Saturday, February 14, 2015

Footsteps - Chapter Six

It rained for a week solidly after our date. Caleb had been radio silent again, and after my third message went without a response, I left it alone. Couldn’t help wondering what had gone wrong, if indeed anything had gone wrong, but still, I refused to play that game with my sanity. Please, weather gods, don’t be trying to tell me this is an omen, I thought miserably as I skittered across the road from the bus stop towards the jewellery store. Its black and gold sign hung limply like a wet dish rag as the UK’s finest winter rain lashed it relentlessly, and I shoved my key into the door and slithered gratefully inside.

My attention was instantly caught by a new addition to the room. A young man I didn’t recognise was talking with Julie, and I hung back in the shadows for a moment, watching as my boss seemed to be showing him the ropes. She had mentioned something months ago about advertising for a sales assistant, but she was the kind of woman who’d have won gold if procrastination was an Olympic sport. I never thought she’d do it. Apparently she had.

As I shook the rain from my coat but not the cold from my bones, their eyes were drawn to me across the dim room. I saw that he was about my age, maybe a year older, and he had one of those arrogant, blond-haired, blue-eyed kind of stares that women either love or loathe. He gave the impression he’d been turned down for an Abercrombie modelling job, but had only just missed out. He looked disdainfully at my bedraggled appearance, and in that moment my blood ran cold. I knew him; knew that look. I’d seen it before – been given it before. I’d been to school with him. His name was Lachlann O’Brien and he’d been an arrogant son of a bitch then, and by the looks of things, nothing had changed.

 “Lyssie?” he quizzed, stepping forward with the impulsive kind of triumphant recognition you’d expect a cat to have when it finds a mouse that previously escaped it. “La-La Lyssie? Is that you?”

Fucking. Hell. My reputation for daydreaming and being away with the fairies at school had earned me that catchy little nickname.

While I wanted to run screaming from the shop, I was now twenty seven years old and capable of being the bigger person. Honest. Settling for feigned ignorance, I said, “You obviously know me, though I go by ‘Alyssa’ these days, but I don’t recognise you…”

My sheer enjoyment of being haughty enhanced my acting abilities, and I smiled internally as he looked genuinely stunned that he should go unremembered. “It’s Lachlann…” he grinned, hoping to disarm me with his sheer magnetism or something. His Irish accent was the same but his voice was deeper, softer.

I gave a look which I hoped was somewhere between puzzled and nonplussed.

“From St. Dunstan’s… I was in the year above you I think… Your best friend dated my mate Harry…”

“Oh…” I played with Luke’s pendant and shrugged. “If you say so. I don’t remember. Anyway, are you working here now then?”

“Yeah,” he said, running his hand through his hair, mussing it up in a way that somehow suited him perfectly, giving him a casual ‘I don’t care’ look. “Miss Chapman has kindly hired me as a sales assistant, so I’ll be taking care of that side of things. I start today.”

Suck up, I thought. I bit my opinions back and smiled. “Well, nice to have you around, I guess. I’d better get to my workbench and start making the jewellery so you have something new to sell…” Subtext: my skill at making > your cheesy sales pitches.

“Awesome, maybe I can pop back and see how you do it – never would have pegged you for a jeweller when we were at school… you were so clumsy!”

“People grow up,” I said airily, flicking my long red hair loose to help it dry as I untied my bun.

I adjusted the height of my stool and fiddled with my bench peg. I checked that the pickle was warming up, and I refilled my hand butane torch. I even re-swept the floors and surfaces, despite having done them on Friday night before I’d left for the weekend. Nothing would shake the feeling in my gut that came with rekindled memories. I was eleven years old again. It was my first day at school, and I’d not brought lunch money. I’d got to the end of the line in the cafeteria and I didn’t have a penny to give to the lady towering behind the till at the end, waiting. A queue was building behind me. Snickers and comments wafted my way on stale lunch fumes. Eventually I probably could have wet myself with embarrassment. The person behind me was Lachlann, and he too was laughing. “Did you think you were going to get lunch for free?” he sneered. Mercifully, before I did actually piss myself, a scrawny blonde girl had strutted over and said, “You can pay me back tomorrow,” before thrusting some change into my shaking palm. “And when you’re done, come and sit with us. We’re by the window.” She’d turned on her fashionably-Sketchered heel and marched off. And that had been how I’d met Emily.

Thinking of her reminded me of the hangover that I had spent most of the previous day getting over. And I still wasn’t entirely sharp that morning either. I had suddenly become too old to drink an entire bottle of wine, plus the whisky we’d had after the dinner. Just the thought of how awful I’d felt the day before was enough to make my stomach turn. Time to concentrate on something else. I should probably have drunk more water by then too, but I turned my attention to the brooch which I’d begun on Friday. Monday mornings were for fresh starts, and delicate piercing-saw work, not dwelling on things past.

Lachlan didn’t enter my thoughts again until my lunch break, when I had to exit the premises through the main shop, but luckily he was busy telling some woman who had only stopped in to see about getting a ring resized that actually she did need a big Byzantine silver bracelet and necklace set. I had to hand it to him, she did seem 90% convinced.

I ducked out into the sheeting rain wearing my long coat and feeling like a lady in need of a good Humphrey Bogart style rescuing. I fantasised as I splashed through the puddles about an old forties car pulling up, Bogey stepping out with his quietly fashionable fedora, and saying in that voice that any black and white film lover would instantly know, “Sweetheart, you can’t walk in all this rain; let me take you where you’re going.” Of course, if that happened now, you’d slap the son of a bitch and go right on ahead and ruin those shoes, but still, chivalry is dead… God, hangovers made me bitter, I thought, as I pushed the glass door of the bakery open and inhaled the fresh, comforting air inside.

I cycled through the messages on my phone while I ate my baguette at the back of the bakery’s little cafĂ©, and finally replied to Emily’s chirpy message from the previous day. ‘Finally crawled out from the little hole I have been hiding in since Saturday. Haven’t been that hungover since the last dinner you gave… And to make things worse, guess who, of all the slimy toads in the universe, is now working as a sales assistant with me? Fucking Lachlann O’Brien from school! Remember him? Urgh…

Her reply was suitably shocked and sympathetic for my needs, but she had to ruin it by asking if I’d heard from Caleb. In a last ditch attempt, I sent him one before replying to Emily, in the hope that this time I’d get something from him.

Been a while since I’ve heard from you. Hoping everything is ok and that you haven’t got washed away in all this rain… Let me know if you want to meet up any time soon. x

I had no sooner put the phone down on the table and taken an enormous bite of my brie and cranberry baguette than a response bounced back. Men! I blazed internally, setting the monster sandwich down and munching my massive bite while I read his reply.

I’m so sorry I’ve not replied to your messages. I meant to, honest! I’ve actually been in Edinburgh (!) for a short conference on the accessibility of technology. My editor sent me there to write a piece on it. As for meeting up, I’ve got a few friends over on Wednesday evening and I’d love you to meet them. No pressure if it’s too soon for any of that… C xxx

“Well, that progressed quickly,” I said out loud, though the sounds were muffled behind my next enormous mouthful. I replied, despite my nerves at meeting his friends, that I would love to go round to his and meet them. It also gave me the chance to reassure Emily, who, I was certain, was the next thing to telling me to slam the brakes on this budding relationship. Kay had been more supportive, but almost as silent as Caleb on the contact front since the last date.

With all my correspondence complete, I returned through the seemingly-endless rain to the shop. Lachlann was nowhere in sight, and I decided that while I was still fresh, I’d polish a couple of the wedding rings I’d finished lately.

I’m a total dork. Polishing is my zen time. The concentration it takes not to have the thing fling off and bounce round the workshop while the wheel is rotating anywhere between 9-11000 rpm is all-consuming, so when I felt a tap on my shoulder no more than a third of a way through a ring, I was surprised to say the least. Turned out to be Lachlann. I resisted the urge to lay into him properly, but I did let him have it a bit. “You should never interrupt someone when they’re using machinery like this!” I practically shrieked, kicking the emergency stop at the foot of the machine. “Unless there’s an emergency, obviously. It’s really dangerous!”

To his credit, he actually turned a whiter shade of pale and stepped back. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t know.”

“Now you do,” I snapped. “What do you want?”

“I was on tea break and decided to come check out what the elves do all day in the workshop.”

“Well, for one,” I said, not moving from where I was standing, “There are no elves here to make stuff. Just me.”

“And the other thing?”

“What?”

“You said ‘for one’, and I was expecting something else.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. His arrogance had a certain cheeky charm, I’ll give him that. “And for another thing then, I don’t like being disturbed. This isn’t an open workshop; I don’t get paid nearly enough for guided tours.”

He had just given a little chuckle when Julie’s voice rang out from the front. “Lachlann! Can you bring me an 18ct white gold cross-over triple diamond engagement ring, and another triple stone one with a sapphire in the middle?”

He swallowed nervously and looked to me for help.

Pause for effect.

Turn slowly on the spot. Go quietly, slowly, to the safe and draw out the appropriate items. Place them quietly and deliberately into his grateful little mitts. Smile enigmatically. Return to work.

That little buzz of power saw me glide through the rest of the day, and when I got back to the house, I found that Kit was cooking a curry. All things considered, not a bad day. The following day wasn't too awful either, and by the time Wednesday had come round, the rain had even found it within itself to stop, and as the temperature plummeted, the air became beautifully clear and cold.

Wednesdays were my day off, and I should have spent the time in my kitchen with a tiny butane torch making claw settings for a ring I’d been commissioned to make, but instead I stayed in bed like a lazy teenager and binge-watched Vikings on Netflix. I got a couple of ideas for bits of jewellery to make, so it wasn’t a total waste of time, but I couldn’t help feeling like I should have done something productive. Kit had left for work at seven, so there’d been no one left to judge me. Getting up and having breakfast when I should have been having lunch, I fancied treating myself to a home spa session. After all, I wanted smooth hands and radiant skin when I met Caleb’s friends later. That’s always the assay test with new girlfriends – if you survive the meeting with the mates, you stand a good chance, or so I’ve been told. I’ve personally never even made it to that test.

The streets were almost deserted as I strode out through the black, wintry night, my breath billowing in ghostly clouds about my face, and my footsteps seemed loud and conspicuous. I could hear the noise of men laughing and bottles chinking as I pushed open the gate. The sound of my beloved ankle boots added a deeper note to the lighter sounds from inside. I pushed the doorbell and stood back.

Amy’s hair was in pigtails again, like the first time I’d met her, and she grinned just as prettily when she recognised me. “Alyssa! Come in. Caleb said you were coming.”

“Hi Amy, how are you?” I asked, unravelling the woollen scarf from around my neck. A warm light was glowing from the open door to the living room and the smell of beer replaced the smell of winter in the air.

“I’m ok,” she smiled, closing the door behind me. “Caleb’s been away so it’s nice to have him back.”

“Did he go on his own?” I hoped I didn’t sound worried.

She giggled, her little pigtails shivering playfully. “Of course. They have people at the airport who guide him, and the conference provided assistants for people like Caleb.”

“That’s awesome,” I said softly, and I meant it.

“Caleb!” she yelled, her brash, child’s voice going straight though me.

Caleb’s deep voice answered from the living room. “What?”

“Alyssa’s here, that’s what!” There was a boyish cheer and I felt the colour drain from my face. Amy glanced up and saw my expression and whispered conspiratorially, “Don’t worry, they’re alright really.”

Their raucous laughter washed over me in an intimidating wave, rooting my feet to the polished wooden floor of the hall. Amy took my coat from me and hung it on a peg beside the stairs, and while she was doing that, I dithered on the spot, not wanting to walk into a room full of blokes, not wanting to interrupt them. Just as I had worked up the courage to go in, a creaky voice from my left said, "She's right, you know - they are a nice bunch really, I promise."

My head whipped round in I surprise to find an old lady with slate grey, curly hair and the most piercing green eyes I'd ever seen staring at me.

"You must be Caleb's nan," I said in a quiet voice.

The old woman looked me up and down as though deciding whether I were suitable for her Caleb, and then, somewhat unexpectedly to me, cracked a broad, welcoming grin. "I am," she smiled. "And you must be this Alyssa he keeps talking so much about."

"I'm certainly an Alyssa," I said playfully, "I can't say whether I'm the Alyssa he talks about though..."

Caleb's nan caught my sense of humour and laughed a crackly, dry, amused laugh and then looked past me, over my shoulder, and said, "Well, why don't we ask him then?"

"Ask me wh-what?" a much deeper voice said from behind me, and I turned on my toes to find Caleb standing there, leaning casually on his black cane, looking happy, relaxed and breathtakingly handsome.

It was the first time I'd seen him properly without his glasses. He kept his eyelids closed as he smiled at me, and it was clear that he was, or at least had been until I arrived, completely relaxed. Now, as he stood there in the threshold to the hallway, he brought his hand to his face and fiddled with the bridge of his nose, and then with his eyebrow, as though trying to hide the fact that he had nothing to mask his eyes.

"Why don't we ask him if this is indeed the Alyssa he's been talking about lately?" his nan asked, leaning her shoulder against the doorframe.

"Y-you kn-know, I don't know if it is her?" Caleb grinned, keying into her playful tone immediately. "I mean, it sounds l-like her, but..." he took a rocking, shuffling step towards me, "But it might just be a tr-trick..." Another step brought him within touching distance. "So, where are you?"

I stayed silent for an extra heartbeat, and then said quietly, "I'm here." I didn't move. I let him come to me.

He raised his arm a little away from his side, fingers stretching forward, ready to search through the empty air to find me. Something told me he wasn't going to try. "Where?" he repeated in a hoarse whisper.

I stepped into his touch, standing with my face only a tantalising inch or two from his, and went up onto tiptoes even though I didn't need to. His fingers found my wrist and latched onto me with a strength that surprised me. His other hand, his right hand, was still gripping the handle of his cane, but he brought it up to lock into my waist, and while I heard the retreating steps of both Amy and his nan, I leaned in and kissed him gently.

"Yep," he said when I moved back slightly. "That's my g-girl."

A chorus of whoops and catcalls rose from the sitting room, and that was when I remembered his friends, and the good butterflies in my stomach choked and fell.

He felt my back stiffen and as I practically yanked myself away from him in embarrassed panic, he gave a chuckle. "Don't m-mind them," he muttered softly. "All that noise if for my benefit, n-not y-yours."

"Promise?" I mumbled meekly.

He smiled a broad, honest, white smile. "I pr-pr-pr-pr..." I could see him thinking 'any word, any word in the world to get stuck on and you get stuck on that one...', so while he was still repeating the sound, head nodding slightly, eyelids screwing tightly, chest beginning to contract, I did something entirely impulsive and not at all what I thought was appropriate. I kissed him again while he was still stuttering.

Caleb paused, not quite frozen, and then to my intense relief, his lips twitched into a soft smile of relief. "C-come on," he said, his voice deep and gravelly. "C-come and m-meet the boys fr-from my old unit."



to be continued.....

29 comments:

  1. Thank you Rose..i thought u had forgotten all about us.
    I wish you could write more. Your words are so touching.

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    1. I hereby promise (as I have said before) that I will finish this story. I just can't guarantee regular updates because of my schedule right now... Also thank you!

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  2. Please, don`t let us wait so long...

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  3. It's just that your characters are to die for..sigh

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    1. Thank you - I like to try and make my characters feel 'real', even if they're only a 'walk-on' part...

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  4. This is such a beautiful story. Your writing is so good! Please please post soon!

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    1. Thank you very much - I try and make my writing as good as I can. I hate reading stuff that doesn't flow nicely...

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  5. I am so enthralled by your story. There are so many special moments and clever phrases from your characters. Great job.

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    1. Thank you!! I'm glad it strikes a chord :)

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  6. Love this so much. Feels much too short. (I mean that as a compliment!)

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    1. I though that too when I wrote it, but I wanted it to have that formula, so that was the length it turned out... also thank you!

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  7. *squeals* YAY! This made my day! You write so three dimensionally. Every character is as crisp as day for me. Can't wait to meet the boys from the company. <3

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    1. *waves back shyly* Glad I made your day! It's for moments like that that I publish my stories up here. Hope the boys don't disappoint you...

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  8. So happy to find an update. Absolutely love this story. Please update soon! :)

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  9. I love your story so much and eagerly await each update!! I am especially looking forward to the next chapter a lot!!!!!!!!! Thank you so much for writing!

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    1. Should be as long to wait as last time, but thank you!

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  10. I was ridiculously excited to see this up! I love it!

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  11. Thank you everyone for your commetns! *waves shyly* Sorry I made you wait so long - things have been crazy busy, but I'm hoping it won't be too long before the next one... Hope you're looking forward to meeting the boys as much as I was...

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  12. I'm so happy that you've updated. Nice to learn some more about our heroine background. Loved how they met at his home, looking forward to actually meeting his friends.

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    1. I think she (and I) were a bit nervous about meeting the boys... Thank you for commenting and letting me know what you like about it - it's always really helpful and reassuring to hear what people like (and what they don't) about a story, especially since this one (unlike my last one) is being written as I post it, as it were.

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  13. Can't wait to meet the boys! I'm loving this story!

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    1. Thank you! Not too long to wait, hopefully.

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  14. Wow!
    Great writing.
    Love the moody rain and the sexy interplay.
    Thank you!

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    1. Thanks - you picked up on things that I was hoping people would :D

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  15. love love love that last bit! Be still my dev-y heart, and thank you so much for writing about a stutterer!

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  16. GAH! When is the next chapter!?! I can't wait! Dying over here.

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