I can remember the precise moment I fell in love with her. We'd been seeing each other for a few months, and it was a holiday weekend. For some reason, she'd decided not to go home to visit her parents like all the other girls in her hall of residence, and on the spur of the moment I invited her to go with me to see my parents instead - I guess I had the feeling that this was a 'relationship' now, and I ought to do the introduction thing. She agreed, and so I picked her up on my way home from work.
It hadn't been an easy weekend for her, all things considered. She was just turned 19, and although you'd never believe it now, she was a shy kind of girl - not that awful, awkward, excessive shyness, but reserved, hesitant about meeting new people. And I ... well I have to admit, I stuffed things up a little. When she asked if I'd told my mother she was coming, I realised I hadn't, and phoned home - but I only said I was bringing a friend so Mum wasn't geared up to meet Josie. Instead of a welcoming smile, the poor girl was met with a stony "Oh" followed by an family dinner with my parents, my brother, both my sisters, their husbands, my grandmother, my great-aunt, and a cousin - what's more, she was placed at the far end of the table on the opposite side from me.
My family, en-masse, are a daunting group, even if you belong, and she was subjected to a much more thorough grilling than the meat on the table, before being pointedly directed to a spare room that was about as far away from me as you could get and still be in the same building.
After all that - which she handled rather well, if quietly, I took her to meet one of my two closest friends the next morning. Now, Ant's a great bloke, don't get me wrong, but he's big and loud and overbearing, and I think, just that first time, he scared the shit out of her. By the end of the day, she'd got his measure, and was answering easily, but I have to say she was looking just a little brow-beaten.
So, it probably wasn't the best idea I'd ever had to phone round all my old gang and suggest we all meet up in the pub.
She liked them, really she did. Eventually. When she'd got over Rob's comments about her tits, and Dave going on about what a mouse she was, and Angie draping herself all over me and snogging me from here to next Tuesday.
And I suppose I should have warned her about Rick.
Josie is the warmest, most empathetic person alive, so when Rick (who she knew was the second of my two best mates) patted the arm of his wheelchair and asked her to sit beside him so he could get to know her, she did. I tried to stop her even as I saw, but Angie had me pinned against the wall, so I could only watch while he tipped her off the arm into his lap and proceeded with his octopus impression. He always reckons girls think that he's safe, being in the chair and he likes to teach them a lesson in anatomy - that the legs may not work, but all the other bits do. His instruction is more than a little physical.
But even thoroughly groped and laughed at, Josie didn't lose her temper. She extricated herself with as much grace as possible, leaned over, kissed Rick on the cheek and said "If you'd wanted me to sit in your lap, dear, you only had to ask". The blush spoilt the effect a bit, but I was impressed - and so were the gang.
Then Rick invited us to his place the following day. A wicked grin crossed his face. "I'm dying to see how Josie handles my mother," he said, then turned to her and explained, "She's terribly protective, a mother-hen, and she looks on Dan here as one of her chicks."
"Do we have to go?" She asked as we drove home. "I'm not sure how much more 'meeting people' I can handle."
"Auntie Ann would never forgive me if I didn't visit her," I said. "You can stay at the farm if you like though."
"So the choice is Rick's mother with you, or your family on my own?"
"Sorry." I really was sorry - I could see it wasn't much of a choice.
She smiled at me, a little shakily. "Oh well, how bad can Rick's Mum be anyway?"
She found out the following day. Auntie Ann greeted me with a huge hug - then looked straight through Josie. She didn't address a word to her, until an hour later while she was making tea, when she snapped "Do you want a cup?"
"Yes, please." Josie's tone was very, very polite.
Now, Auntie Ann (who is an honourary Aunt, not a real one) is a real character. She'll do anything for you - if she likes you. The trouble is, that she doesn't like girls one little bit, especially when they get close to Rick or one of 'her' boys. She gave Josie this long, long look and snorted.
"Too worried about your figure I suppose, just like all those silly young girls today. Sugar gives you energy girl. I take three spoons, and even at my age I can still do this." With no warning, she kicked out a leg, almost to head height then turned to Josie, and asked "Can you?"
It was obviously the final straw. Josie stood, calmly, and smoothed down the front of her dress.
"Not in this skirt," she replied, "but I can do this." And with one, smooth movement she tipped herself over onto her hands, and walked from one end of the room to the other on them, flipped to bring herself to her feet again, smiled at Auntie Ann and sat down to wait for her tea.
That was the moment.