Daisy’s going to need her own room, especially if Dean’s still around. Maybe Roxy and I can share a place.
Speaking of Roxy, my mates are head over heels for her and I think she liked them, although she hasn’t accepted any offers for a date. She can’t help coming from the sort of background that she does; at least she doesn’t dismiss the rest of us without trying to get to know us first. I doubt many other posh girls like her would have been game to come to the Black Prince and hang out. Not by themselves anyway.
P.S. Getting a bit better with this pen, did you notice? I have ink on my hands though.
I finally worked up the nerve to call Harry and we met up to talk about my dad. I didn’t feel like discussing it over a meal so we met up for coffee at some nice little cafe. It turns out Harry didn’t just know my dad, but served with him. You wouldn’t know he’d been a soldier to look at him, he’s so polite and put-together, like someone who wouldn’t want to get their hands dirty and would have someone else to do the dirty work, but Harry must have seen some serious action when he served. He’s been to all sorts of trouble spots, he said and he seemed to know a lot about the trouble first hand.
He didn’t tell any war stories though, not about himself anyway, he just talked about my dad. Harry had rank on him; that makes sense, Harry joined up as an officer, but it seemed like they were pretty good friends. Or at least, comrades.
I don’t know, I never knew my dad. I mean, I met him, but I honestly don’t remember much. Just the impression of a man. Mum told me about him, of course, but it was all filtered through her. To know someone else who knew this whole other side of him, it just opened my eyes to how little I really knew. I didn’t say much, I just listened.
Harry couldn’t tell me everything. Details have to be kept vague and all that but I don’t really care about that sort of thing. Like, I want to know that my dad was terrible at cards and great at throwing knives, and that wherever they went women seemed to fall over him, but he never showed the slightest inclination to cheat on Mum. I don’t really need to know the details of the military actions he was involved in.
But Harry liked him, and I think I would have liked him too. I think he would have been a good dad; I never really thought much about it one way or the other before.
And you know his story can’t have a good end, but I was caught up in thinking about him as a young man, alive and getting into trouble and all of that. And then Harry told me how he died because Harry was there. He said he died saving his comrades, that he threw himself on a grenade, and at least he didn’t tell me what it looked like. And I just listened, and when he was done talking Harry politely took his leave because what can you say after that, right? I just said thanks and off he went.
I went home in a sort of a daze, but when I got back to my room I realised that Harry had outright pretty much said he blamed himself for Dad’s death because he’d missed something about the situation they were in, but it wasn’t his fault, really, Dad was the one who made the call and aside from all of that he was the one who decided to sign up and leave me and Mum and go and fight in the first place.
And I was really really fucking angry and I’m still fucking angry and I just started crying and couldn’t stop and I don’t remember Dad’s funeral or anything so I don’t think I’ve ever cried for him before and that’s so fucked up and (unsent)
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
This might seem strange, but when I’m upset about something, often my first impulse is to write to you about it. I have friends and family, but there’s something soothing about your non-judgemental silence, or almost silence. I feel if things were really dire, you’d step in and help if you could, but if there’s nothing you can do you don’t make a big deal about it. I makes me feel better about coping by myself. I don’t always send you these letters, of course. It’s the act of writing it down that’s soothing; I feel knowing you’d read what I wrote would be a bit less soothing.
Which is a roundabout way of saying it took me a few weeks to work up the nerve to call Harry. I know he said he wanted to tell me about Dad, but I felt whenever I rang I would be disturbing him; he’s probably really busy. I have no idea if I did disturb him or not, because people that polite are almost impossible to visibly inconvenience.
So I called him and he said he was glad that I had, and we agreed to meet up in a cafe. He did exactly as he promised, and told me what he knew and you’ll forgive me for not sharing the details. If nothing else, I don’t want to go over them again just yet, but there was a lot I didn’t know about Dad and most of it was good. I’m so glad I met Harry; it was pure chance but if I hadn’t I would have missed out on so much. It would never have occurred to me to look for my Dad’s old army friends. If any of them tried to keep in touch Mum never said anything to me.
It wasn’t all easy to listen to and when I went home I was a bit upset. I actually ended up skipping dinner entirely; I couldn’t face the thought of eating.
I’m angry that he abandoned us, but at least the way Harry told it he loved us, and always intended to come back. I don’t think Mum was entirely sure on that. She’d talk about Dad, but never about the army, so I never knew why he signed up or anything like that. She wanted to forget that bit, so I haven’t decided if I’m going to tell her what Harry told me or not. I don’t want to upset her, and for all I know he hasn’t told me anything she didn’t already know. Maybe someday I’ll sound her out about it, but carefully.
Thanks for listening, or reading, or whatever. I don’t know if you have kids, but if you do you should make some time and hang out with them a bit soon. You never know what could happen.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I haven’t seen anything more of Harry since we met up at that cafe. I wanted to thank him for his time, and went back and forth on it a bit, but in the end I decided to take a leaf out of your book and I wrote him a thank-you note.
He texted me back to say he got it and that I was most welcome so I guess you two don’t have that much in common after all. I feel a bit envious that Charlie will get to work with him in the future; it doesn’t seem fair, since Charlie doesn’t seem to like him that much. I actually asked Charlie what he knew about him at dinner one evening. Apparently he’s not really a family friend; he says he doesn’t seem to have any family at all and that he’s not sure how he got the job in the first place, but has been in the firm as long as he can remember. He says he always makes excuses not to go to Chester’s family events, which speaks of good taste to me, although Charlie thinks he’s being rude.
Charlie wanted to know why I was asking and I really didn’t want to talk about it, but I couldn’t really lie so I told him he knew my dad in the army, and for once I was glad of Charlie’s utter self-absorption because I saw his eyes glaze over halfway through the sentence and he asked me no more about it.
Why was I asking? It’s not like Harry and I are friends although that would be-
WTF am I doing? (unsent)
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
The end of term approaches again, although now I’m getting stuck in to my reading I’m not planning on going anywhere. I don’t think it’s really going to feel like a holiday at all. It just means I won’t have to turn up to lectures and can set my own schedule. I sleep right through Charlie leaving for training in the morning now.
Speaking of which, I am definitely not going to miss The Boat Race this year. Will you be watching it on TV? I told Mum I’m definitely going, and I think if Daisy were a bit older she’d go too, but at her age she thinks the crowds and stuff might be too much for her. I’m kind of relieved if I’m honest; I want to watch the race, not babysit my sister, as much as I love her.
Charlie’s completely insufferable now he’s made the team, but I must admit I’m getting a bit excited too. Hertford College might not have much of a chance but the contest between Oxford and Cambridge is always close so we might actually have something to celebrate.
I was so annoyed at myself for missing out last year. It was just one of those things I didn’t realise was such a big deal. Until I went to Oxford, I’m pretty sure Mum never watched it. It’s not really our sort of sport, you get me? Bunch of rich twats rowing down a river sounds right boring.
Anyway, I’ll be sure to write and tell you all about it.
As promised, here is my account on this year’s Boat Race. I hope you have a bit of time because I think this letter is going to be long. I’m tired and kind of sunburnt and tipsy but I don’t think I can sleep and besides, I want to tell you everything while it’s still fresh in my mind.
We set out really early cause we wanted to make sure we’d get a good spot. There were people already there when we arrived, setting out blankets and the TV crews were setting up too. Did you watch it this year? Gazelle and Roxy were there too, although Gazelle didn’t get it at all. She couldn’t understand why everyone was so excited. People had even dressed up in straw boater hats and such.
The weather was great, not a cloud in the sky, and the river looked like something out of a painting. Sometimes it amazes me that I’m even here, you know? Eggsy Unwin, moving up in the world. Since Roxy had gone last year and Gazelle wasn’t very excited they just found a comfortable spot to sit and chat but I decided to wander around a bit, soak up the atmosphere and see if I could find somewhere better to see the water from
Anyway, I was wandering around, looking for a good place to watch from and you’ll never guess who I met.
Harry Hart. He really stood out in his suit, and he’s pretty tall so he was hard to miss. I went up and said hello and he seemed quite happy to see me, and said it was such a lovely day that he’d begged off work to go and watch the Regatta, especially since Charlie’s rowing this year. I didn’t really believe him; he doesn’t seem the type to beg for anything. I think he just skipped out. He strikes me as the sort of person who only pays lip service to rules he doesn’t like.
He had one of those really fancy picnic baskets from Fortnam and Mason’s and he said he was was going to invite Chester but he couldn’t make it. I said I didn’t believe him and he said gentlemen didn’t call others out on their polite lies and I said I wouldn’t if anyone else had been listening and he sort of smirked at me. He said either way there was plenty to eat and I was welcome to have some. I wasn’t gonna turn that down so I texted Roxy and told her I probably wouldn’t be back until after the race. I’d be an idiot to turn down that sort of free lunch.
So the picnic was pretty great. Have you tried those baskets? There was cheese and cold meats and fruit and salad and little bottles of champagne and everything was really fancy and posh. It was also delicious; there were these brilliant strawberries and I think I only let Harry have one in the end. I’ll be honest, I sort of forgot the reason we were out there but the crowd cheered whenever the boats went past and I’d cheer too even if I wasn’t clear who was winning, or even who was going past at the time. I guess I saw Charlie, but were were a bit far away to actually pick out individual rowers.
We had a pretty good view of the river anyway, but not so much of the finish line, so we cheered as they went past but we didn’t find out who won until later. (We won! I guess it would have meant more if I knew anyone at Cambridge to have a rivalry with, but from my perspective the competition is a little silly.) Harry had forgotten to bring a blanket, he said, so we sat on the grass. I thought he’d worry about his suit but he didn’t seem to care. He just stretched out and took off his jacket when it got too warm, and relaxed like he sat on the grass all the time. Maybe he does, I guess he can afford to get his suits cleaned whenever he needs them to be.
He said he’d done a bit of rowing for Hertford, but that he’d had more success with the boxing and fencing. He told me a bit about his student days; the way he spoke of it, it wasn’t so different back then, but I guess time moves slowly at Oxford. He said there was a lot less sexual harassment of the female students now, and that’s the biggest change. For the better.
I told him about my gymnastics and Harry, like everyone else at this college apparently, was very interested to hear about how the college team was shaping up this year, and he told me about some of the bouts he'd fought. He talked like he was prepared to step into the ring again at a moment's notice if asked; it was kind of funny. I’ve given up trying to guess how old he is.
I joked that he should come and watch me when I compete next term, and he said maybe he would if he had time. It would be pretty great if he could, but he didn’t seem to think it was likely so I won’t get my hopes up. I was lucky just meeting him here.
We stayed most of the day. Harry seemed shocked that I’d never given rowing a go myself. He said the upper body strength I’d built up doing gymnastics would be a real asset, but I said I didn’t like the idea of getting up so early. I almost said I didn’t really like the idea of spending hours training with people like Charlie, but I thought that might be a bit rude, even by Harry’s standards. It’s true though; most of the rowers I’ve met have been just like him. I like gymnastics a lot better.
Harry said even if I didn’t compete, I should try and make it onto the river at least once, that it was part of the Oxford experience. He said surely one of my friends would be up for it, but I’m not so sure. Roxy seems indifferent to rowing in general, just going because it’s expected and I suspect Gazelle would laugh at me if I asked.
Once the rowing had finished and everyone started packing up I invited Harry to come and see Charlie and have drinks with us but he said he had to go back and that someone like him would only cramp our style. I don’t think he would have cramped my style any, but I guess as Charlie’s potential boss he might have cramped his. He said to pass on his congratulations to Charlie, which I did, although Charlie gave me a funny look and asked incredulously if I’d gone to watch with Harry.
I said I hadn’t, I'd just run into him. Which was true. I wish I didn’t feel so defensive about it.
So, yes, pub dinner and drinks after. We’d arranged to meet Charlie at a pub, although he was busy with his rowing team and didn’t have much time for us. No great loss. Lots of Oxford songs were sung, and no one got into any fights. I saw Mike hanging out with Amelia’s theatre friends but we haven’t really spoken since, well, I guess nearly a year ago now.
Roxy didn’t stay long after dinner, and I can see why. The atmosphere was kind of boisterous, and as much as she’s loosened up since splitting with Amanda, it wasn’t really her scene. Gazelle didn’t even go; she thanked us for the ‘interesting’ experience and went back to her college for dinner.
It was a great day. I’m very glad I went, and I’m looking forward to next year already. If I close my eyes I can still see the sunlight sparkling off the water and I’ve got that bloody drinking song stuck in my head. I’m going to try and sleep though, promise.
Have I thanked you recently?
Chapter 7: Trinity 2017
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Lectures start again on Monday. If the influx of freshmen attending orientation activities hadn’t tipped me off I might have forgotten.
Daisy attended Oxford last week. She’s old enough to wonder where I am and it kind of made me think about Dad and I decided I should show her around sometime.
Daisy and Mum have been here before, of course, Mum helped me move in and she visited that time I was really sick in first year, but they didn’t really get a chance to see the whole place. Daisy loved it; at this time of year the campus is green, and everything looks like it’s out of a storybook. Daisy said she wanted to see the wizards. I don’t know if she meant Harry Potter or guys in hats with stars on them.
I didn’t show her any wizards but I did show her my university gown and she tried it in and got completely lost in it. I have included a picture so you can see what I mean. Also I’m there too.
When they were leaving I asked Daisy if she wanted to go to Oxford someday and she nodded. I just hope she doesn’t think school is going to be like this. She’s in for a lot of disappointment if she does.
I don’t care about being rich, Galahad, but I want to have enough money so if Daisy does want to go to Oxford she can. If she wants to go somewhere else, I want her to be able to do that as well. I don’t want her to feel trapped, to feel the only way out is the army. We can't all have someone like you looking out for us.
You really are too generous. I was determined not to feel any sour grapes about not attending the Commemoration Ball this year, despite that fact that we’ll be holding it and you pre-empt me. I don’t know what to say. I suppose a year and a half ago I’d have refused, but honestly, I do want to go, and I suppose one suit is not such an expense compared to the rest of my education. (Is it? I have no idea how much a bespoke suit costs and I have the feeling neither you nor Merlin will tell me.) So, I will attend the appointment you made for me, and at the end of the term I will also attend the ball and I’ll make sure to send you lots of pictures.
P.S. Unless of course, you are attending the ball yourself? I know they’re going to invite some alumni because Charlie said Chester might go. I would love it if you did attend. If you wanted to remain incognito maybe you could give me a code-word. How does ‘Galahad’ sound?
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I had my measurements taken today. I’ve never had a suit fitted before. In my household if someone needed a suit for something (I’d like to say a funeral but more often it was someone’s day in court) it would be pieced together out of second-hand and borrowed clothes from family and friends. When I was a teenager I remember wearing my dad’s coat. It made me feel awful.
Anyway, that wasn’t what I wanted to write to you about. Today was actually a happy day. The sun was, well, not shining but it wasn’t raining, and I had a good, honest excuse for putting the books down for the day and getting off campus. I’ve never been to Savile Row either; very expensive part of town. I did a bit of window shopping and felt poorer just for looking. There’s some sweet gear in there though, although not the sort I imagine you would like.
So I turned up at Kingsman, and if they were surprised to see the likes of me there they didn’t show it. They offered me tea and coffee and little sandwiches and didn’t ask me in advance how I intended to pay, although I suppose you’ve already taken care of that.
One of the tailors took me into a dressing room to take my measurements, which was probably the weirdest bit. He was pretty fast and all of that but it’s hard to meet your own eye in the mirror when you’ve got a bloke who looks like someone’s grandfather kneeling in front of you. I suppose if you remain the same size you don’t have to get it done a lot. A motivation to keep fit.
Anyway, I was very relieved once that was all over, but there was still a lot more to do. I kind of expected you’d have picked a suit out for me, or a style or something, but instead we spent the next forty minutes or so choosing cloth and cut and stuff. Until today I thought all penguin suits looked alike, but I know a lot better now. I didn’t really know what to pick so I kind of went with whatever the tailor suggested; it’s his job to know what’s going to look the best and all that. I think he liked having someone who wasn’t too picky.
I’ll be going back once they’ve started making it to get it fitted and such. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m glad I didn’t talk myself out of the experience.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Hypothetically, would you bail me out if I got myself arrested? Don’t worry, this is just hypothetical. I mean, if I was arrested for something virtuous, like attending a protest. An anti war rally specifically.
To start from the beginning. Some of the people in my classes are very politically active. I guess it’s easy for them to be. I’m not discounting the fact that they’re trying to do what’s right and all that, but student protesters, even when dealt with harshly, get better press than people like me and my mates. If you’re not a student, a social group whom it’s expected will riot from time to time, you’re a thug looking to smash a few windows and grab a TV. I felt like they weren’t really living in the real world, joining Socialist collectives and stuff like that.
I was thinking about it recently, and I realised everyone lives in the real world. Those untouchable oligarchs in the City are living in our world and parasitising it and making it into their image and they should be held responsible. Anyway, there was a protest on, and this time I decided to go. I was planning on going alone, because my mates are working, and even Roxy said it would be a waste of a day better spent working on academic studies, but Gazelle said she’d go. She said if it helped plant one less landmine, it was worth a few hours, and you can’t argue with that, can you?
It actually all went okay in the end. Mostly it was boring, just standing in a street yelling and watching the police watch us. I was glad to come back, to get out of the noise and sit down. I asked Gazelle if she thought we’d done any good but she just shrugged and said, ‘It’s your country.’
I want to change it for the better, Galahad. I’m going to try. It’s what you wanted, isn’t it? Picking me out cause I jumped in after that kid. I still wonder what you thought you’d found when you read that article.
I’m very tired, I think I’ll go to bed early.
I suppose you know the Commemoration Ball is only three weeks off, as is the end of the academic year, but since I’m not facing exams this is much less important than it was last year. In fact, this time next year I’ll be facing my finals, and as I think this, it’s as if an icy wind is blowing.
Nope, not going to think about it.
My suit is nearly done. I was going to send you a picture but I decided to wait until the ball itself. I went in today to have it fitted properly now that it’s been sewn together for the most part—I don’t claim to understand the process at all, but I had to stand very still while they stuck pins through it, and luckily not through me.
Anyway, when I arrived, there was another gentleman just finishing the same process. Could you believe it? It was Harry. I must admit I was probably very rude because I kept looking over my tailor’s shoulder while he was trying to talk to me trying to work out if it really was him or not when he came out of the fitting room. I haven’t seen him since the Regatta, not for lack of wanting to see him, but I couldn’t quite figure out if we’re friendly enough that I could just call or text him and suggest we hang out. Is it weird to hang out with someone like that?
We got to hang out today at least. I don’t know if he was just skipping work or not, I guess they can’t fire him, but he stayed all through my fitting, which made it a lot easier. He seemed to know a lot about it; he made suggestions and when I asked him he said he’d been wearing bespoke suits since he was seventeen.
I have a hard time imagining him as a seventeen year old and I think he could see me trying. He said he was there to get his formal suit altered, that he hadn’t worn it for a couple of years, and I quickly found out he was going to the ball as well, along with Chester. Hertford rarely holds Commemoration Balls so it was a big deal, which is why he was attending.
This is great news, because even if you’re not going to be there, at least I’ll be able to talk to Harry. I asked him if he was taking anyone and he said only if I cared to accompany him and I couldn’t work out if he was serious or not (he couldn’t possibly be serious, right?) so I just laughed. I guess he’s not got a partner though.
He took me out to lunch after, and asked after my studies and things like that, and he said we should catch up again, so I guess we are officially friends.
I’m really looking forward to the ball. With this suit I feel a bit like Cinderella, although I’ve got no intention of losing my shoes.
P.S. I don’t really want to talk about the gymnastics. We got slaughtered. Gazelle did brilliantly though and won the women’s event, but for a different college. Next year is my last chance.
Please find enclosed heaps of pictures. The reason this letter is slightly delayed is because I wanted to print them out properly for you, and Mum as well. She’s put them in her photo album, even though I sent her digital copies as well.
So, the gorgeous girl in blue is Roxy, the lady in black is Gazelle (she’s not at Hertford but she got in as my plus one,) Charlie’s the one with the floppy hair, and Yours Truly is the guy in the splendid suit and stars in his eyes. I hope you’re happy with the suit; I was.
The girls took hours and hours to get ready and I actually kind of envied them; all that hair styling and make-up and stuff at least gave them something to do to while away the hours until the ball itself. I got dressed way earlier than I had to and then had to sit around pretending to study for three quarters of an hour.
Anyway, they’d done the entire college up. There were lights everywhere and they even had swans and things wandering around to make the atmosphere even grander. It was a bit much, really, but I figured for me at least it was a once in a lifetime event and I was just going to go with it. They even had a little orchestra there. I think the theme was supposed to be renaissance or something. There was a banquet and they served some spectacular food; antelope with the antlers still in and partridge and pheasant.
Chester made a speech after dinner, all about tradition and honour and I wasn’t even sure Harry had even shown up until after the food was done. There was dancing afterwards. I’ve never learned how to dance, and I realise I should have asked Roxy for some lessons beforehand, but it was a bit late for that. I was sort of lurking and watching the dances, because everyone looked amazing, I have to admit, and Harry materialised at my elbow out of the crowd.
I wish I’d thought to get a picture of him, but I was caught up in the whole evening and didn’t even think to take my phone out again until after I’d gone home. He looked pretty good. He asked why I wasn’t dancing and said it couldn’t be for lack of partners and I told him I didn’t know how.
He said it was easy and the next thing I knew he was waltzing off with me. I mean, when he asked I was too stunned to object. We were the only blokes dancing together in the whole quad, I think, and I asked Harry if it was appropriate and he apologised for making me uncomfortable and I said fuck it let’s dance.
I didn’t step on his toes, although he moved out of my way a bit sharply a couple of times. It was pretty amazing though, the whole thing. When Roxy saw us she marched off and asked another bird to dance and said over her shoulder that this was a much better idea.
I wasn’t so sure when we came to a stop in front of Chester and Charlie, but when Chester asked Harry what he thought he was doing Harry said the only reason he came to these events was to dance. And then he promptly asked Charlie who clearly felt obligated to say yes and off they went. Which was funny but left me smiling weakly at Chester. I don’t know why he was giving me such a formidable look. I’m not trying to corrupt his employee; Harry does what he likes, clearly.
Sometimes I wonder how they stand working together. Anyway, I was feeling a bit more confident after that so I danced a bit with Roxy—I wasn’t confident enough to put my feet near Gazelle’s though. Harry spent most of the night dancing with birds and blokes; I dunno where he gets the energy. I got one more dance with him and he said I was much improved.
It was so much fun. It felt like a dream, and one I eventually had to wake up from. I’m not sure what time we got back; some people had gone on to other places but I didn’t want to leave the college, I think it would have spoiled the effect to return to the real world.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I learnt my lesson from last summer. You’ll be pleased to know I’m not flopping about bored and overheated. I’m currently nicely chilled in the Bodlian library. Since I’m back at home I have to take my bike on the bus to go to Uni which is a bit of a pain, but as long as I avoid peak hour it’s doable, and I feel like I’m not wasting time the way I did last year. My lecturer told us we can’t really afford to spend the summer idle, and I want to have at least a good start on my draft for my thesis, so I’m going in three times a week to work on it.
I’m also putting in some hours at a food bank. Mum’s started volunteering there; back when I was a kid things were pretty tough sometimes, but we never needed a food bank. No one did. This whole thing’s utterly ridiculous; we’re one of the richest countries in the world.
Sorry, you don’t need to hear me get all angry about politics. So I’m doing that and taking care of Daisy a bit. She keeps asking when she can come back to Uni. I’d take her with me but I’m sure she’d get bored in five minutes in the library and get us both thrown out; it’s not the sort of library that’s really friendly to little kids.
Hope your summer’s going well. Try and take some time off while the weather is fine if you can.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
It’s really hard to work up the nerve to message Harry. I’m just so completely and utterly (unsent)
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Mum, Daisy and I went for a day by the seaside at Brighton. Naturally it poured rain most of the day, but the sun came out for a good fifteen minutes around lunchtime and Daisy got her paddle in the water and her ice cream and I think she was more excited about the latter. I think I vaguely remember coming here when Dad was alive but everything’s changed so much I don’t know if I’m remembering or imagining.
We had fish and chips with lots of other damp holidaymakers trying to make the best of it in the way we do in this country. Still, it was nice to get out of the house, and Daisy enjoyed watching the scenery go by on the train.
Gazelle’s gone back to America for the summer but Roxy comes and studies with me sometimes. She’s still got another two years to go. She said she’ll miss me when I’m gone and I said I wasn’t going to die. I hope we keep in touch after Uni; I’m going to try really hard to.
I sent Harry a text and he said he didn’t get summer holidays, even if the rest of the City does, he just works overseas. He said he was doing some sort of consulting work for a construction company (or a destruction company; he says they blow up buildings.) He sent me some pictures of the Johannesburg skyline.
I think I’d like to travel, whatever I end up doing with my life. I never really got the chance to in the army, and I never figured I would after that, but if I pass my degree the possibilities open up. I’ve spent a bit of time looking at job opportunities; I’ve still got a year to go, but I’m not sure what I want to do, so I thought it was best to get an idea now. As always I remain open to suggestions.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Dean got in a car accident the other week. He broke his leg and his wrist and is mostly confined to the house for the next few weeks. So, I’ve moved. Roxy has been staying with a family friend, or rather, staying in his spare room while he’s out of the country, and she kindly offered to let me stay as well (she asked him for permission of course.) I’m crashing on the couch for now, and my stuff’s all piled up in boxes, but that’s kind of how it was back home anyway and it’s only for a couple of weeks until term starts again. It’s a really nice flat.
But I still haven’t told her about you. Not about the letters anyway, so I’m writing this in the library. It’s second nature not to tell people to me now, and it was only when I realised I owed you a September letter that I decided I didn’t want her asking what I was doing.
Harry’s back in the country. We went out to lunch. Johannesburg must have done him good; he’s very brown. Browner than I am, even though I’ve been cycling to Uni. I asked him if he was sure he wasn’t really on holiday and he laughed.
Chapter 8: Michaelmas 2017
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I am writing to you in a state of deep despair. The weather is awful; there’s a howling wind blowing which makes cycling around campus twice as hard as it normally is. Even when it’s at my back it keeps gusting and threatening to blow me off-course. I’ve seen at least three people chasing various hats, papers and bits of rubbish that had gotten away from them today.
I also have a cold.
But what’s most terrible is the feedback on my thesis draft so far. One of my lecturers kindly agreed to look it over, only I’m not sure he was being kind at all. I think the red pen was longer than the draft was. I’m grateful, really, but looking over all this feedback I can’t help but feel I’ve made no progress over the summer and I should just pack it in and become a goat herder.
I’ll take it all with me when I go to my tutorial next. Maybe my tutor will help me untangle it. Today I really can’t face it at all, and I’ve been spending the afternoon lying in bed with my headphones in, reading and breathing through my mouth. I’m still in bed now which is why I’m writing to you in biro.
I don’t intend to ever get up.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Friday the thirteenth is not so unlucky after all. I’m mostly recovered from my cold, but more importantly my tutor tells me that the red pen isn’t as bad as it looks, and I can take heart that he didn’t redline my actual topic and approach, even if the execution still needs work. It’s a rough draft, after all.
It was very cheering, even if I think I’ll start the draft over again, rather than try and fix it. I have to remember to study for my exams at the end of the year as well.
The wind has died down and the weather has taken a turn for the warm. It won’t last, of course, but I have exercised my right as a senior to walk on the grass in the Old Quad at any time of year. I can’t believe it’s been two years already. This time next year I won’t be here, and that’s a weird feeling.
I hope you’ll come to my graduation, is the cumulation of all our effort, after all.
I hope you are well. I hope you are also in a good mood. I need your help, because I’m not sure where else to turn. I’ll start at the beginning, although there's not a lot to tell, really.
The mild weather only lasted a couple of days and it's been freezing again. Last night I was on my way back from Uni and I detoured to buy some crisps and there was this cardboard box making a noise by the bins outside. It didn't sound like a rat, or a baby, and I ignored it on the way in but couldn't on the way out. I was worried something was gonna jump out at me so I just nudged it with my foot and it made a whimper and I looked inside.
It was a puppy. I think it's a bulldog; it's got one of those little squished faces and it's TINY, Galahad. The poor thing was cold and shivering and it was pretty late. I couldn't just leave it. I had books in my bag on the back of the bike, so I couldn't take the whole box. I grabbed the dog and put him in my jacket. I figured it would warm him up. He seemed to like it.
I know, it was probably stupid. Cutting across the Old Quad when no one's watching is one thing but pets are absolutely forbidden in college. I just didn't know what else to do. So I took him back, smuggled him up in my jacket. He'd fallen asleep in there, poor little thing.
I decided I'd worry about him the next day and let him sleep.
When I went down to breakfast the next morning I pinched some bacon to take up for him, but I'm pretty sure Charlie noticed something was up. I was barely in my room before he was knocking on the door with some vague fucking excuse and so I shoved the little guy in the closet with the bacon and made small talk until Charlie gave up.
So of course when I opened the closet the puppy had pissed in one of my shoes. I don't think the bacon agreed with him either; he should have proper puppy food. I can't keep him here. Even if I wanted to, I'd get caught sooner or later, and obviously no one at college can help. Mum's got enough on her hands; I couldn't ask her to look after a dog. I rang around my mates, and Jamal said he could look after him for a week or two maybe but that's not really a solution.
So I'm writing to you for help. I'll take him to the RSPCA but only as a last resort. I feel like he's been abandoned once already and I don't want to do it again. Do you want a dog? He's, well, he's not housetrained, okay? But he is kind of cute if you like dogs and he's very friendly. He's very small right now as well. Maybe you know someone who might like him?
I've enclosed a picture. I told him to look as adorable as possible. Please contact me soon, even if it's just via Merlin. I'm going to sneak him off to Jamal's house today, and I'll post this letter on the way. If I don't hear back in a week I guess it's the shelter for him.
6 th November
I got Merlin's message, as hard-hearted as it was, but as it turns out I didn't have to take JB to the shelter after all. Yeah, I gave him a name. The reason why is pretty amusing.
Charlie came to talk to me again. His exams are only two terms away as well, and I think it's finally dawned on him that his job offer might not be as secure as he thought. He thinks Harry's trying to get out of offering him the position despite his uncle and is looking for dirt on him. He asked me what I talked to Harry about, and I told him to fuck off and that it wasn't him (even though it kind of was sometimes.) I asked him why he cared so much anyway, because it's not like he wouldn't be able to get a job somewhere else, even if he doesn't get this one and he said I wouldn't understand.
Anyway, he seemed to believe me and said since I was such good friends with Harry I could entertain him on the weekend and tell him Charlie was too busy studying. I don't know if that's true or not, but hanging out with Harry is never a chore so I said why not. Charlie actually offered to give me some money for it, but I declined because one it makes me feel like he's paying me to keep his maybe-future-boss off his back, and two Harry never lets me pay for anything anyway and he's so polite about it I haven't figured out how to argue with him.
So Harry showed up for lunch on Saturday and I gave him Charlie's excuses and he didn't seem surprised. I'm not sure he believed them either, and I wonder if he's actually trolling Charlie somehow. Or his uncle.
Anyway, my suit got some use. I wore the jacket, cause Harry took us to some posh old club that wouldn't have let me in in a million years otherwise and there were these animal heads all over the wall. I said it was a bit tacky and he agreed in theory and talked about the taxidermist's art and how dead animals could have sentimental value.
(I swear I'm going somewhere with this, I just have to write it all out because I can't quite believe it. Harry's great and all but he's a bit eccentric too.)
I scoffed at that and said how so and he said he had his beloved pet dog, Mr Pickle, stuffed after he died and he has him in his house. I nearly choked on my beef. I thought he was joking, but he showed me a picture on his phone and everything.
That did get me thinking though, and afterwards I sounded him out about if he had a live dog and if he wanted one and he said he missed having one around but never really got around to getting a new one. And you can see where this is going, right? I told him all about JB, although JB didn't have a name, but after hearing about Mr Pickle I made it up on the spot because, well, Harry's clearly not good at naming dogs. He'd probably call him Mr Sausage or something, and as ugly as he is, he deserves better than that.
Anyway, Harry said he'd have a look, and he didn't mind going over to Jamal's place as he didn't have anything on that afternoon.
Poor Jamal. I didn't really have time to warn him and I guess it was more important to find JB a home, but he nearly panicked when he saw Harry on his doorstep. He asked why I was dressed up so fancy and I felt a bit weird saying it was just for lunch.
So, it turns out JB isn't a bulldog. He's a pug. Harry pointed this out and Jamal laughed his head off when he realised I didn't know. Anyway, Harry scooped JB up and looked at him for a while and I was worried JB was gonna throw up or make a mess and ruin it but he just looked up at him with that dumb expression he looks at everyone with and Harry seemed to like it.
He said it would be fine, and actually asked the dog if he'd like to come home with him. He also asked if he owed anyone any money, but I said JB had come free. He looked so small in Harry's hands.
Harry said he'd best get him home and buy some things, and he said he'd keep me updated on JB's progress. I asked why, since he wasn't really my dog and Harry said I'd named him and thus he kind of was.
So, that's all right. I'm sure Harry's gonna look after him properly, although I'm not sure about the whole taxidermy thing. When he got home Harry sent me some pictures of JB in his kitchen with his new bowl and bed.
I feel like I've done a good deed.
20 th December
Merry Christmas. Term ended, Christmas started, it's all been a bit of a rush. Dean's all mended and while he was laid up he realised that I'm going to graduate (or bomb out) next year and that your money will stop coming. He still occasionally tries to get me to get more out of you, since I'm writing you letters all the time (I can't really hide it when I'm home; Daisy's always asking what I'm doing, now.)
Anyway, Dean's been behaving himself since, and Mum's happy and it took me a while to realise he thinks I'm gonna take Mum away from him if get a job that makes real money. I wouldn't, of course, cause it's her decision and all, but I'd definitely support her and wouldn't cry if she decided she was sick of him. It feels like things are going to change soon, that this year is going to be different. It's a strange feeling.
The university emailed me with the details of the graduation dates so I need to book one. I've printed it out and enclosed it in case you had an opinion. I would dearly, dearly love it if you could attend. Roxy's not graduating until 2019, so there's no one else I particularly want to graduate with; all dates are the same to me.
I'm sending you another fruit cake, since you didn't object to the last one. I've also sent you something just from me. It's not much, a token really, I got it at the flea markets. It seemed a bit pointless to get you something pricey, but you're under no obligation to wear it.
Merry Christmas, Galahad.
29 th December
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Happy New Year! By the time you get this it will probably be 2018. I wasn't really surprised to see another anonymous present for me arrive in the post before Christmas, but I was surprised at the size of it. I wondered if you'd sent me a Christmas cake.
They're gorgeous, Galahad. I love them. I was surprised that they fit so well, but then I remembered I was thoroughly measured at the start of the year, and I shouldn't be surprised. I just didn't expect anything so, well, me and not you? The pen was beautiful, but it was all you; I'm sure you've got one similar that you've used and loved for years. You send me to your(?) tailor, you send me to your college and your university.
I can't picture you wearing trainers though. I can barely picture you in the store. Did you go to Stuarts in your suit, and brace yourself to ignore the music while interrogating a shop assistant half your age as to what I might like? Oh, I hope so. I hope that was it exactly, and you didn't just send Merlin or buy them online.
I have enclosed a picture because if you did go to all that effort you deserve to see the results. That's Daisy sitting on the bed in the background. Isn't she growing? She'll be going to school at the end of next year.
Speaking of photographs, true to his word Harry has been sending me a few of JB, whom I suspect is going to grow up very spoiled. Harry sent me a Christmas card and JB was on the front, in a box in front of a tree. He must have got them made up special. Harry tells me he will be taking him to obedience classes in the new year, even though he still looks pretty small to me.
This year Valentine is holding his New Years Eve party in London, and Gazelle invited me. Apparently there will be heaps of famous people going. At least my shoes are gonna do me proud.
3 rd January
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I finally got to meet Richmond Valentine. Because I was Gazelle's special guest, he sent a car around to pick me up on New Year's Eve. I felt a bit bad to be leaving the lads, but once they heard where I was going they said I had to go. I was gonna try and sneak them in as well, but they said they didn't want me to get kicked out.
As it turned out, it was probably a good thing. The security was really, really tight. There were a mob of photographers outside and someone even took my photo as I walked in, although I heard someone ask someone who the fuck I was a second later. Nobody, mate. Sorry.
I can see why the paparazzi was out though. I spent the first half an hour giving myself a sore neck as I kept recognising people in the crowd. I found Roxy eventually, and Gazelle found us, and took us over to meet the man himself.
I'm not sure what I was expecting, but Valentine wasn't it. He was really friendly and polite to us, but really rude to other people. If he wasn't interested in talking to someone, no matter how famous, he just brushed them off, looked right through them as if they weren't there. He looked at me though, said Gazelle had talked about me, and if I wanted to change the world I should think about working for him after I graduate.
Which is, wow, really. I mean, he didn't offer me a top position or anything, but wow. I dunno though, Harry did give me his card first.
Anyway, Valentine told us to have fun and went off again, Gazelle in tow, and I didn't see much more of either of them for the rest of the evening, although Valentine did give a little speech just before midnight.
I didn't get anyone's autograph, although I kind of wished I had, but it wasn't an autograph sort of night. I let Roxy steer me around as I was in a bit of a daze. I even met a princess! Although, I won't tell you which one because I am a gentleman. I even got a snog at midnight. She was gorgeous.
I also met Colin Firth, although I didn't get to snog him, as he was there with his wife who is equally dazzling. I'm probably not his type anyway. A man can dream though, right? I did tell him I was a fan and he was very gracious although I suppose he gets told that all the time. I'm just glad I don't think I made an idiot of myself.
There were free drinks, but honestly I didn't feel like I needed them. It was unreal. Kind of made it hard to come back home at the end. The catering was a bit odd though; I'm pretty sure I saw stuff from McDonalds alongside all the fancy finger food.
Mum was mad I didn't get Colin's autograph, and my mates said I was an idiot for not getting the princess's number. (After I convinced them that she actually existed.) I don't think she would have given it to me though.
I hope your New Year's was exciting. I'm going to go back to Hertford early and keep working on my thesis.
P.S. For once I'm looking forward to Charlie and his friends asking me about my holidays. I seriously doubt even Chester King could swing an invitation to Valentine's New Year's bash. I sent Gazelle my thanks and she said she and Valentine flew to New York in his private jet after midnight here to celebrate midnight there as well because he enjoyed it so much the first time around or something. How mad is that?
Chapter 9: Hilary 2018
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I’ve given you enough time to respond. I would have given you more if you’d asked for it, but you never ask anything of me, so I’m going ahead and asking for a September graduation ceremony. I went for one of the early ones because want to get my degree as soon as possible; I feel having a degree in hand rather than awaiting one will look better on my resume, and now I have to start thinking seriously about life after university.
I wish I didn’t have to sometimes. I suppose I could stay here and do postgraduate work. You might even sponsor me if I asked, but even if you didn’t I’d manage somehow, doing it part time or something. I actually considered it for a little while, but you don’t have to get Merlin to respond either way, Long-Legs, as I don’t think I want to do further study.
My goal has always been to make a difference in the real world, and while I know for a fact that my lecturers and academics can make a difference, I’d rather be out there than here, even if I will miss the rhythms of life on campus. Maybe someday I’ll come back and give a speech at Formal Hall. Plus, I’m really getting sick of essays and tutorials and academic work in general. I’m tired of having exams hanging over me, and they’re months and months away.
Earning a proper living wouldn’t be bad either. I get more money from you than I've ever had in my life, but it doesn't quite feel like mine. Drawing my pay-check from the army was the best feeling while it lasted.
So that’s that. You’re still invited to my graduation, so I’ll send you the details once they’re confirmed, and part of me can’t help but believe that you’ll come, to say goodbye if nothing else. But I’ll try not to get my hopes up too much.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Happy Valentine’s Day, if you’re the sort to care about it. I can't really imagine that you are though. I gave Roxy a card in case she was feeling down about it, being single and all this year. As it turns out I probably shouldn’t have bothered, because she got about five, at least, and while I’m pretty sure one was from Ryan (he keeps asking if I’m going to invite her back sometime) she was evasive enough that I guess at least one came from a girl. Roxy’s not the type who feels good about having to reject guys who ask her out, although they instant they start acting entitled the gloves come off. I kind of hope she starts dating someone so I can let Ryan know without her having to turn him down directly.
The Boat Race is coming up again, as if Charlie could let me forget. Since we won last year he seems to think it’s in the bag this year. I’m going to see if Harry’s going to go again. It would be nice to arrange to meet up, rather than leave it to chance if he is. Since the girls aren’t interested really, it makes more sense to go with him. And he was good company, lest you think I’m only looking for a free lunch.
I realise I haven’t seen him at all this year.
And I just got a text from Harry saying he can’t make it. Well, that’s that. I’m still gonna go, of course, but it’s not gonna be the same.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Hilary term has ended. I can’t believe it. I’ve only got one more to go, and these are my last set of holidays before Finals. Where did all the time go? My thesis is progressing, sort of, but it’s nowhere near done and I was so certain I’d started it early enough to have it finished by now. I’m not panicking, I’ll save that for when classes resume.
Mum wants me to come home for a bit over Easter, but I just can’t. I know she’d like some help with Daisy, but she’s old enough for daycare and such. I don’t think Mum really gets how hard it is, like, the sort of people who come here do get an easy ride through life, and I guess if I thought about it, I figured studying here wouldn’t be so hard. When I heard how long the holidays were it felt like I was hardly at uni at all, and I don’t like to worry Mum so I don’t really tell her if I’m stressing over my thesis or whatever. She’s got enough to worry about, I figure, but I think I’m gonna have to call her and explain.
She’s going to be disappointed, but hey, I’ll be back from uni for good in the summer.
You know I enlisted and quit, probably, but the reason I left the marines wasn’t because I couldn’t hack it, or even that I had some change of heart about what the defence force is used for, or politics or anything like that. I left because Mum begged me to come back. And with Daisy and all, I couldn’t say no, and I’m glad I was around to keep an eye on Dean and help her out, but sometimes, man, I wouldn’t even admit it to myself, but I was pretty angry. At her for bringing me back and at me for not ignoring her. I guess part of me is wondering if she’ll do it again somehow. I mean, what if I get a job overseas? It’s not like I can just take her with me, even if it paid that kind of money she wouldn’t do it.
I guess it’s why I’ve been vague about exams and graduating and what happens after. I know she’s really excited for the ceremony (even if I gotta pass first) but after, I dunno.
I’ve got a new perspective though. I remember when Dean was this huge source of worry and dread, and now since the accident he’s just kind of there. Every time I go back he seems smaller and older, I dunno, he’s still mean but it’s like he can’t do anything to me. Like, he wanted to know if you’d sent a cheque for Christmas again, and I told him to leave off, cause we weren’t starving or anything and he did. He just shrugged and went away.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now I realise he’s never done that before. Not without a fight or something mean. In an ideal world, I guess he’d go away for good, or apologise or do something to make up for what he put us through, but I guess if he gets old and mellows out and treats Mum and Daisy okay, that’s probably better than I could have hoped for.
Things are different this time. Not perfect, but different.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
The Boat Race was today. The weather wasn’t as good as last year, but it didn’t rain on us and that’s the most important thing. After a bit of thought I decided to invite my family this year, since aside from Charlie's lot my friends weren't that excited. It gave me a good excuse not to meet up with Charlie afterwards. I even invited Dean although I think everyone was relieved when he said he was too busy (doing what, I wonder) to go.
Gazelle said she doesn’t like small children but Roxy came with us for a little while although she left before lunch. Mum spent the first forty-five minutes trying to set us up and it was really awkward and embarrassing, and Roxy, bless her, outed herself like a champ, telling Mum a bit about her ex-girlfriend and how she wasn't sure she could face dating again just yet.
I was really braced for it to go horrible Mum took that pretty well, all things considered. She was a bit awkward but then decided to get indignant on Roxy's behalf then decided she was going to mother her into feeling better. I apologised to Roxy afterwards but she said it was really sweet, and that her mum wasn't as sympathetic about it. (I get the impression her parents think it's just a phase.)
Daisy didn’t really know what was going on, but she was happy cheering when everyone else did, although we had to keep a close eye on her to stop her wandering off. She got tired out eventually and went to sleep on the blankets, and cried when we had to wake her up to leave. Poor little thing. Mum told me she'd calmed down and cheered up by the time they were home, and said she had a good time.
We had a picnic too, although nothing from Fortnam and Mason’s, just Mum’s ham sandwiches and a few packets of crisps. As much as I'm sorry Harry couldn't make it, I think it turned out to be for the best. I talked with Mum a bit, and she seemed to think that of course I'd be moving out once I had a job, and it wasn't even something to worry about.
I didn't mention maybe going overseas, but I figure I'll worry about it if it actually happens, but otherwise why stress?
Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. In case you missed it, we lost the race. I don't actually care but I'm sure I'll hear in great detail from Charlie tomorrow about how we were robbed and the sun was in his eyes or something. He's not back yet; it's still pretty early and everything's quiet.
7 th April
I can't sleep. It's not that warm, really, but I've got all my windows open. We had a little bit of rain earlier, and everything smells amazing. I can smell the earth and damp stone when I stick my head out, and that wasn't helping me sleep so I thought I'd write to you. I don't really want to get up and start studying; it seems like a waste of a lovely evening. Tomorrow's gonna be brilliant, I think. I've checked the weather forecast about ten times already.
Harry called me last week and asked if I'd managed to get myself on the river yet. When I said I hadn't he offered to take me, to make up for not going to the Boat Race. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, I don't know. It just feels like this is different from the other times; usually we meet up by accident or because we have a proper reason.
Shit this is so bad. (unsent)
8 th April
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Taking Mum to the Regatta really was a good idea. I've been home for a couple of visits, but she basically stopped asking me to stay and I've been studying in peace. I also have a surprising study partner. Now that the big race is over, I think it's dawned on Charlie how close his exams are. He's still in the college rowing team, and there are the Summer Eights and that in Trinity term still upcoming, but he doesn't seem as interested in them now.
He comes back from his training in the morning, wakes me up if I'm not already awake, and we have breakfast and get to work. Digby joins us too; we're doing the same course, as I might have mentioned, and every time I see him I feel better about my own chances, although I know that's not how it works. It's a bit random who, if anyone else, joins us, but Charlie's there every day, even when I go home to visit Mum.
I might have felt a bit guilty for telling Harry what a knobhead Charlie was, so I did mention how hard he'd been working since. I did finally get to see Harry on the weekend; it's been too long. He says I'm welcome to come and visit JB whenever I like, but given how much overseas travel he does, I'm not sure he's thought through the practicalities of that offer so I haven't taken him up on it.
Anyway, Harry made good his offer to make sure I got to spend some time on the river while I'm at Oxford. I figured he'd forgotten, or was just making idle conversation, but I'm starting to figure out that Harry takes some things very seriously, and other things not at all seriously, and it's rarely what you expect.
At least I didn't have to get up at five for this boating trip. You can hire the row boats, and there were lots of people on such a nice spring Sunday, but Harry had booked one in advance, luckily, cause I'd not have thought of it.
I'd never seen Harry not wearing a suit before. He was still overdressed for boating, in my opinion, but I guess that's how he is. He made me do the rowing; he said it was part of the experience, and I was a bit hopeless at first; it looks easy but you have to find your rhythm. Then I got overenthusiastic and he had to remind me we weren't trying to find the ocean and to slow down and enjoy it.
Most of the other people there were couples and families, and I felt like I hadn't stood out like this since when I was first going to Uni. You'd think it would be weird, wouldn't you? Such an odd pair in a boat like that, and I guess if it was anyone but Harry it would be awkward. I mean, it was a bit awkward, but Harry has this way of kind of throwing the awkwardness on to other people, like, he's fine so it's your problem. I'm not explaining it well.
I don't think I've ever met anyone so comfortable in their own skin before. I might have said something about it and Harry said that was what being a gentleman meant. Which doesn't make a lot of sense to me now I think about it, but it seemed to at the time.
There were a lot of beginners on the river. We got bumped into by another boat; I didn't see it coming and Harry didn't say a word, pretended he was looking at the willows or something, and they didn't hit us hard but it gave me a fright. Everyone apologised. I've never felt so British as at that moment.
I said it was a bit like dodgem cars and I think adding a competitive element might have livened the whole scene up a bit. Harry said 'no, Eggsy' but I could see him picturing it and trying not to smile. It would probably end with people slapping each other with oars or something though.
We saw swans and ducks and I should have taken more pictures, I guess, but I had my hands full steering the boat and Harry didn't take any that I noticed. He didn't look at his phone once; I guess it was turned off. Made me feel I should do the same.
I know Harry claimed all this was for my personal development or experience or something, but he was giving up a Sunday and although it wasn't really a hardship to sit around and enjoy the sun, he has to be pretty busy. I asked him why he was really doing all this for me, and he said he wanted to get to know me better, than he liked me and thought I had potential.
Which is good. I think, but potential to do what? And what does that have to do with going out for a row on the Thames? I was going to ask more specifically and then he said he hoped he wasn't imposing on me, and I realised he'd got the wrong idea. He didn't talk me into coming out on the water, I mean, it was lovely and I said he was such good company I would have gone with him to Tesco's if he'd asked and he laughed.
I guess while I'm wondering why Harry wants to spend time with me, he's probably wondering why I'm giving up my free time to hang out with him. But you can't just judge people by how old they are or how rich or stuff like that.
Okay that's hypocritical, because I know I've done stuff like that a million times, and I guess most of the time I'm right. People like Harry and you and Roxy are different. Most of the time I got looked down on, and it's just self-defence to get in first.
What I'm trying to say is, we'd probably get along, you know? If we ever met. I did resent you a bit at first, but that was years ago now. You don't say much, but your actions speak for you.
It was a good day. Harry said he would have taken JB but he was a bit worried that he might have gotten sea-sick. He promised he'd bring him next time if he could.
I'm glad JB found a home, but I'm also glad Harry found JB. He doesn't talk about family much, hardly at all, and I wonder if he might not have any. It's a sad thought.
21 st April
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
Term starts tomorrow, and everyone's come pouring back to college. I'm so sick of my thesis. I hate it so much. I definitely don't want to do postgraduate work. Digby and I swapped our drafts so we could critique eachother's work, but Digby said it was good and couldn't find anything to criticise which is so not helpful at all! I found plenty in his to complain about.
It's mostly done, I think, but it might just be wishful thinking because I want more time to study for the exams. Oh fuck, and the gymnastics is coming up too; I can't pull out, and I've been training but I really don't want to go because you have to get yourself in the right headspace to do it and that means clearing out all the other stuff that's cluttering up my brain nowadays.
This is all a bunch of whining, isn't it? I apologise. I'll try and think more positively. I'm looking forward to classes starting again so I can get my tutor's opinion on my progress. I think I've lost all perspective.
Chapter 10: Trinity 2018
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I think I’ve finished my thesis. I mean, I’ve decided I have finished my thesis. I’m not going to look at it again; it makes me sick to contemplate it, or maybe it’s all the Red Bull I’ve been drinking while working on it that’s making me sick. Either way.
It’s 2am, apparently. No wonder I’ve lost track of time. I’ve been pushing to get this done so I can concentrate on studying for my exams. I’ve been trying to do both up until now. I’m so tired. I try and make an effort to make these letters sort of interesting, but I promised myself I wouldn’t write to you just to complain. What’s the point of that?
So. Thesis done. That is my good, non-whiny news. Hooray!
I’m going to bed.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I figured it was barely worth posting the first bit, so have some more now that I’m awake. I decided to skip the Summer Eights this year. It just seems like a waste of time now I have more urgent things that need doing. I think even Charlie feels it’s a bit of an imposition now he’s got Finals as well. He’s been staying up late studying and getting slacker with his training; I heard his coach chewing him out for it.
Not that I have any right to talk, I’m still entering the gymnastics, although I guess it’s not a team event. I told myself I didn’t care how I did, but I’d really like to win, one last time, since I expect this will be the last competition I’m ever going to enter. I’ve been using it as a break from studying, so I’ve been training pretty religiously. Gazelle thinks I’m in close to peak form, but I know my peak form now isn’t what it once was. I missed my chance, and I’m not going to be as good as I was at school.
But don’t feel too sorry for me, Galahad. I was pretty good in school. I’m pretty good now, I think; I hope.
I have no doubt Gazelle is going to win again. She won last year with her Firsts hanging over her; she doesn’t have exams this year so she’s got even less to worry about. We train together sometimes, although our schedules don’t match all that well. She’s decided she wants to become a surgeon, and specialise in trauma, so she’s got years and years of study ahead of her. She did tell me that Valentine’s New Year’s offer was genuine; if I show him a resume, she says he’ll definitely look at it.
Wish me luck.
Harry’s coming to watch my event! He texted me and asked for the details; I had no idea he was even interested. I’m definitely going to do my best now. Just the thought of him watching makes me want to do better wtf Eggsy shut up (unsent)
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I don’t know how to begin this letter. If you haven’t seen it already, I’ll direct your attention to the photograph I’ve enclosed, cause I think it explains it easier than I could.
I won! I won for Hertford College! I still can’t believe it. I was telling myself, no matter where I placed, I’d be proud and pleased with my efforts, because I didn’t really think I could do it.
The day was just amazing overall. I’ve been to three of these things now, so I know how everything goes and what to do and that, but this time I had way more people showing up to cheer in my corner. Roxy always comes, and Gazelle was there because she was competing in the women’s event, but surprisingly even Charlie tore himself away from his books long enough to watch, and a few of the others came too.
I’m honestly pretty touched.
Even more surprising, Harry was there! I thought he’d forgotten about it; it’s been a year since we had that conversation at the Regatta after all, but he texted me a few days ago and asked when it was on. He didn’t make any promises that he could be there, but I really crossed my fingers, and he hadn’t shown up when I left the others. I decided he’d been too busy to come, and that was that, but when I walked out onto the mat, there he was! He wasn’t with the others, he was standing off to the side; all the good seats had gone by then.
And then, well, you can see for yourself, in a blurry sort of way, because Roxy was filming it and I’ve put the link on the back of the picture if you want a look. I don’t think I’ve ever performed that well before; it was like everything came right, I was just so focused. I wasn’t even thinking whether it was a good or bad performance while I was doing it, I was just moving.
I knew afterwards though. I could feel it. I couldn’t quite believe it, I went over it in my head, wondering if I’d missed a mistake somewhere.
Everyone was cheering, and Harry was applauding too. I wanted to go to him after and thank him for showing up, but I got held up by the others and when I looked around again he’d gone. He texted me congratulations later, and said he had to take an urgent call and get back to work, but that he owes me a celebratory dinner sometime. He doesn’t, really, but I’m not going to tell him that.
Then we had to wait and see if anyone else could beat me. That was the hardest part, I think. I don’t think Charlie and the others had planned on hanging around, but now that I might take home the cup for the College they stuck with me.
We all went out to celebrate afterwards, which is why I didn’t write to you earlier; I think my hand would have been too wobbly. I’ve spent so much time studying and working recently, it felt really good to go out and have fun for a while, and my lack of social life recently meant I could afford it pretty easily. Even more so because I hardly got a chance to buy my own drinks.
I called Mum too, after I’d won, to let her know and she said ‘what about your exams’ when I told her. I said not to worry, I’ll be right back to it the next day, and I guess I sort of am, although I’m still really too happy to concentrate right now.
If I pass. If I do well, Galahad, this will have been a perfect year, I swear. I’m gonna stop now, cause otherwise I’ll start repeating myself.
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
It’s finally here, the moment of truth and all that. Only it’s not a moment. I have three exams to take so it’s more a Week of Truth. Digby keeps making jokes about what he’ll do if he doesn’t pass and Charlie keeps telling him to shut up and for once I agree with Charlie. Digby’s awash with money; he’ll never do a day’s work he doesn’t want to, but the rest of us have a bit more riding on our results.
I’d stopped doing gymnastics after the Cuppers because I wanted to concentrate on studying but I found myself getting cramped and anxious. I mean, more anxious than I already am.
Do you know if gymnastics in the Old Quad are against the rules? No one tried to tell me it was so I wandered around on my hands for a while, and felt a bit better. I learned my lesson, too, I can’t just stay sitting down and working for days on end. I have to get moving, so I started going back to the gym again.
Time spent writing to you is time not spent studying, so I should get back to it. Wish me luck please, Galahad.
P.S. Summer balls are coming up. If I survive my exams I’m planning on attending a couple, but the one they held at Hertford last year was a one-off. I’m glad it was last year and not this year; I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it at all otherwise.
This is the ghost of Eggsy Unwin, because I am dead. They’re all done. I submitted my thesis and it’s gone. I have to move out of Hertford for the last time next week. I won’t think about the exams. They’re a bad dream that’s over now. I don’t know how well I did; I did my best, I didn’t panic or freeze up or anything, but I didn’t sail through them without a care either. It was quite a gamble you made on me, you know, all those years ago. It’s only now it’s all (mostly) over can I really appreciate it. Was this just a little thing for you? Do you have a dozen other Eggsys writing you letters and finishing exams?
No. I know you better than that now. I know you read these carefully, and some time ago I decided to trust you with them, with all the things I told you. It seemed like the only thing I could really give you; that and the odd Christmas cake and a cheap tie pin.
It’s Sunday afternoon and the sun is sliding up the side of the building opposite my window and I’m feeling nostalgic and I haven’t even left. I’m going to miss this room. I know every inch of it; I’ve moved into and out of it half a dozen times, and it’s so strange to think that next year someone else will live here. It makes me want to leave them a message but I’m not sure what I want to say.
This view, the way the breeze angles in, the way footsteps on the stairs sound; I’m never going to forget it, Galahad. Not ever. Shit.
I’m okay. I’ll be okay.
The girls don’t have exams this year, but they’ve offered to take me out and celebrate with me anyway, so we’re going to go and do that in an hour or so. I’m pretty sure Charlie hasn’t sobered up since his last exam finished. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad sign; I’ve been avoiding him although I’ll have to visit him before I leave and say goodbye.
Can you believe I might actually miss him? Not that much, of course.
My results arrived today. I’ve enclosed a printout, but I hope you’ll read the letter first, because I want to tell you in person. Or as close to in person as you’ll let me. I, Eggsy Unwin, have earned a first-class degree from Oxford University. (!!!!)
I just had to look at the printout again to check. Yeah, it’s true. I did it. I’m back home, of course, and when I saw the results I managed not to yell about it, but when to find Mum in the living room and show her in person. If you’d been there I would have kissed you. Mum burst into tears, which didn’t really help me NOT burst into tears and Daisy is old enough to sort of understand it now. She thinks I’ve won school. I totally have.
So! My graduation is going ahead, and I suppose our contract is concluded. I don’t know what to say. You know how much this means to me, and you know I couldn’t have done it without you. More like, I wouldn’t have done it without you. You gave me that first kick up the backside, and that might have been more valuable than all the cash, not that I don’t appreciate the money.
Be proud of me, Galahad. I am.
I think I’ve dreamt about this day a dozen times at least. Sometimes I dream I pass and sometimes I dream I fail and once I dreamt I won something called the Gold Railway Award and I had to give a speech and was really nervous about it.
I’m going to wear the suit you bought me to Graduation. I’ve already spread the news to everyone and Mum wants to take me out to dinner and Roxy wants to take me out to celebrate and Harry wants to as well. I texted him and he called me back to congratulate me.
Oh, Charlie did pretty well as well, so I guess he’ll be getting that job after all.
I don’t have much else to report; I’m back at home and have mostly been recovering from the exams, just hanging about waiting for my results. Now they’re here I can stop worrying and start planning the next bit.
I’ll keep writing, Long-Legs. Just you try and stop me.
Hello. I did promise I was going to write, although now I’m not obliged to send one a month I honestly wasn’t planning on writing again quite so soon, but I really, really need to talk to you. It’s important, if it wasn’t I wouldn’t bother you. I think I’ve screwed up, I mean a whole lot. I don’t know what to do and I don’t know how to fix it and I’m not entirely sure where it even all went wrong.
Please let me explain in person. Or over the phone, I don’t mind, but I need your advice and I really don’t have anyone else to talk to about this. I feel like an idiot. You’ve never been anything other than patient and thoughtful with me, even if I found your silence pretty annoying at times.
Our contract’s ended. I don’t need your money any more. Can we be friends instead?
Dear Daddy Long-Legs,
I suppose I should have given you my number, and that I shouldn’t have been surprised to receive your letter. It was good to get a message back that hasn’t been filtered through Merlin, so thank you for writing. You’re right; I was very vague last time, but now that I have your word that no one else sees these I suppose I could be a bit more forthcoming.
It just makes me sound like an idiot writing it all out like this, but for the sake of your handwriting, and the reassuring things you wrote in it, I’ll explain and I’ll hold nothing back.
You’ve probably already guessed some of it. I don’t tell you everything and sometimes I think twice about letters I’ve written to you, but it’s probably come through that there’s someone I have come to like and care about quite a lot.
Galahad, don’t laugh at me please; it’s Harry. I know it might seem a bit odd but if you’d met him you’d understand (I hope. I hope you’d get on well, actually.) But that’s not my problem, well, it is, but I’ve gone and made it a much worse problem.
Harry and I went out to dinner to celebrate my marks, and the gymnastics thing, and it was really great. Going anywhere with Harry is always fun, but the food was amazing and he just seemed really happy for me.
And then afterwards we were talking and he offered me a job. I haven’t sent him my resume or anything; I haven’t even had time to update it. I can’t really explain what sort of job it is but it sounded amazing and the pay would be pretty good. He said Charlie would get his chance, but that I deserved one too, and that I was his pick. He’d give me the opportunity and all I had to do was take it.
And that’s when I messed everything up, because of what I said earlier. I’d love to work with Harry, but if I took the job he’d be my boss and I couldn’t- Maybe it’s arrogant of me to think I have a chance, but we have such a good time when we hang out and I thought maybe once I graduated I could say something to him, but if I work for him I’ll never get that chance.
It sounds easy to write all that down now (although it really isn’t I’ve spent like two hours drafting this letter already) but at the time I just couldn’t get the words out in the right order, or in any order. If I wanted to explain I’d have to confess to him and I fucked up and my nerve broke and in the end I just made a mess of declining his offer.
And he tried to talk me into it! And he looked so puzzled and annoyed and I made things worse, I said some stupid stuff because I just wanted him to back off and let me breathe and I think I disappointed him.
No, I know I did.
We haven’t spoken since and I don’t know what to say. So, that’s why I wanted your advice. You’re a bit like him, I guess, and maybe you’d know how best to fix it. My friends are all a generation too young, and I don’t want to have to explain it all to them anyway. I’m pretty sure Mum wouldn’t approve either; I dunno if she’s worked out that I’m not really into girls much or not. It’s something we don’t really talk about. But I know she’d think Harry was way too old for me either way. Maybe you think so too, but can you overlook that please?
I want to fix this. Even if I can’t have the job, or a date, I want to be friends with him, and I want to tell him everything. I nearly wrote him a letter but what if he doesn’t read it?
Help? Please? I hope I’m not out of line for asking you about this. I’ll give you my number.
I did give you my number for a reason. How did people organise anything in the old days; this is very tortuous. But yes! I will be there! Thursday afternoon at four. I will not be late. I can’t believe I’ll finally get to meet you. It almost makes my other problems seem less worrisome by comparison. I’m already nervous. I’d resigned myself to having you be a complete mystery for the rest of my life, and this is so unexpected and I really appreciate it. I knew you’d come through for me though, if I really needed you to.
How will I recognise you? I suppose you’ll recognise me. I’ll wear the trainers you gave me just in case.
I can’t wait.
Chapter 11: Summer 2018
Please note I've bumped the rating up slightly because Harry is a bad influence.
You’re lucky you’re very handsome, because you came closer to death than you have EVER BEEN last week (and given what I now know of your profession you should take that very seriously indeed.)
You didn’t think I was going to stop writing you letters, did you? Oh no, but now you are obliged to write back and I’ll be very disappointed if you don’t. I’m sure you write wonderful letters.
I’m not really angry. Although I was. I suppose I should have realised earlier who you were although I’m not sure how, looking back. Even though you never wrote back I felt like I knew you, and maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part, but when I saw you everything made sense. I made you explain, but I already knew.
I was really looking forward to meeting Galahad. I could hardly sleep the night before. I wanted us to get along, you know? I hoped you wouldn’t be like Charlie, that you hadn’t been reading my letters and disapproving of me the whole time. (I didn’t really think you would; you’ve been too generous to me.)
I didn’t tell Mum where I was going, and I arrived way too early so I had to go for a walk around the block a couple of times to chew up the time. I thought it was really odd you wanted us meet at a private club like that, but I get it now. If we were going to have a row, you wanted it to be in private, and you couldn't invite me to your house because you'd given me your address should I want to visit JB. (Looking back that should have tipped me off. 'Come home and play with my dog' has got to be the most obvious invitation since 'Would you like a nightcap?')
Anyway, the doorman at your swanky private club looked at me pretty funny, but I didn’t care because I was finally going to meet you. So we went up some stairs and there was all this wood panelling and the place smelled like a library. And then the butler said you were waiting for me in a library, so that made sense. And then he opened the door and ushered me in and closed it and I suppose you know what happened next.
I can only guess what kind of expression I was wearing. I thought you’d set me up, that is, that Daddy Long-Legs had set US up, but you were clearly expecting me. You said my name and I was mortified. A lesser man would have turned and run, you know. I was so angry; this entire time, how could you? And I know you explained your reasons, and I know they did make a sort of sense. I don’t think I’d want someone to feel like they were obliged to be my friend either. When I first heard about your offer the last thing I wanted to do was suck up to some rich fucker. But that wasn’t the whole of it was it? Chester wouldn’t be too happy to know you were sponsoring rivals to Charlie all through Uni. The thing with my dad, too. I’m not surprised you hid behind anonymity, now I think about it. Still didn’t make it feel any less unfair when I saw you there, all neat and tidy and calm and you were even wearing that tie pin I got you for Christmas.
Anyway, you let me chew a strip off you for a while and then you said, and I still remember your exact words and I’ll never forget them.
‘I did not set out to deceive you. I barely expected we would become friends, let alone that I’d fall in love with you.’ And you CAN’T just fucking say that to someone. I mean, I guess it’s only fair because you did inadvertently trick me into confessing via letter, but still. Who says things like that? Harry Hart does, I guess.
It shut me up, didn’t it? God. I’m still smiling just thinking about it. No one's ever said anything like that to me before, but you probably knew that. You bastard. For a bloke who never writes you have a way with words. And your mouth.
It’s completely not fair that you had to rush off to America after nothing more than a quick snog. Well, it was a slow snog really, with lots of hands and teeth. Fuck. I expect some properly dirty letters from you if you’re going to be gone long. And suggestive combinations of emoji’s don’t count, even if they are pretty funny. Act your age, Harry.
Or don’t; I actually kind of like what a brat you are sometimes.
If you haven’t realised it, I’m not angry at you any more. I might even consider your job offer, even if it would be inappropriate because I get the feeling that Inappropriate might be your middle name. (What is your middle name? What’s your favourite dessert? Worst subject in school? I feel like we have a lot of catching up to do and I want to know everything about you, since you already know far too much about me.)
But it doesn’t matter either way, does it? Because I’m going to see you again anyway. And again, and again, I hope. I know you’ll probably have important hush hush must not be mentioned stuff to do when you get back but you call me the minute you’re free, you understand?
Please come home soon, Harry. I miss you.
Shit, this is a love letter, isn’t it?
I received your letter. I’ve read it about fifteen times. You have such elegant handwriting, and it contrasts a lot with the absolutely filthy things you wrote for me. Holy shit. It was like I could hear your voice in my ear.
Fuck. You told me to reply in kind, and I’ll do my best but I want you to know my face is burning. It would have been easier if you’d asked for nude selfies or something. Then it’s the camera doing all the work; I’m just being there, and you don’t know what I’m thinking, but writing things out is a thousand times harder. I don’t know how you did it.
Maybe you’ve had lots of practice.
Okay. Maybe I’ll just pretend I’m not going to send this. Please don’t expect me to write like you, I mean, I’m gonna try but. Okay okay.
So I got your letter and as soon as you started speculating about my cock I knew I had to wait until I was somewhere private to read the rest (you’re very generous by the way, I hope it meets expectations. If you want to see it you could just ask for a picture. I wouldn’t even require one in return although that would be brilliant.) You wanted me to tell you what my reactions were, I mean, what do you think they were? I haven’t really wanked to text since I was like thirteen and going through spy novels looking for the sexy bits. But when the words are from you it’s different. I thought about you, of course I did.
I was, well I was picturing all the things you said you wanted to do, and yeah, of course I would, I’d do all of it. You don’t have to ask so politely, although it’s kind of nice that you do. Anyway, that’s what I thought about the first time, I kind of read over my favourite bits again as soon as I’d finished reading the whole thing.
I like the bit about sneaking back to my (our! I should have known) old room at Hertford and making like teenagers. Bit risky though. Oh God, details. Okay. So I read it the first time curled up in bed with one hand down my pants, alright? I went to bed early because I knew it was waiting for me and I just couldn’t wait any longer. Mum thought I might be coming down with something, and I stayed in bed late the next morning which didn’t help because I was reading it AGAIN.
I pictured you writing it too, sitting in that posh American hotel, thinking about me. Thinking about all the things you wanted us to do together. I wondered if you were hard while you wrote it. You implied that you were, I think, but were you doing anything about it? I’m not. I’m not doing anything about it, I mean. It’s midmorning and Mum’s gone out with Daisy and I have the house to myself which is why I picked now to write, but if I had a wank I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to keep writing like this.
I can barely read over this and I’ve hardly said anything. I don’t want you to be disappointed. I just have to hope you find my squirming about amusing. Can we go back to the emojis?
You’re so gorgeous. I know you think you look good, but I don’t think you quite get it. All this asking politely and filthy old man commentary, I mean, yeah, you dirty old bugger you and it’s kind of hot being told how debauched I’m going to be but it’s not like I like you in spite of anything. I don’t think ‘fine for his age’ when I look at you. I think you look fucking hot. You make my mouth water, when you don’t leave it dry, you make my chest hurt, my dick hard (I mean, not constantly that would be pretty awkward.)
I want to get you out of those suits, I want to see if you have grey in your chest hair, I want to find all your scars, I want to bite you, I want to go down on my knees and look up at you with your cock in my mouth, I want to put my hands on you as much as you do to me. I take back what I said earlier, I’m not letting you do anything, I want you to do everything.
I want to see you come. I want to hear your posh accent break on my name, I want you to look at me the way you looked at me the last time we met. Your eyes were so dark. You looked wicked, and you looked like you knew it. I almost wish I was a virgin so you could show me everything because I think you like being bad, don’t you? But at the same time I’m glad I’m not because I want to do things to you too, I want to surprise you and tease you. I want to spoil you for anyone else forever. I want to be good enough for you. I want you to show me off the way you said you wanted to, but you have to realise I’d be putting you on display as well.
That was a bit much, wasn’t it? I can’t believe I wrote that. I should have a break and calm down otherwise I don’t know what I’m going to say.
I’m glad you miss me. I hope you read this and suffer the same sort of blue balls I suffered reading your letter. Maybe it will motivate you to come home soon. I was going to send you some pictures anyway; I even took some nice ones already, with your letter in shot even, but I’ve decided you can wait for the real thing. These letters have to do me, so they’ll have to do you as well.
Sorry about that huge great smear of ink. I tried to mop it up but it’s only made it worse. Mum just came home and when the front door slammed I nearly had a heart attack. Okay, I am not done with this letter, I will come back to it later. (unsent)
Please wake up. Please please please. It’s Wednesday, and it’s about two in the afternoon, and I’m going out of my mind here so I thought I’d write you something, even though you’re right there in front of me. I can touch you if I want.
I did. I have. I hold your hand sometimes. I kissed you, once, just in case life is a fairytale. You might not remember me when you wake up, they say, so I’m trying not to overdo it. You will wake up, Harry, or we are going to have serious words.
So, to recap, about a week ago your phone called mine, but it wasn’t you on the other end. I was surprised to learn that Merlin actually existed. He kept up the pretence that he was your PA but I told him I knew about the spy stuff and that you’d offered me a job. He wasn’t too happy about that, as you might imagine, (do you do anything by the rules Harry? Anything at all? If not, then get on with defying death and wake up.)
He must have seen all our suggestive emoji texts to know to call me and now I’m glad I didn’t send you anything more explicit, and he told me you’d had an accident.
I’m pretty sure that gunshot to the head was not an accident. Anyway, he wasn’t going to let me see you, just said you were being looked after but I freaked out a bit and made all sorts of threats I couldn’t follow up on and then I begged and here I am. Wherever here is. I had to hand my phone in so I couldn’t check my location.
It’s a nice room, I suppose. They seem to have all the right equipment and such. The doctors don’t talk to me much. I know I’m not supposed to be here. I know how to get to the canteen and to the bathroom and I’ve been forbidden from going anywhere else. I refused to leave, you see. Merlin wanted to let me visit and then send me off again but I’m not going. I’ve got nothing better to do with my time.
You look awful, by the way. Pale and kind of saggy, and your beard is growing. They’ve got a big bandage over the side of your head so I can’t see how bad it is underneath. And you’re still gorgeous. You’re still you. I miss you.
I brought you flowers today. No one else has. You haven’t had any other visitors. Does your family know you’re here? Do you have any family? Merlin won’t answer any questions I ask about you, he just frowns and says it’s not his place to say. Bald wanker. Ah, no, he misses you too, you know? He doesn’t say it but he visits when he can, and yeah. The flowers make the room look much nicer, I think. Daisy helped me pick them out. I said I had a friend who was sick and she says she’s going to draw you a card.
I know this isn’t the most ideal situation, but you should probably be aware that Mum knows about us. I couldn’t really hide it, coming here every day and moping about when I’m home. She wanted to know who you were and I told her how we met thanks to Charlie, and how we became friends. And now we’re now a bit more than friends, and she didn’t seem entirely surprised. I didn’t tell her that you were my Galahad. I don’t think I want to tell anyone; it’s our secret, okay? I’m not sure why, but it feels like it’s ours, all those letters I wrote to you. Speaking of which, I will give you this letter when you wake up.
You have to wake up. You know why? My graduation is next week. You HAVE to be there. I’ve got your ticket and everything; you don’t have any excuses now. I want you to be in the photos, and even if it’s awkward with my Mum, I’m sure we’ll both survive. You’ll charm her, I know it, and it’s thanks to you that I’m even having a graduation so you really ought to be there to see it.
Daisy made you a card, as promised. There’s a picture of flowers on the front. Mum wrote in it for her.
You know, I’ve been thinking about your job offer. I asked Merlin about it and he said he couldn’t fault my record, but that there are tests I have to take. I think I’m going to apply for it. Even if that does mean you’ll be my boss; neither of us care too much about the rules, do we? I know this might seem strange, given the state you’re in. You might expect it would put me off doing what you do, but you might have died out there. You still might, and I’d never have known what happened. I wouldn’t have been able to do anything. I know it might not make any difference, but if I do this, maybe there’s a chance that next time I’ll be able to protect you, directly or indirectly, I don’t care. That’s what I think, anyway.
I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to help people, and if I could do that and work with you, wouldn’t that be perfect?
I met Charlie in the canteen. He nearly fell over when he saw me. He’s started his training, he says, and he knew about your injury, in general terms. He said he hoped you recovered soon and shook my hand. God, I must look awful if I can stir even Charlie’s sympathetic side.
It’s not fair, Harry. We got hardly anything, hardly any time together, hardly any conversations, not since I learned who you are. I can’t bear to read the letter you sent me. You wake up and make this right.
I have to go home now. Merlin won’t let me stay after hours, and that’s fair enough. He’s been more than generous. If you wake up in the middle of the night just press the button. They’ll let me know.
Don’t forget, graduation next Monday.
I found my letters. I was going through your desk, and I wasn’t snooping, I swear. I was looking for notepaper to write you this letter. Given how much trouble I had finding it, clearly you don’t write all that many. Anyway, they were all neatly folded away back in their envelopes and tied together in a big bundle with ribbon. I didn’t realise quite how many there were. I’ve been sitting here rereading some of them.
You’ve kept most the photographs with the letters, but I notice one is missing; the one where I’m showing off my trainers. Am I right in assuming I’d find it in your wallet? You old romantic you.
It was very strange rereading these. It’s only just struck me that you probably sat here to read them; did you drink tea while you read the morning post, or did you leave my letters until the evening, scotch at your elbow? Given how creased some of them are, maybe both.
You’ve even kept the one I asked you to shred. Remember when I was sick and really rude to you? It never occurred to me to think deeply about how you must have felt, sitting here reading about yourself through my eyes. I’m not sure how you could have missed how I felt about you; it seems obvious to me. I’m mentioning you every other letter, it seems like. It’s actually a bit embarrassing and these are just the ones I actually sent you (I’ve liked you for such a long time, Harry, it’s been literally years since you strode across the Old Quad, Charlie spluttering at your right elbow and I grinning at your left, not yet lovestruck.)
It’s very early. No, wait, it’s not. It was very early but I’ve been here for quite a while now and it’s edging towards late if I don’t hurry up. I’ve got time though. Today is graduation day. I won’t have to do much, just walk across a stage and shake a hand, but I’m still a little nervous. It’s not until the afternoon so I don’t have to rush yet, although I sense no matter what I do I will end up rushing. That’s just the way these things always go.
Everyone’s coming, you know. Not just Mum and Daisy. Even Dean might show up, who knows? But Roxy is coming, and so are my mates. There’s going to be a whole bunch of us and I don’t care that the tickets cost extra.
And you, of course.
You’re sleeping right now. Sleeping like a man who HASN’T been sleeping the best part of a month already. You barely stirred when I got up. I nearly woke you, nearly wrapped myself around you and kissed you awake, but maybe you need your rest. No strenuous activities, the doctors said.
Neither of us are much good at following rules, are we?
Remember last night? Maybe you don’t want to, maybe you’re still angry at yourself for being in recovery, for not having your usual strength, but it didn’t matter, Harry. Not one bit. We’ve got all the time in the world to get to all the things you wrote to me about, it was a miracle you’re even alive to try. I’ll take that. Took some other things besides, because you are some sort of randy old moron who would have ended up putting himself right back in hospital if I hadn’t put my foot down and made you lie back and enjoy it.
It was awesome, Harry. Don’t regret a moment of it, please, and if it soothes you ego any, I’m slightly sore myself. (You have such an ego; I can’t understand why it’s endearing and not annoying, but there it is. It’s one of the things I like about you.)
I suppose you’ve earned the right to sleep a bit longer then, at least until I’ve finished writing this and explored your kitchen and cooked something to tempt you out of bed. I let JB out earlier to do his business as well. I think I’m lucky he’s not the jealous type. I can’t believe you let him on the bed. You spoil him just as much as you spoil me.
I’m not going to post this letter. I’m not even going to hand it to you. I’m just going to leave it here, in the drawer with all the others, for you to find sometime when you are thinking of me. Maybe in a month, maybe in three, maybe in a year. It’s because I’m not ready to tell you in person yet, but I love you.
Maybe this letter will beat me to it. That’s okay. Maybe you’ll read it and pretend you haven’t, and maybe I’ll be fooled.
I love Harry Hart.
It looks very official written down like that and I felt a moment’s panic after I wrote it and nearly decided to throw this thing away, or cross it out so you can’t see. But it’s true. We might not last, for one reason or another; it’s impossible to know, and so this love of mine is yours without obligations or expectations on either of us. Right now, sitting in your study, the morning sun slanting in the blinds and JB’s head resting on my bare foot (he’s drooling,) it’s true.
You’ve never once implied I was too young to know my own mind, and I don’t expect you’ll start now. Even before I knew you, I knew you had my back. I miss Galahad a bit; his distance made him seem omnipotent sometimes, and you, my exhausted knight, are all too mortal. Even if you like to pretend you aren’t. I don’t want to revisit the last few weeks, but when Merlin called to say you were awake--
I can’t describe it. He had to tell me a couple of times because my ears were sort of buzzing and wouldn’t let the words in. I was so scared to get a phone call from him in the middle of the night; the news might as easily been bad as good. I barely remember the trip in, it was just you lying in that bed at the end of a long tunnel, and your eyes open and your hand lifted slightly to take mine. It took a couple of days to sink in, really. And you apologised, even though you could barely talk.
I forgive you, because you came back.
It’s taking quite a lot of willpower not to go back upstairs and crawl back into bed and make sure you’re real and okay still. But I want to finish this, because we’re going to be busy for the next little while. And by that I mean I’m going to spend every spare minute with you I can and I won’t have time to sneak off and write letters.
It’s nearly nine. I should get started on breakfast. Fingers crossed I don’t make a mess of it.
The end. I just want to thank each and every one of you for reading, commenting, and kudosing and mostly for giving this fic a chance. It was a challenge to write an epistolary story and I half expected no one would read it because of that. I had a lot of fun with this fic, and I hope you did too.