The weather had turned from summer to autumn, the street lights looked orange and hazy and darkness now seemed to loom around every corner as Maria walked through town. Her shoes had become painful, making every step timed, and precise but every moment she was getting just a little closer to home.
‘Hey, darling, you want a ride?’ a passing motorist shouted, making Maria visibly crawl deeper into her coat, while her other hand pushed her handbag high up and onto her shoulder. She looked down and away, always careful not to attract attention, not at this time of night and certainly not in this part of town.
Footsteps behind her made her quicken her step. She quickly looked behind, noticed a man following and rubbed the small change in her pocket, wishing there had been enough of it to catch the bus. ‘It’s not too far to walk,’ she’d told herself every night during the past year since her husband had died, but she was sick of making excuses. Every week since she’d hoped for a lottery win, a way out of the debt, and despite the tight grip on her handbag, she knew that anyone stealing it would be highly disappointed in what they’d gain.
Once again, she looked behind, the man had stopped. He pulled a phone from his pocket, held it to his ear, while all the time looking, watching, glaring. Maria nervously walked on, thankful that this would be the last time she’d walk this path, from Monday, she’d have a new and exciting job that would provide her with the much-needed money for bus fares.
She stole another look over her shoulder. The man had disappeared, and she sighed with relief, turned and continued walking. But then screamed, as a hand came from behind her, grabbed at her throat and as if in slow motion she felt herself falling towards the pavement where she immediately curled up in a ball, closed her eyes and hoped that the bag was all he wanted. But the screeching of tyres, the sound of car doors and the yelling of numerous men made her open her eyes. She sat up and watched as the attacker was hurtled away from her and onto the floor.
‘Young man, you’re nicked.’ A man dressed in a black t-shirt and black jeans straddled her attacker, his hands now handcuffed behind his back, while another man stepped to one side, pulled out a phone and called for back-up. Maria sat up, but her mind spun around on the spot as fright, confusion, and relief hit her all at once. But then, another emotion passed through her, a moment of recognition, along with a flash back from the past.
She took note of the car, a black Volvo with blue flashing lights in the grill. She couldn’t speak, her mouth had gone dry, her heart rate accelerated as a police van suddenly rounded the corner, two more officers joined the two that were already there, and her attacker was escorted into the back of the vehicle.
‘Hey, are you okay?’ he held a hand out to help her up, ‘Sergeant John Davies, undercover police officer, and thanks to you, we have that scoundrel in custody. He’s the ring leader. Been after him for a good couple of years.’ He lifted a hand and waved as the van drove away and Maria realised that the other three officers had all left with it.
‘Did you say, John… John Davies…’ She stared up and into his face. Was this the John Davies who she’d been to the school prom with fifteen years before? Was it, and if so, would he remember her? Her eyes searched his. She didn’t know what to say and after a moment or two she looked back down at the pavement, at the old clothes she now wore. She closed her eyes and sighed. ‘He wouldn’t look at you now…you’re thirty-two and not looking your best,’ she thought as she picked up her bag and began to shuffle the contents as though checking it was all there.
‘Maria, is that you?’ he suddenly whispered as once again Maria found herself looking up and back into his face. She smiled. It was the same face she’d fallen in love with, the same eyes that had filled with tears as he’d left to join the marines and that same mouth that she’d kissed with such passion. But the letters had stopped, he’d disappeared without trace and eventually life had moved on.
Maria nodded and pulled at her coat in the hope that she’d cover her clothes, in the hope that he wouldn’t see what lay beneath. But John stepped forward and took tight hold of her hand, just as the first drops of rain began to fall from the sky.
‘I should explain,’ he said. ‘I was injured. I spent a lot of time in hospital and when eventually I got out, I came and looked for you. But… well… I heard you were married.’ His hand moved towards hers, ‘I never thought I’d see you again.’ He looked up, ‘Would you… do you think…’ the words were lost and once again they were sixteen years old, both stumbling over words, both afraid of making the first move.
Maria took a deep breath and smiled and then, just as she had sixteen years before she leaned forward and placed a kiss on his cheek. ‘It’s good to see you again, John. Really good…’ she whispered and smiled. The spots of rain that had threatened now fell heavily, and Maria felt herself being ushered towards the car.
‘Maria, please, you’re getting wet.’ He pulled open the passenger door of his car and looked at his watch, ‘I just finished my shift and well… I’d be honoured to take you home.’
Maria once again jingled the small change in her pocket and smiled, not having enough money to catch the bus may just have been a good thing..!
Waiting for Strangers
Megan glanced up and down the crowded room, laughed at a group of men that were all jiggling away to Dancing Queen, and then turned her attention to the bar, where she studied the line of optics, ‘Can I get a martini and lemonade, please?’ she asked, before once again nervously searching the busy bar, looking for her date. He just had to be here, didn’t he? She shook her head, the trouble was, she had no idea who he was.
Picking up her mobile, Megan signed into her dating site and began flicking through the photographs of GreatGuy1986. She could tell that he was tall, athletic and dark haired. But, all the pictures looked just a little too distant, or slightly on the blurred side and Megan began to kick herself for being so stupid. She should never have agreed to meet a stranger, especially one that hadn’t put clear pictures on his profile. ‘But, he seemed so nice when he messaged me.’ She tried to validate her reasons for being there, tried to convince herself that she’d made the right decision, but deep down, she knew it was wrong.
Megan closed her eyes, ‘please be nice…oh, and please don’t be an axe murderer,’ she whispered, while all the time hoping that he’d do as promised and wear the navy-blue suit, with a white pocket square and white carnation. ‘Okay, I may as well have asked him to carry a rose and make it really obvious to the whole bar that he was on a blind date,’ she thought and smiled. Picking up a beer mat, she used it to fan herself, she wasn’t sure if the bar had become overly warm, or whether she’d once again begun to blush at the thought of being on her first date in the past twelve years. After Neil’s death, all she’d cared about was looking after her daughter, Amy. But now, now she was ready to move on, especially now that Amy was eighteen, she had her own friends, her own life and really didn’t need a nagging mother looking out for her every two minutes of every day.
Looking down at her watch, Megan sighed. He was now officially very late, by more than ten minutes. And again, she nervously picked up the martini, and took a huge mouthful, before spinning around on her chair and coming face to face with a navy blue suited man. She gasped and almost choked as she saw the limp white carnation that was pinned to his lapel, he’d obviously forgotten the pocket square but right now, Megan didn’t care.
‘Oh, hello… thank goodness you’re here. I was actually getting really worried that you wouldn’t come,’ she paused and took note of his expensive navy-blue suit, his broad athletic frame and the most amazing pair of eyes she’d ever had the pleasure of looking into. She took in a deep breath, ‘Wow, you look good.’
The man gave her a cheeky half smile, ‘You think I’m late, do you?’ He pulled a wallet from his pocket, ‘Well, if that’s the case, then I guess I should buy you a drink.’
Megan felt herself blush. ‘Oh, thanks, are you sure,’ she lifted the half empty glass and tipped it to one side, while all the time shuffling nervously in her seat, ‘Can I have a martini and lemonade, without the fruit,’ she paused ‘For some reason, the bar tenders, they always want to fill your drink with fruit.’
‘I’m Pete, it’s good to meet you.’ He held out a hand to hers, but Megan sat back and looked him up and down, wanting to study him more closely.
‘Oh, Pete, that’s excellent. First names. For a minute, I thought I’d have to call you GreatGuy1986 all night.’ She laughed, ‘And, I’m Megan.’ She held up the glass and tapped his in a thank you. But noticed the look of puzzlement all over Pete’s face.
‘Okay, Megan. That’s a great name.’ His eyes searched hers, ‘But, why on earth would you be calling me GreatGuy19… what was it?’
‘GreatGuy1986… that is your profile name, isn’t it, you know, from the dating site?’ Megan began to panic, held up her phone, clicked on the app and turned it to show him. The colour flooded her cheeks as she realised her mistake and after placing the phone back in her bag, she grabbed at the beer mat and once again began to use it as a fan. ‘Oh, Pete. I’m so sorry. I thought you were… well,’ she paused, unsure of what to say. ‘Well, I kind of thought you were my blind date, you see… you’re exactly what I expected, tall, dark haired and…’ She wanted to say gorgeous, but stopped herself short. She was embarrassed, and took in a deep breath before continuing, ‘And, and… you’re wearing a navy suit, with the carnation on your lapel, all the things he said he’d wear.’
Pete smiled. ‘Ah, I now see… I’ll explain, I’m dressed in a navy suit with a white carnation because I’ve just been to my ex-wife’s wedding.’ He nodded, ‘We married young, split up years ago and we’ve always stayed friends,’ he explained.
Megan’s hand shot up to her mouth. ‘Oh, my word, I’m so sorry. So, you’re really not my date.’
‘Hey, don’t be sorry.’ Pete lifted his hand to take hers, ‘If I hadn’t been to her wedding, I wouldn’t be here.’ He paused, ‘And if I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have met you.’ He squeezed her fingers and a feeling of warmth spread slowly up her arm. ‘And for what it’s worth, I’m kind of glad that your blind date didn’t turn up.’ His eyes searched hers for just a moment too long and Megan leaned towards him, allowing her lips to brush against his cheek.
‘Well, for what it’s worth, I’m glad he didn’t turn up too.’
A mistake worth making..!
‘You’ve done what?’ Kelly’s voice screamed down the phone
‘I’ve left my job, booked a flight to Dublin and I’m on the first flight out of here tomorrow morning,’ Anna replied as she paid the driver and dragged her suitcase towards the hotel’s entrance. ‘I’m off find myself a gorgeous Irish man, along with a new job, a new life and a new home.’ She closed her eyes momentarily, knowing that life was not that simple.
‘So, let me get this straight. That’s it, you’re leaving. What the hell will your mother say, I take it you’ve told her?’
Anna thought of her mother, of the conversation they’d had before she’d left and of the tears that had rolled down her mother’s cheeks. ‘Yes, she knows. She’s happy for me, says I need to follow my dreams,’ she lied. Her mother had begged her to stay. ‘Look, Kelly. I have to go. I’ll call you tomorrow.’
Anna pushed the phone into her pocket and stepped into the crowded reception where she took her place in the queue by the desk. Without warning one tear and then another rolled down her face, and she lifted a hand to her eyes in an attempt to wipe them away. Could she really leave?Doubt crossed her mind and she looked around for somewhere to sit.
‘Hey, are you okay?’ The voice was deep, male, Irish and came from behind her, making Anna spin around to face a man who was seated on a bar stool to the side of reception. ‘I’m Patrick and you, you look like you could do with a drink.’
Anna nervously looked over her shoulder. ‘I … I need to check in.’
She took in a deep breath. Uncertainty filled her mind, she was in an airport hotel, a man was offering her a drink and she didn’t know what to do. Was this his regular hunting ground? Did he chat up every woman who shed a tear? Was he a crazy stalker? A nervousness she’d never known passed through her and she began to wonder why she’d ever thought this a good idea. Besides, if she felt this nervous here, how would she cope in another country, far away from home?
She took a step closer to reception, just as the man stood up. He was tall, broad and had a square jaw that accentuated his perfect smile.
Why, oh why did he have to be so good-looking?
‘Look, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to make you nervous.’ His eyes caught hers, as his Irish accent danced through the words he spoke. ‘It’s just … well, I saw that you were a bit upset and … well, I hate to see young ladies shedding tears.’ He paused and dug in his pocket. ‘Here you go, it’s clean.’ He passed her a tissue and began to turn away.
But, suddenly Anna didn’t want him to leave. ‘I’m sorry, I’m being rude. My name, it’s Anna,’ she said apologetically. ‘Look, maybe a drink would be nice. I mean, that’s if you’ve got the time.’ He smiled and she felt herself being shepherded into the bar and towards a booth where they both sat and began to chat.
Anna didn’t know if it were the sound of Patrick’s amazing Irish accent or the fact that she’d really got nothing to lose that she told him her whole life story. She told him of her disastrous marriage, of how she’d ended up living back at her parents and of how just that morning she’d arrived at the office, sat at her desk and without a second thought, had stood up again and left, only to find herself at an airport three hours later waiting to catch a flight to Dublin.
‘So, why Dublin?’ he asked as he sipped at his drink. ‘I mean, it’s not as though you know anyone, is it?’
Anna simply shook her head. ‘Nope. All I do know is that I woke up this morning and I knew that I needed to go there.’ She blushed, knowing perfectly well that she could hardly tell him that she’d been going there to find herself a perfect Irish man, could she?
‘So,’ Patrick looked deep into her eyes, ‘There must be something in England that would keep you here?’ His voice sounded hopeful.
But Anna sighed. ‘I think something would have to happen. I don’t know, maybe a sign to show me I should stay.’ She stared into the depths of her glass of wine.
‘Well, for what it’s worth. I’d have liked to see you again, maybe dinner or something, but …’ he paused, ‘I guess you’re going anyhow and …’ he went to stand up, ‘And, I have to be at work early in the morning.’
‘Oh,’ Anna stood up too, ‘Actually, you never told me about your job, you never said what you did.’ She didn’t want him to leave and hoped that another question would lead to a much bigger conversation.
‘I work at the airport, on security,’ he smiled, ‘And, the first flight out is at 6.40am, which means I have to be at work by six.’
Anna caught his eye and began to laugh. ‘Well, I hope not, because my flight to Dublin is at six twenty.’ She dug in her bag and pulled out the tickets. ‘Here, look.’
But now it was Patrick’s turn to smile. ‘Well Anna, you’re right, your flight is at six twenty, but not from this airport.’
She grabbed at the ticket, ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, this here is East Midlands airport.’ He paused, ‘But, I think you’ll find that your flight is from Leeds Bradford. So, unless you have a taxi waiting and you’re prepared to go seventy miles in it, you’re not going to Dublin and if I’m honest, I’m quite pleased and from what you’ve said, I kind of think your mother will be pleased that you’re not leaving too.’
Their eyes once again connected and Anna felt Patrick move in closer. It seemed that fate really had stepped in and found her the perfect Irish man, right here in England and he was right, her mother would be pleased.
Hey… you’re not my cat..!!
Beth sighed as the front door closed and the removal men disappeared down the path. She didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. After all, her whole life had just changed and all of her possessions were now contained in this tiny one room. She looked at her things, at the single brown leather settee, the twenty-five cardboard boxes and the single large suitcase, a bed and a small grey kitten…. wait…
‘Where the hell did you come from?’ Beth walked over and sat down beside the kitten who’d curled up in one corner of the settee. ‘Hey, little one, who are you… you don’t live here.’ The cat stretched out, it’s paws curled around Beth’s hand and he moved forward to place his head in her hand as it cupped his head, before looking up at her with bright, saucer like eyes. ‘Well, you’re not my cat, but you sure are pretty.’ She looked around the flat, ‘But how on earth did you get in?’ Beth was puzzled and looked around at the windows, but all looked to be closed. ‘That’s odd, little man, you must have gotten in somehow.’
Even though it was still only tea time, Beth was exhausted and found herself curling up on the settee, her body circling the kitten, as she closed her eyes and allowed herself to relax for the first time that day. But what seemed like just a few moments later she woke to the darkness. She sat up and watched as the kitten uncurled himself, jumped down from the settee and made its way to the kitchen area where he looked up at a cupboard door and meowed loudly. He stretched his paw upwards and tapped at the door.
Beth looked at her watch, yawned and made her way across to where the cat pawed at the cupboard door, ‘Sorry, sweetie, there’s no cat food in there.’ Beth looked out of the window and at the rain that poured persistently. ‘There’s no cat food anywhere.’ She scooped the kitten up into her arms and walked to the window.
‘And I can’t really throw you out in the rain, can I?’ She sighed and turned to the boxes that remained in the lounge. ‘Surely, we must have something you can eat.’ She began to dig around until she found the box that was marked ‘food.’ ‘Ah, let’s see what we’ve got.’ She rummaged amongst the tins and smiled as she pulled a tin of tuna from within the box, ‘Would you like some of this?’ She emptied some of the tins content into one of her small bowls and watched as the cat ate hungrily. ‘Best I find you a drink, and…’ She looked at the pile of remaining boxes. ‘There should be one of these boxes that still holds Aggie cat’s things,’ She began lifting the boxes down from the pile, ‘Here it is…’ Her hand grazed the box as she took in a deep breath. It’d been a while since she’d packed it, and for a few moments she hesitated. She’d lost Aggie the Christmas before, but still hadn’t been able to throw away her things.
A movement around her ankles made her stir and she looked down at the cat who stared up hopefully. ‘Okay, okay,’ Beth said as she tore open the box and pulled out a dish, a litter tray and a half bag of litter. ‘Best fill this up, cause it looks like you’re stopping the night.’ She filled the tray and placed it down on the floor, before filling the dish with water, which she placed it in the opposite corner of the kitchen.
‘So, where do you live?’ she asked as once again she scooped him up and nuzzled her face into his grey striped fur. It was soft, it smelled all clean and Beth began to wonder who he belonged to. ‘Who do you belong to? Cause if you were mine, I’d be beside myself,’ she said as she placed the kitten back down on the settee and began unpacking the boxes, one at a time. ‘I have a laptop in here somewhere, and a little printer. I’ll have to make an advert, and put it up near the shops, someone must be wanting you back.’
‘A strange noise came from outside’
‘Pst… Pst…’ A strange noise came from outside and Beth inched her way through the kitchen and into the passage to where the back door stood. ‘Pst…’ The sound came again, followed by a cat flap that appeared to move forward all by itself.
Beth creeped forward and watched as once again the flap moved and she looked around for the keys that the estate agent had dropped off just an hour before. She shook her head, ‘Could be anywhere,’ she whispered as she found herself kneeling down behind the back door. She took a deep breath and then carefully lifted the flap and looked out to see a pair of deep, charcoal eyes looking back at her.
‘Oh, be Jesus, don’t you come any closer, I’m phoning the police.’ Beth crawled across the floor on her hands and knees, picked up the phone and began to dial.
‘Please.’ Came the man’s voice, ‘Please, don’t. It’s just… I’ve lost Mittens and I thought he might have come here.’
Beth leaned against the settee as the kitten jumped over her shoulder and onto her knee before racing to the back door, where once again the cat flap lifted back up, and he pushed his head forward and towards the man. ‘Meow…’
‘There you are, Mittens, thank goodness. Oh, boy, I thought I’d lost you.’ The man’s voice sounded genuine, caring and without a thought Beth spotted her keys, grabbed at them and flung open the door. There stood a man, who nuzzled at the tiny kitten that he held in his hands.
‘Oh, hello… look I’m so sorry. I’m… I’m Noah and this, this used to be my flat.’ He paused, ‘Well it was until last week when I moved, but Mittens here doesn’t seem to want to move too, this is the third time in as many days that I’ve had to pull him through your cat flap.’ Again his hand lovingly stroked the kitten.
Beth stared up and into Noah’s eyes. He had the kind of eyes that smiled, sparkled and pulled you in without trying. She smiled. ‘Well, if I’m honest I was dreading moving house, but right now I’m really liking my first visitor.’ She lifted her hand up to the kitten, ‘Hey…’ she laughed as Mittens climbed across and into her arms, ‘I told you earlier,’ she laughed, ‘you’re not my cat and you don’t live here…. but… but you can come and visit whenever you’d like to.’ Again she caught Noah’s smile.
‘And if you’d like to keep bringing your owner with you,’ she thought, ‘then that’d be just fine too.’
Looking for Agatha Christie..!!
Derek walked through the park and smiled as the daffodils waved to him in the breeze. His step was slow, and much less brisk than it had been the autumn before, but last year he’d had Elsie to walk with.
He took his seat on the bench, it was a place that he and Elsie had sat, chatted and watched the children play, right through the summer before. It was a time they’d finally begun to enjoy retirement.
‘Oh, hello, Agatha Christie,’ he whispered, ‘well, I wasn’t sure I’d get to see you this year.’ He looked down at the grey and white cat who’d jumped up beside him, ‘it’s nice to see you again, old girl.’
Derek smiled. The cat had been a big part of the summer before, and on the days that she came, he remembered how happy Elsie had been and the sharing of a daily tuna sandwich had turned the cat into a friend, a friend they’d nicknamed Agatha Christie.
‘So, I expect you’ve come for some of my tuna sandwich, have you?’ he asked as he began to dig in his shopping bag. ‘I made one specially, I hoped you’d be here.’ Derek opened the Tupperware tub. Took out the sandwich and began to pick out the tuna which had been sparingly spread across the bread. ‘There you go,’ he said as Agatha gently took the food from him.
‘Hey, it look’s like you’ve got a friend,’ Joe, the park warden said as he walked past, barrow and sweeping brush in hand.
Derek nodded. ‘Yes, she’s lovely, isn’t she? I used to come here with my wife, last summer. We like to share our sandwiches with her. But we haven’t been since last autumn, since… my wife, she had a stroke. She’s in a wheelchair, and can’t walk to the park anymore, but she insisted that I come and see Agatha.’ His voice broke and he turned away.
‘Agatha?’ the warden asked, ‘you gave the cat a name?’
Derek turned back towards him and laughed, ‘We did, it was my Elsie’s idea, just a joke. She said that cats were like Agatha Christie, you never knew what or who they might kill off next.’ Derek paused, ‘She didn’t mean it in a bad way, of course. It was just a joke. She loved her cats, and everything about them.’
Derek zipped up his bag. ‘I have to go, my Elsie, I can’t leave her for long. But she insisted, you see.’ Derek turned towards the park gates, ‘See you tomorrow Agatha,’ he shouted before exiting the park.
The rain had poured for almost a week. It was Sunday now, a day when most of the other park goers were either in bed or at church, and Derek left the house looking forward to the fact that the park would be quiet, that he’d get an hour or so with Agatha before the park began to fill.
Derek approached his bench, sat down and looked at his watch, it was eight o’clock and although he was a little earlier than normal, Derek looked around wondering where Agatha could be? He pulled open the tub, and put it down on the bench beside him in the hope that the smell of tuna would entice her, as his eyes searched the bushes and then beyond to the houses that stood in the distance. He sighed. Agatha was probably curled up on someone else’s knee, in someone else’s kitchen, eating someone else’s tuna sandwich. He watched the time slip forward, eight o’clock turned into nine o’clock and finally, he stood up and tossed the sandwich into the bushes. ‘Hopefully, you’ll find that later,’ he whispered as he walked towards the gates, all the time checking around, looking for Agatha.
‘What do… do you mean, you… you didn’t see her,’ Elsie stuttered from the confines of her wheelchair. ‘She’s always there. Al.. always.’
Derek watched as tears filled his wife’s eyes and he picked up a tissue, carefully wiping them away. ‘I’ll go back tomorrow, and the day after,’ he promised, ‘I’ll find her, I promise. I’ll take a photograph for you.’
He watched as Elsie stroked the blanket that covered her knee, ‘I wish… wish I could go… I want to see her again, I.. I want her to sit here.’ Elsie sobbed as she once again stroked her knee and Derek reached out and took her hand.
‘And I wish I could push you that far, let me see what I can do. Maybe I can get someone to help us. Maybe one of the neighbours.’ He thought of the people around him, of who he might ask. But all their friends were elderly too, none fit enough or strong enough to push the chair for over a mile.
The day had turned to the evening and Derek stood up to pull the curtains closed. It was then he noticed Warden Joe, walking up and down the street. He was pushing his barrow and looked confused. Derek pulled on his coat, and walked out to the front gate.
‘Are you lost, Joe?’ Derek asked and immediately saw the look of relief cross the warden’s face.
‘No, not at all. It’s you, I’ve been looking for you.’ Warden Joe turned to his barrow, ‘I have someone here who needs to see you.’
Derek watched as Joe reached into his barrow and lifted out a bedraggled looking Agatha Christie.
‘What happened to her? I went to the park, she wasn’t there,’ Derek said as he took a purring Agatha Christie in his arms.
‘No, and if I hadn’t found her, God knows what would have happened. See here,’ he pointed to a wound. ‘I think someone took an air rifle to her, found her under a bush, she didn’t look too well, I can tell you.’ He leaned forward and stroked the cat.
‘Is she ok, now?’ Derek turned to the front door and indicated to Joe that he should follow.
‘She will be. I took her to the vets, she’s far from better and really needs someone to look after her.’ He looked hopefully at Derek.
‘But, what about her owners, they’ll be looking for her.’
‘Well, that’s the thing you see, everyone says she’s homeless. And with no microchip… they can’t be traced.’ He stepped through the door and followed Derek into the lounge, to where Elsie sat.
Derek passed the cat to his wife, ‘Your wish came true, Elsie. Agatha Christie, she came to see you.’ The cat immediately pawed at Elsie’s knee and with a satisfied purr, she curled up in a ball and closed her eyes, ‘And by the looks of it,’ Derek continued, ‘I think we’re going to need some more tuna.’
A Chance Encounter..!!
Millie walked around her house. Looked in and out of the empty rooms and then walked into the kitchen, where she opened the empty cupboards.
She sighed, walked into the hallway, pulled her long, over washed cardigan tightly around her shoulders and caught a glimpse of her untidy reflection in the mirror that hung by the locked door.
She didn’t like to leave the house, not unless she had to. But the cupboards were empty and there was no one else to do the shopping. Not anymore. Once again, she looked in the mirror. “Well, you can’t go shopping, looking like that,” she whispered to herself as she looked into the lounge and at the picture of Adam where it stood on the mantle. It had been a year since she lost him, a year since the fire and a year since she’d had to find somewhere new to live, bury her husband and try to carry on with life, the only way she knew. Alone.
It was an hour later when Millie sat in her car. She’d been in the shower, washed her hair and had applied a light dusting of face powder and lipstick and she’d been to the shops. She smiled at herself in the rear view mirror, for the first time in a year she felt good, and even though her back seat was full of far too much food, she still felt happy that for once, her cupboards would be full.
She looked up and down the road. It suddenly occurred to her that nothing had changed. Life had carried on without her. It was now July, the middle of summer and all the trees were full of blossom, the garden full of roses, and lilac.
An old man walked down the road. He raised his stick up above his head, waved it around in the air and shouted hello, just as the post man sped past on his bike, smiled and he too lifted his hand and waved. Millie waved back, just as she spotted Patricia from the corner shop. She strolled down the road with her brood of five young boys; all were under six years old and most of them clung to her legs like over excited baboons, making Millie wonder how Patricia ever managed to walk.
But then something caught her attention. She could see a child, a young boy who looked nervously at a car, as it trundled beside him. He walked a few paces, then ran a few paces, with his ice cream in his hand, while the car continued to drive slowly beside him. The window was down and the driver seemed to be leaning towards it, speaking to the child. But then, the child shook his head, licked the ice cream and then ran ahead.
Millie looked from child to man and immediately began to think the worst.
What if the man were trying to kidnap the child, what if he were a murderer or a pervert and what if she watched the whole episode, did nothing about it and then saw the child’s picture on the six o’clock news, with parents crying, searching for him and him being lost to the world? What if all this happened and she did nothing about it?
Without thinking, Millie jumped out of her car and into the middle of the road. She stood in front of the car, which came to an abrupt holt. She stared menacingly at the driver, whose deep, volcanic eyes seemed to sparkled back at her in amusement.
“It’s ok,” she shouted to the child, “He can’t hurt you, now run along home. Go straight there, honey. Go to your parents. You’re safe now.” The young boy stopped in his tracks, once again licked at his ice cream and began to smile and giggle at the man, who still sat in the car.
“Ok, what’s so funny?” she directed the question at the man, who switched off the car’s engine and climbed out. He towered above her, making Millie look up. He was broad, tall, had a perfect smile, along with a pair of biceps that threatened to burst out of his shirt. Millie gasped in admiration. The man was cute. He certainly didn’t look like a murderer, nor was he acting in a menacing or threatening way.
“Ben,” he reached into the car and threw a towel at the child. “Your hands mate, give them a rub or you’ll be walking the rest of the way too.”
The child pushed the last of his ice cream in his mouth. Took the towel and began wiping his hands, making Millie once again look from one to the other.
“Oh my goodness, you’re his… I thought…. Look, never mind what I thought, I’m sorry.” She was embarrassed and turned back to her cottage, walked carefully up the drive and closed her eyes while taking deep inward breaths.
But, then, she heard footsteps behind her and turned to where the man stood with his hand held out towards her, “I think I should introduce myself. I’m Jake, Jake Thomas and this is my son, Ben.”
Millie looked up, caught the amused sparkle in his eyes and the cheeky grin of Ben. “Look, I’m so sorry. I thought you were…. Well, I thought you were trying to kidnap him, you know, get him in the car.”
Jake laughed out loud, “Oh no, far from it. I was actually trying to keep him out of the car, especially seeing as the car is new and he’s eating the runniest ice cream in the world. But he wanted the treat and I told him he’d have to walk until it was gone.”
Millie began to laugh. She could see the funny side, “Look, I really am sorry. Maybe I’ve lived on my own for far too long, I shouldn’t have interfered.”
Jake looked down at Ben and rubbed the top of his head with his hand, ruffling his hair. “Hey, Ben. This lady, she was good enough to try and protect you.” He paused, smiled and once again his hand rested on the child. “Do you think we should say thank you and invite the nice lady to our house for dinner?”
The young boy’s face lit up and he nodded with enthusiasm.
“There you go,” Jake said, “You wouldn’t say no to a six-year-old asking you out to dinner, would you?”
Millie grinned and looked at all the shopping bags in her car, “Well, actually. Yes, I would. I’ve just been shopping, and I bought far too much food.” She smiled at Ben, “But, I’m sure I bought something that you’d like.” Her eyes caught Jake’s, “That’s if you’d let me cook the dinner instead.”
Birthday’s, Beaches & BBQ’s…!!
‘Sarah, are you sure it’s ok for us to be here. We don’t know anyone.’ Jen climbed out of the car and inched toward the edge of the cliff and stared over its edge. Numerous fire beacons lit up the beach and the sound of laughter and reggae music told her that the party was already in full swing.
‘Sure it’ll be fine. He’s a pompous rich kid who drives round in one of those big sports cars, he won’t have a clue who he has or hasn’t invited. Besides, everyone who is anyone is here. We wouldn’t want to miss it, would we?’ Sarah strutted over the grass in her high heels, wobbled precariously and then purposely stood still while pulling at her mini skirt, as though attempting to alter its length. ‘Right. I’ll not be long. Just need to find Matt, I’ll meet you on the beach.’
Jen spun around on the spot. ‘Sarah, seriously, you can’t just abandon me,’ she shouted as Sarah disappeared into the crowd.
‘Honey. I’m not abandoning you. There are hundreds of people here. Go mingle, I’ll be five minutes. I promise.’
Jen reluctantly made her way to the beach. Avoided the crowd, pulled a picnic rug from her bag and sat quite happily, staring into one of the many fire beacons that stood by the water’s edge. The flames danced, bright orange, blue and gold in the darkness. The smoky odour of barbeque filled the air and Jen smiled as an impromptu verse of ‘happy birthday’ filtered down the beach.
A cluster of fireworks shot upward, fizzing and banging as an array of colour lit up the sky. A whoop went up from the people behind her and Jen once again dared to look around and into the crowd, wishing that Sarah would hurry and come back.
‘Hey. Are you alone?’ A man had appeared from within the crowd and had dropped to his knees on the sand before her. He seemed to think about his options for just a moment, before unrolling a blanket and throwing it along the floor. ‘Do you mind if I sit here? I just hate to see a beautiful woman sat all alone.’ He flashed her a smile and pointed to the space beside her. It was as though he was asking for permission to sit down, which made Jen laugh, especially after he’d already pitched his spot, put his blanket in position and seemed to be making himself quite comfortable.
‘Sure, make yourself at home; it’s as much your beach as it is mine. Are you here for the birthday party?’ Her eyes continued to search the crowds: wondering where Sarah had really gone and what’s more, she’d begun to wonder if she’d ever come back.
‘I sure am,’ he said as he pulled the picnic blanket up behind him and settled himself against the cliff and Jen turned to look in his direction. He was well dressed and tall, or would have been if he’d stood back up. He looked to be well built but not over weight and his symmetrical, angular face took on the amber glow of the beacon, but the way his eyes stared deep into the fire made him look just a little vulnerable. A look that she liked. He rubbed the stubble on his chin with one hand, while his eyebrows moved in and out of a frown and Jen could tell that he was deep within his own thoughts.
He must have sensed that she was watching him. He turned and for a short time a smile lit up his face as he studied hers, ‘I’m Pete,’ he said in a matter of fact way, before turning back to the beacon and once again looking into where the flames reached for the sky.
‘I’m Jen and I’m not really alone. I came with my friend. But she went to find her boyfriend, Matt. She should be back anytime.’ Smiling, she once again began to search the crowd for Sarah.
‘Ah, wouldn’t be a blonde girl would she. Mini skirt on, that comes to here?’ His hand indicated the length of Sarah’s skirt, ‘If it is, she was last seen heading behind the cockle shed with Matt.’
‘Oh my God, why would they do that?’ Jen realised what she’d said the moment the words left her lips.
Pete raised his eyebrows, pulled a face and then looked back out to the sea. ‘Well, by the look of them, I don’t think they were off to make sand castles.’
Jen resigned herself to the fact that Sarah wouldn’t be back anytime soon, pulled her boots off and pushed her toes into the sand. She began to laugh, ‘Go on, give it a go. The sand tickles.’ She watched as Pete joined in the game, his feet were as perfect as the rest of him and suddenly he turned and smiled. His eyes held hers for just a moment too long, searching hers and she felt her breath catch in her chest.
‘So, you’re here for the birthday party?’ She finally asked as she broke his gaze and stared back toward the waves which rolled gently up the beach.
He nodded, ‘I sure am.’ He looked puzzled, ‘Do you know him?’
‘Never met him. He’s apparently some pompous rich kid, who drives a sports car and if I’m honest, we hadn’t been invited.’ Jen cringed apologetically. ‘I just hope no one realises.’
Pete began to laugh, ‘So, what would you do if they did.’
Jen thought for a moment, ‘Well, I guess I’d have to be really nice to him, give him a birthday kiss and hope he didn’t mind that we gate crashed.’
His face lit up with amusement, he smiled and once again, his eyes danced with hers, just as a large group of people walked past. One of the men walked over and held out a hand. ‘Hey, Pete. Great party, mate. Happy birthday.’
The words made Jen spin around on the spot. ‘You…you… but… it’s your party.’
Pete smiled at her with a cheeky grin, ‘It is and if you don’t mind me saying, I really don’t mind at all that you gate crashed my party.’
This story was written for Choc Lit’s 7th birthday
Hope you enjoyed