Dee slumped into her chair on the back porch. She was dog-tired. It had been a long week. The last rays of the setting sun felt very pleasant on her skin. She felt drowsy and soon, she was asleep.
A noise woke her, and she sat up with a start. She looked up into the eyes of a man who had poked his head over the side fence. He had a shaved head, a button nose, and brown eyes behind round-rimmed glasses. He waved a hand and said “Hi. Erm, sorry to bother you…”
She was busting and had to go. She struggled to her feet, cut him off and called, “Sorry, gotta go,” and bolted for the back door. She just made it.
She realised she’d been rather rude, but the need was urgent. She wondered idly what he wanted, but she had only been living there a few months and had no interest in getting friendly with the neighbours, especially a male one with no hair. She had sworn off men since her recent breakup with Simon.
She was hungry and rummaged through her freezer for a frozen meal. She enjoyed cooking as a rule, but couldn’t be bothered tonight. She pulled out a lasagna, stuck it in the microwave and poured herself a glass of red wine. It was while she was sitting at the kitchen table digging into the rather tasteless meal that she heard a noise at the front door. She rose, walked to the door and saw a folded sheet of paper on the floor. She picked it up, debated whether to open the door, and then decided to finish her meal. She read the words on the paper, eyes widening as she took in the message.
It read ‘What I was trying to tell you before was that I saw a large carpet python going under your back porch earlier today. Just thought you’d like to know.’ It was signed ‘Greg from next door.’
She shrieked involuntarily and dropped the note. She hated snakes!
What was she going to do? Meal forgotten, she shuddered when she realised she’d been sleeping on the porch above the snake for ages. By now it was dark. She walked back to the front door, snapped on the front porch light, and then turned it off again. What if light attracted it and it made its way under the house to the front porch? Trying to calm down, she thought, ‘I’ll google it’. The fact that the snake was pretty harmless from what she read, didn’t comfort her one little bit. Maybe bald Greg could help, although she had been exceedingly rude to him, but he had taken the trouble to leave her the note.
She decided she would rather face him than spend all night worrying about where the snake might pop up. She turned on the porch light again, opened the door, and peering fearfully from right to left, fairly ran down the driveway and up next door’s pathway to Greg’s front door. She stood there, heart racing and rang the bell. It opened abruptly, and a small, tousled-haired little girl, about five years old, looked up at her.
“Hello,” she said breathlessly.
“May I speak to Greg please?”
Two bright blue eyes regarded her thoughtfully, and then the little girl turned and bellowed, “Greg! It’s for you!”
Dee couldn’t believe such a loud voice could come out of such a small person. The other thought she had was, ‘She calls her father by his first name.’
Footsteps came down the hallway and Greg hove into view. He was about her height, a bit tubby, wearing a ragged shirt, baggy shorts and flip-flops.
He peered at her owlishly over glasses perched on his nose.
“I’m so sorry about earlier, but I really needed to go…”
She trailed off. He smiled at her, a rather attractive smile that empathised dimples on either side of his mouth.
“That’s ok,” he said.
He looked down at the little girl.
“Did you have to yell so loud? I was only down the hall.”
She smiled sweetly at him.
“But you’re always telling me you’re getting old and deaf and you never hear me when I call you.”
He looked at Dee and shrugged helplessly.
“Come in. The place is a bit of a mess…”
“Oh no,” she protested.
“I only came to ask your advice about the snake.”
He said amusedly, “So you want to go out there again do you?”
She shuddered involuntarily.
“Come on, I’m Amy,” the little girl said, taking her by the hand. Dee allowed herself to be dragged down the hallway into a large family room, containing a shelf laden with books, two couches, a rectangular table and chairs and a huge flat screen television on one wall.
Greg gestured, “Grab a chair. Would you like a drink?”
She shook her head and said diffidently, “I should introduce myself. I’m Dee.”
She paused, and he said, “Yeah, well, you know I’m Greg and this is Amy.”
Amy regarded her silently for a moment, then said, “You’re very pretty. Would you like to marry Greg?”
The adults stared speechlessly at her, then each other.
Greg found his voice.
“Pumpkin, we don’t know each other. We’ve only just met, and you’ve just embarrassed Dee…”
Amy turned to her.
“Your not embarrassed are you Dee?” she asked.
She struggled to respond.
“Oh no, but your Dad’s right. We’ve only just met.”
“Greg’s not my Dad, silly. He’s my uncle and he’s the best uncle in the whole world. He looks after me when Mum’s at work. My Dad’s in the navy.”
The adults looked at each other. Greg looked into her grey-blue eyes. She had full red lips, a heart-shaped face and a beautiful hourglass figure. He didn’t stand a chance, he thought sadly. Girls like her didn’t go for guys who looked like him.
He smiled painfully.
“You wanted to know about the snake. I’ve got a friend who’s a snake catcher. I’ll call him if you want and he’ll come out. He’ll find it and you won’t need to worry anymore. If you like, I’ll escort you home. It’s unlikely to come into the house so you’ll be pretty safe.”
She was strangely reluctant to leave. Somehow, she already felt safe in this house, with this precocious little girl who wanted her to marry ‘the best uncle in the world.’
She had had worse offers, she reflected, and looking at Greg, said, “If it’s ok with you, I’d like to stay, and I wouldn’t mind a drink.”
Greg blinked at her, then looked into those grey-blue eyes and he knew he was gone. He had no idea where this was going to go, but he knew he would always regret it if he didn’t travel down that road to find out.
“Nothing!” her brother said. “Can’t I even compliment my own sister? The guys are gonna get hard-ons when they see you.”
“That is disgusting! You had to ruin it, didn’t you.”
“Sorry,” he said without meaning it.
“But if you don’t want compliments, why do you dress like that?”
“A. I like this dress. B. It’s the latest fashion, C. I should be able to wear whatever I like.”
“Oh well, the guys are gonna be falling all over themselves. When you get to the nightclub, pick one that’s got money, an expensive car, preferably a Porsche and doesn’t mind an annoying younger brother.”
Tina looked at him, then said, “The only one of those that is of any consequence to me is the last one.”
“You mean the annoying younger brother? I don’t mind the others. If they don’t like me, I’ll wear them down with my charm, and arse licking, but it’s nice of you to care.”
“God, you’re hopeless. I’m going. See you later.”
“Enjoy yourself,” he said.
Tina walked out and got into her little yellow VW bug. She was meeting her girlfriends at a restaurant for dinner before going on to the nightclub. As it turned out, she was late. A few streets away, she watched in horror as a young man was pulled out of a stationary car at the traffic lights. A tall bearded man punched him in the face. As he staggered back, the man jumped into the car and took off through the red lights, narrowly missing a car coming through. She pulled to the side of the road, got out and hurried over to him.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said rubbing his chin, then, with a wry grin, “I’ve had worse knocks on the rugby field.”
A few other people came over.
“You right mate?” a big bluff truckie in a tank top queried.
“Thanks everyone. I’m ok. Just got to report it to the cops.”
“I’ll take you down to the police station,” Tina offered.
“Would you? Thanks, but you look as if you’re going somewhere.”
“That can wait. Let’s go.”
He wasn’t going to pass up a chance to spend time with the most beautiful girl he’d seen in a long time. Onlookers drifted away, one older man giving him a sly thumbs up. They got into her car, and she waited for the lights to change, then headed for the police station,
“I’m Cameron,” he said.
“Tina,” she replied.
“You’re sure you’re alright?”
“What about your car?”
“It’s a bit of a heap. He won’t get far in it. It sort of belongs to a friend. I just borrowed it because mine’s being serviced.”
“Won’t he be upset?”
“Oh no. He owns a used car yard. I just borrowed the oldest car he had. Anyway, you can just drop me off at the police station. I can find my own way home. You’ve obviously got somewhere else to go.”
She hesitated. He had an attractive smile and seemed quite unfazed by what had just happened. She felt reluctant to just leave him, but her friends were waiting. She pulled into the police station carpark, and then said impulsively, “I’ll ring my brother Shayne. He’s at home doing nothing. I’ll get him to pick you up and take you home.”
“Oh no. One of my mates will be ok to do it.”
“I’ll give you his number anyway, just in case,” she said.
“Ok, thanks,” he said with that attractive smile.
She rattled it off, and he put it in his phone. He got out of the car with a last lingering look, then shut the door. He watched her drive away. He walked up the steps and into the outer office. The young officer behind the desk eyed him and remarked, “People don’t normally come in here wearing a goofy smile.”
“I just got a lift from a gorgeous looking girl.”
Cameron detailed what had happened to him. When he described the man who had punched him, the officer nodded.
“We know him. We’ll pick him up eventually, but I think the car’s not going to be worth much if we get it back. He has a habit of wrecking cars he nicks. We’ll add assault and the theft of another motor vehicle to all the other charges when we get him.”
After he had done all the paperwork, Cameron walked outside. He rang Adrian from whose car yard he’d borrowed the car and left a message. Adrian wouldn’t care. Insurance would take care of it. Then he debated which of his friends he’d ring to collect him from the police station. He could also get an Uber or a taxi. He paused. Had Tina given him her brother’s number for a reason? Only one way to find out, he thought. He rang the number.
“Yep,” was the laconic greeting.
“Hi. I’m Cameron. Your sister gave me a lift to the police station, and said you might be able to give me a lift home.”
“Oh yes. You’re the guy who got hijacked.”
So she had told him about the incident.
“Yes, I am.”
“Ok mate. I’ll see you in about ten minutes. It wasn’t a Porsche or some expensive car that got hijacked was it?”
“Not really, why?”
“Just asking. See you soon.”
Shayne was gone. Cameron wondered what the reference to the Porsche was all about. He went to sit on a bench near the police station carpark. He watched as a car pulled up. A young woman got out. She staggered slightly and the car drove away. He got up and hurried over to her.
“Are you ok?” he asked.
She looked blankly at him.
“Sorry?” she said.
“Are you alright,” he repeated.
“I think so,” she said.
“Come and sit down,” he suggested and led her to the bench.
He looked at her. She was quite pretty. In fact, she reminded him of Tina, although she looked a bit younger.
“So, this is a police station. Do you need the police for any reason?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Who dropped you off?”
“Two girls. They saw me at the side of the road and gave me a lift.”
“But they must have brought you here for a reason.”
“Yes, it’s because I couldn’t remember where I was going, and they were late for an appointment, so they said they’d drop me off here.”
“So, do you remember where you want to go?”
“Do you know your name?”
“Yes. It’s Natalie. Natalie Dawkins.”
“I’m Cameron. Have you got a phone or driver’s licence?”
She fumbled in her bag, produced a phone and handed it to him. He noticed a small bruise on her forehead.
“Natalie, do you think you might have fallen over and hit your head?” he asked gently.
She touched her head, and said, “Oh, there is a bruise there. Maybe I did. I don’t remember.”
He opened the phone folder. Her driver’s licence was in one of the pockets.
He drew it out and showed it to her.
“Do you remember your address?”
“It’s not far from here. Maybe I should get you a taxi to take to you home.”
As he spoke, a dark coloured Ford pulled into the carpark. A young man got out and strode over to him.
“Hi, I’m Shayne. If you’re Cameron, I’m your ride.”
Cameron shook his hand.
“This is Natalie. I think she might need a ride too.”
She looked at him timidly, and said, “I don’t want to impose.”
“Impose away,” he said cheerfully.
“In fact,” he added, “ You can definitely impose on me anytime you like. So, hop in. I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
Cameron gave her back her phone. They walked with Shayne back to his car. After they got in, he said, “Alright, where are we going?”
Cameron explained what he surmised had happened to Natalie. Shayne
immediately got out of the car and got in the back with her. He turned on the interior light, and said, “I’m a trainee paramedic, let’s have a quick look.”
Natalie submitted without complaint.
“Yes, you’ve definitely got quite a bump. I’d say you’ve fallen and hit your head. That’ll explain the slight amnesia. Your memory will come back soon,” he said reassuringly. ‘I hope,’ he said silently to himself.
He took her arms and gently turned them over,
“There’s a scrape on your right arm too. Hang on a minute.”
He got out, opened the boot and came back with a first aid kit.
Soon after his ministration, he said, “There you go, the best you’ll ever get from a trainee paramedic.”
Natalie smiled her thanks.
Cameron had been impressed by the younger man’s quiet efficiency.
Shayne got back into the driver’s seat.
“So, where to first?”
“I think maybe take Natalie home first?” Cameron suggested.
Cameron relayed it as he recalled it from her driver’s licence.
“It’s not far from here,” Shayne said as he drove off.
“So,” he said to Cameron, “What do you think of my sister?”
“She’s lovely,” Cameron said cautiously.
“Yep. She’s gone out with some girlfriends. Told her to pick up a guy with a Porsche.”
Cameron smiled wryly.
“That rules me out then.”
“I think I’ve got a Porsche,” Natalie said unexpectedly.
Shayne almost drove off the road.
“You have? How come?”
“If I’m remembering this right, It’s an old one. It belonged to my grandad. He gave it to me on my twenty-first birthday last year.”
“Wow, it’ll be a classic then.”
“I guess so. He said it was. I’ll show it to you when we get to my place.”
“Great. Can’t wait.”
To Cameron, he said, “You’re off the hook. You can date my sister now.”
“Thanks for your permission,” Cameron said sarcastically.
“But I suspect that’ll be up to her.”
“Yes, she might come home with a guy who’s got a Ferrari, so’s you’ll have no chance.”
“Oh, I’ve got one of those,” Cameron said nonchalantly.
Once again, Shayne almost went off the road.
“Holy cow! You’ve got a Ferrari?”
“Yes, not a new one.”
“Don’t care. I’ll get Tina to give whoever she comes home with, the flick.”
“Is that likely?”
“It’s never happened before,” he admitted, “But tonight might be the night.”
“So you don’t want to see my Porsche now?” Natalie asked teasingly.
“Of course I do. But now I’m conflicted. What to do?”
At that moment, his phone rang. He pulled to the side of the road and stopped.
“Don’t have Bluetooth,” he said.
“Hi Sis. What?”
He listened, then said, “Where are you?”
He listened some more, then said, “I’m on my way.”
He turned off the phone.
“That was Tina. A truck backed into her car. The engine’s in the back, so it’s not going anywhere.”
“Is she alright?” Cameron said anxiously.
“Yeah, she wasn’t in it when it happened. You don’t mind if I go and get her? She’s still at the restaurant. Her girlfriends have gone,” he asked Natalie.
“Oh no. I’d like to meet her. I feel like I know her quite well from your conversation.”
“This is turning out to be quite some night,” Cameron remarked.
“Why?” Natalie asked.
“You tell her,” Shayne said.
So Cameron started to relay the events of the evening, starting with his hijacking.
“You got hijacked?” Natalie interrupted.
“Yes,” and continued his tale.
When he finished, she was silent for a moment, then said, “You know, I think I remember what happened to me. It just came back to me. I booked an Uber. I went outside to wait. This car came along. I thought it was my ride because the man stopped. Stupidly, I didn’t check the app. I got in. I was going to a girlfriend’s place. I gave him the address. He said he knew where it was, and drove off. But I started to feel uneasy, and he wasn’t going in the right direction. So I asked him for his ID. He said he didn’t need to show me, so I asked him to stop. He wouldn’t, so I threatened to spray him. I told him I had a pepper sprayer in my bag. I pulled out a perfume sprayer. He stopped, I got out and he took off before I was completely out of the car. I fell and hit my head. I think I must have been groggy. I got up and I was walking along when two girls came along and gave me a lift to the police station.”
“Wow. You’re lucky. That could have been very nasty. I’m glad you recovered your memory,” Shayne said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Natalie said musingly, “I might not have met you guys if that hadn’t happened to me.”
Shayne glanced at her in the rearview mirror. She gave him a cheeky grin. There was obviously more to this girl than first met the eye. He was looking forward to getting to know her better. Of course, the Porsche was the major attraction, he told himself. He gave Cameron a sidelong glance. Tina was definitely interested in him, else why give him his number. And the man had a Ferrari! Everything was working out quite nicely, despite the traumatic way it all started. He couldn’t wait to see what would happen next in the evening’s chain of events.
Jim, intent on the monitor in front of him didn’t respond.
She slid off her desk where she had been resting her behind, and said, “I’m going to take Eam for a drive.”
Jim looked up in alarm.
“You can’t!” he protested.
“Kevin will have a fit!”
“He’s gone to a conference for three days. He won’t know. Or are you going to tell him?”
“He’ll blame me if anything goes wrong.”
“Nothing’s going to go wrong,” she assured him.
“And if anything does, I’ll take full responsibility.”
“Fat lot of good that’ll do me. He put me in charge. I’ll still get the blame, so, no, you can’t take him.”
“Oh Jimbo, please?” she wheedled.
“No,” he said stubbornly.
She walked closer to his desk and stood facing him. She slowly unzipped the top of her tunic, exposing the tops of her breasts. His eyes bulged, as, to his mortification, did his pants.
“No,” he said. “That’s all you do, just flash your breasts at me. I need more than that.”
“Ok,” she said briskly.
“When I get back, you can take me out to dinner.”
“You’re just saying that,” he muttered.
“You won’t follow through.”
“I promise, on my mother’s grave,” she told him.
“Yes,” she said firmly.
“Alright, but if he finds out and I lose my job over this…”
“You won’t. Thanks, Jim!”
She almost danced out of the room.
When she was gone, he sat staring blindly at the monitor, then something hit him like a ton of bricks. Sasha’s mother wasn’t dead. He’d talked to the woman on the phone for Pete’s sake! How could he have been so stupid? Blinded by lust. His erection was gone as if it had never been. Kevin would find out and he’d lose his job for sure.
Sasha hurried down the corridor. She opened the door of the nearest room. A man was sitting on a chair. He was speed reading a book, or so it appeared as he seemed to rapidly flip through the pages.
“Hi Eam,” Sasha said.
“Why are you reading a book? What’s wrong with the iPad?”
“Nothing. I like books. I enjoy flipping through the pages. It’s not the same with the iPad,” he said in a deep sonorous voice.
“Ok, feel like going for a drive?”
He looked at her and asked, “Have you cleared it with Kevin?”
“No, with Jim.”
“Kevin would not approve,” he told her.
“He’s away for a few days. He’ll never know,” she said airily.
“Why are we doing this?” he asked.
“I’m bored,” she said frankly.
He said nothing more, just got up, put the book on a table and followed her out of the room. They walked to a lift and took it down to an underground carpark.
“You drive,” she said, handing him the keys to a black SUV. He walked to the vehicle, got in the driver’s seat, started it up, and, after she had seated herself, drove towards the gate that led to the outside. Sasha pressed a button on a key fob and it slid open. It closed behind them as Eam drove through. A short driveway led to a t junction.
“Which way?” he asked.
“Right,” she said promptly.
“There’s a redneck town about seventy miles away.”
He obeyed and recited, “Redneck. A derogatory term generally applied to poorly educated politically reactionary white persons from the southern states.”
“Very good,” she applauded.
“Let’s go and stir them up!”
“Why?” he asked.
“I told you. I’m bored,” she replied.
He said nothing further. Sasha pulled out her phone, inserted ear pods and was soon lost in Vivaldi’s ‘Winter,’ her favourite of his ‘Four seasons’ suite.
The SUV ate up the miles. The road was generally deserted, they encountered very few vehicles. An hour or so later, just on dusk, they were on the outskirts of a small town. A billboard on the approach read, ‘Welcome to Betsyville. Obey all rules while you are in our town.’
“Friendly,’ Sasha commented.
“Wonder who Betsy is or was. Let’s see if you can find a diner.”
They drove down the Main Street. Sasha pointed.
“There. Danny’s Diner. That’ll do.”
Eam pulled up in front alongside several other vehicles. They exited the car and walked inside. There were quite a few people sitting inside, some in booths, others on stools at a bar that ran almost the length of the diner. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at them. Sasha marched to a vacant booth and sat down. Eam sat down next to her.
There was silence in the diner. Nobody said a word. A waitress behind the bar disappeared out the back. She soon re-emerged followed by a burly red-faced man wearing a stained apron. Another waitress at the other end of the diner dropped some cutlery on the floor. The sound seemed startling in the silence. The burly man walked over to them. He stared at Sasha, jerked a thumb at Eam and said, “We don’t serve his kind in here.”
“And what kind would that be?” she asked.
“Niggers,” he said bluntly.
Sasha looked at him and said reprovingly, “That’s politically incorrect as well as derogatory, insulting and racist.”
“Don’t give a shit. I’m Danny. This is my diner. I serve who I like and say what I like. I ain’t servin’ him, or you. So you can both get out.”
Eam looked up at him and asked Sasha, “Is he a redneck?”
“It certainly sounds like it,” she replied.
“What should I do?”
“You calling me a redneck?” the man raised his voice.
“You called him a nigger,” Sasha reminded him.
“Get out, both of you. Now!”
There were murmurings of agreement from the other diners.
“You all think we should leave?” Sasha asked, looking around.
“Yeah, bitch. Take your nigger and get out,” a rough-looking bearded man in a flannel shirt sitting at the bar told her.
“He called me a bitch,” Sasha said to Eam.
“Is that a derogatory term?” he asked.
“Well, it’s not as bad as nigger, but it’s not pleasant,” she replied.
“So what should I do?” he asked again.
“I think we should give them one last chance to apologise,” she said.
“Are you shitting me?” Danny erupted.
He reached out and grabbed Eam by the shoulder. He sat immobile, then looked at Sasha.
“I don’t think he’s going to apologise,” she said
“Perhaps it’s time for some exercise. But maim only, alright?”
Eam nodded. He got up, brushed off Danny’s hand, then effortlessly picked him up and threw him across the diner. He took down all the occupants of the stools who were sitting at the bar. All men, they went down like ninepins. The flannel shirt man was first on his feet and he charged at Eam, who spun him around and threw him through one of the front windows. He landed on the bonnet of a parked car, before rolling off and crashing to the ground. The other diners scattered, some ran outside and vehicles took off in all directions. One by one, the men who Eam had skittled, got up. None seemed inclined to confront him. They edged to the door and left with the other patrons.
Sasha beckoned one of the waitresses who had been standing in petrified silence, and said, “I’d like a coffee, please. Just black.”
The girl nodded, pointed at Eam who had sat down again, and asked, “And the gentleman?”
“See Eam. You’re a gentleman,” Sasha said approvingly.
“He doesn’t want anything.”
The girl hurried behind the counter, stepping over an unconscious Danny on the way. She soon came back with a cup of coffee, and trembling, put it down in front of Sasha. She looked at Eam.
“He’s very strong,” she ventured.
“Yes, he is,” Sasha smiled, and sipped her coffee.
The girl retreated behind the counter with the other waitress. The diner was empty. Everyone had left. Sasha wondered if anyone would call the police, but the nearest police post was several hours away, so she wasn’t too concerned. She finished her coffee, left some money under the cup, and got up.
“Let’s go,” she said to Eam.
Obediently, he too rose, and they left the diner. Danny was still unconscious, but Sasha didn’t think there was too much wrong with him. Eam would have been very precise. He had only been ordered to maim. As for the wreckage, as far as she was concerned, Danny deserved it.
‘Thanks for the coffee, it was very nice,” she called to the waitress, who nodded in bemusement.
They got into the car.
“We can go back now,” she said to Eam.
He nodded, started the car and they headed back out of Betsyville.
She put on her earbuds and was soon listening to another Vivaldi concerto. He was her favourite composer by far. The little trip had certainly relieved her boredom. And exposing Eam to the broader community, even if only to a small redneck town was a fruitful experience. They had all assumed him to be an African American. They would have been totally freaked out if they knew he wasn’t real. Eam stood for Experimental Android Model. He was Kevin’s brainchild. An eccentric billionaire, and a tech nerd, he had been experimenting with robots for years. While she and Jim had played no part in his creation, as the brightest graduates at Caltech, Kevin had hired them to more or less babysit Him. He had devised a number of training exercises for them to use to monitor how adaptable he was. Excited at first, Sasha was now bored and restless.
She had no idea why Kevin had made him African American. She really didn’t care. It certainly made going into places like Betsyville interesting. Now, she had to deal with Jim when she got back. Maybe she would let him take her out to dinner. He was a bit of a nerd, actually a lot of a nerd. But she could work on him. Maybe even get him into bed. You just never knew. It might not work. But it was something to do to relieve the boredom.
Midnight. All was quiet. The street was dark except for an occasional street lamp, as were most of the houses. There was no one about, except for the solitary figure of a man, walking his dog.
The car came around the corner a little too fast. Dale, head bent against the slight drizzle, with Trixie on her lead, watched in trepidation as, almost in slow motion, it spun a full 360 degrees on the wet road. The rear wheel hit the kerb with a thump. There was a crack as something snapped. The car rocked, then settled at a slight lean, the wheel at an angle.
“Stay,” Dale ordered Trixie, dropped her lead and ran to the car. The driver’s window was open. He bent down. The girl in the driver’s seat who looked at him, seemed remarkably calm as she turned off the engine.
‘Shit indeed,’ he thought.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
“Are you alright?” he asked.
She looked at him.
“Do I look alright?”
The voice was calm and measured.
“Actually, you do. But you might not be on the inside.”
“Is that your dog?” she said, pointing at Trixie, patiently sitting on the pavement in the slight drizzle.
“Yes,” he said.
“Come on girl,” he called.
Lead trailing, she bounded over.
“Isn’t she gorgeous!” she exclaimed.
‘And so are you,’ he thought silently.
Small, almost elfin, she could be Audrey Hepburn, he thought, but with boobs, he couldn’t help noticing.
She opened the door, undid her seatbelt and got out.
‘Definitely Audrey Hepburn’, he decided.
“You wouldn’t be Audrey Hepburn, reincarnated would you?” he asked.
“Of course I am,” came the swift response.
She bent over and patted Trixie, who nuzzled her, on the head.
“Alright, let’s go,” she said, picking up her lead.
Dale looked at her in bewilderment.
“Back to your place of course. I’m getting rather wet standing out here.”
“Oh, ok,” he agreed, pulled off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders, covering the rather skimpy black dress she was wearing.
“Thank you, kind Sir. Grab my bag, will you? It’s on the passenger seat.”
Bemused, he did as he was told.
“What about the car keys?”
“Leave them. The car’s not going anywhere,” she said.
“And it’s not mine anyway,” she added.
Startled, he exclaimed, “It isn’t?”
“No, boyfriend’s. Ex-boyfriend now, I suppose,” she reflected.
He handed her her bag and pointed up the street.
“So,” she said, “I’m Olivia,” as they set off, Trixie walking placidly alongside her.
“Not Audrey then.”
“She’s my alter ego. And you are?”
“As in Dale Evans, Roy Rogers’ wife?”
He looked at her in amusement.
“No, as in Dale Carnegie, ‘How to win friends and influence people.’
Mum read it. Liked the name.”
“And did it help her?”
“Maybe. She persuaded dad to let her have me. He didn’t want kids.”
“How do you know that?”
“He told me, shortly before he took off.”
“Oh, how awful.”
She touched his arm.
“Not really. He wasn’t around much anyway. We didn’t miss him,” he said almost indifferently.
“I’m the youngest. I’ve got two sisters and a brother,” she said.
“Dad always wanted a boy. Was he pissed when Hayden turned out to be gay. Is it much further? My feet hurt,” she said unexpectedly.
“Not far now,” he said.
“How do you walk in those things anyway?”
She ignored him and asked instead,” Why are you and Trixie walking in the rain?”
“It wasn’t raining when we left, and she wanted to go.”
“She told you that did she?”
“Yes,” he said firmly.
“What are you, Doctor Doolittle?”
He laughed then said, “Here we are,” opened a gate, and led her up a short path to the front porch of a modest-looking timber house. The porch light was on, and he picked up an old towel lying on a chair and wrapped it around Trixie.
“Stay,” he told her
He unlocked the door and led Olivia inside.
“Need the bathroom?” he asked her.
She nodded and handed him his jacket.
“There are towels in there if you need them,” he said, pointing at a door.
She went off. He hung his jacket on a hook on the hall stand and went back to Trixie and dried her off. He led her through the house, and out onto the back verandah where she promptly curled up in her basket. He retreated to his bedroom and went into the en-suite, stripped off his damp clothes, dropped them in a laundry basket, donned track pants, top and slippers and went into the kitchen. He turned on the kettle.
Olivia padded into the kitchen, holding her shoes, and bag, wearing a bathrobe that had been hanging behind the bathroom door. She placed her stuff on the floor.
“Crossdresser are you?” she asked.
The bathrobe was pink.
He smiled slightly.
“Ex-girlfriend. Want some coffee or tea?”
“Don’t suppose you’ve got any green tea?”
“Of course,” he said, opened a cupboard and took down a small box.
She said,“Wow,” and perched on a barstool.
“A man after my own heart.”
“Ex-girlfriend left them behind,” he explained.
“Have you had many of those?”
“A few over the years,” he said as he turned on the kettle.
“Fussy are we?”
“You’re very inquisitive,” he said mildly.
“What can I tell you,” she shrugged.
“I’m a woman. We’re inquisitive creatures.”
“Yes, that has been my experience,” he admitted.
“So, back to my question.”
He looked at her thoughtfully, then said abruptly,
“Won’t your boyfriend, sorry, ex-boyfriend, be looking for you or his car? It’s an Audi.”
“Is it?” she said indifferently.
“Anyway, not for a while. When I left him, he was drunk, passed out.”
“But when he wakes up?”
“I don’t really care. He’s a bit of a prick.”
“Had many of those?”
She looked at him in amusement.
“Dale, is that a loaded question?”
He coloured, suddenly realising what he had said.
She laughed at the look on his face. The kettle boiled saving him from further embarrassment.
He busied himself making the tea, green for her and an ordinary one for himself.
“Let’s go into the lounge,” he suggested.
Olivia curled up in an armchair, tucking her feet up under her. He handed her her tea, and sat down in another chair.
“Nice place,” Olivia commented.
“I like it,” he said.
“Been here long?”
At her raised eyebrows, he explained, ”This was my Mum’s house. I bought it from her. She’s in an over fifties village.”
“What’s with all the books?” she said, gesturing at a large shelf against one wall, laden with books.
“Haven’t you heard of the digital age?”
He smiled self deprecatingly.
“What does that mean?”
“I’m a lecturer at uni. Arts and literature.”
“Ah,” she said.
“The bookish professor. And have you had it off with many of your students? You’re good looking enough, except for the slippers, of course.”
“Why thank you,” he laughed.
“And no, more than my job’s worth.”
“You must have been tempted.”
“Of course, I’m only human.”
“So you’re not gay.”
“No, I’m not. Now, what about you? What happened between you and the boyfriend, sorry ex-boyfriend. Why’d you run out on him?”
She was silent for a moment, then sighed and said almost sadly, “I really have a knack for picking pricks.”
She continued, “We’ve been going out for about six months. He’s some financial whiz kid in the finance sector. We went out to celebrate, some big windfall. He and his mates probably screwed over another poor investor. Anyway, we got a taxi back to his place. I don’t drink but he really was quite drunk I suppose, which was why he said what he said.”
“Which was? he prompted.
She sighed again, then continued, “He said his boss, who’s a loathsome piece of shit, told him he was into threesomes. He was quite taken with me and wondered if I’d be interested. Even drunk, I can’t believe Steve would even tell me that, let alone propose it.”
Horrified, Dale said, “He asked you if you’d be interested?”
She nodded, tears pooling in her eyes.
“As if I was some piece of meat to be shared between them.”
“I’m so sorry, Olivia. Sometimes I’m rather ashamed of males as a species.”
She put down her cup, got up, came over and curled up on his lap.
“Just hold me please,” she whispered, tears running down her face.
He complied, putting his arms protectively around her. She cried silently as he held her, occasionally stroking her hair. After a while, she was silent. He still held her, wondering what to do, then realised that she had fallen asleep. He struggled up and carried her into the spare bedroom. He laid her down and pulled a blanket over her. She looked small and vulnerable.
He left her, leaving the door ajar and the hall light on, in case she woke in the night.
He walked out onto the back verandah. The rain clouds had cleared away and he caught a glimpse of stars up in the night sky. He knelt down and ruffled the hair on Trixie’s head. She opened one eye as if to say, ‘why are you bothering me?’ and went back to her doggy dreamland. It was almost two am, but he was wide awake, understandable under the circumstances, he thought. What an interesting night. Audrey Hepburn, his favourite actress of all time, was asleep under his roof. Of course, he was no George Peppard, and this wasn’t Tiffany’s but he might still, with any luck, have breakfast with Audrey, and if fates so ordained, maybe more.
Shelby Marriott strode up the street. The wind was quite cold. He was glad to be wearing his Burberry coat. It kept the cold out. His driver had dropped him several blocks from his hotel. He needed the walk and the fresh air. Eight hours cooped up in an office with back to back meetings needed some release. Especially as some had involved heated disagreements that had taken all his negotiating skills to navigate. It was getting dark, the sunset early this time of the year. He walked past a figure huddled on the steps of a closed office building. It was a man. He was dressed in shabby clothes, had no jacket, and was shivering. He stopped, turned back, pulled out his wallet, and put two fifty dollar notes in his coat pocket. He stripped off the coat and draped it around the man who looked up at him in surprise. Shelby patted him on the shoulder and said, “There’s some money in the pocket. Get yourself something to eat,” and walked on.
The Palace hotel was only a block further on. He hurried up the steps. A bus had just pulled in. Three lines of people stood at the the reception desk. The three staff members were flat out checking everyone in. Shelby walked past everyone in one of the queues and caught the receptionist’s eye. She gave him an impish grin, and turned from the woman she was serving, found a key card in a rack and handed it to him. He smiled at her and headed off.
“Hey! What the hell? I was here first!” the woman erupted. “Sorry, Ma’am, the gentleman just wanted his keycard.” “Not the point! You should have finished serving me first.” The girl looked at her quizzically, and asked, “So what do you want me to do?” “Finish booking me in, then I want to see the manager!” The woman had a distinct American accent, and was rather loud. “Are you freaking kidding me? We’ve been standing here as long as you. You’ve held us up longer than that feller did!” The man standing behind was becoming quite irate. “I don’t care!” the woman said stubbornly. “He got served ahead of me and he shouldn’t have.” “Ma’am, I think you should know, that gentleman was the owner of this hotel. If he was made aware of your behaviour, he might ask you to leave. That’s his right,” the girl said. The woman was silent. The receptionist handed her her keycard and she marched off.
The man behind her stepped up and said, “ She’s been a pain in the butt since our trip started. Can you really get her kicked out? We’d all appreciate it.” The girl smiled and shook her head, leaned forward and whispered, “He’s not really the owner, just a frequent guest.” The man burst out laughing. “The best thing I heard all trip!”
Upstairs, Shelby had a shower, then decided to go down and have something to eat. The restaurant wasn’t full. He found a corner table and ordered a glass of white wine while he perused the menu. He’d been there often and ordered the Chef’s special, which was always good. After a very satisfying meal, he went back to his room. Some emails needed to be answered, then he would have an early night. It was a little later that the phone rang. The girl at reception informed him that the police had arrived, and wished to speak to him. “Oh. They’ve finally caught up with me have they?” he remarked. Flustered, she said, “What should I tell them?” “Send them up,” he responded cheerfully. “I’m ready to turn myself in.” “Alright,” she said uncertainly.
Five minutes later, there was a discreet knock on the door. He opened it. Two people stood outside, a man and a woman. The woman introduced herself as detective sergeant Ashley Manners, the man as detective John Kopetnik. Both showed him their warrant cards. He invited them inside. Ashley Manners looked around the room appreciatively. It was a spacious suite with expensive furnishings and comfortable chairs and a sofa. They sat down. “So,” Shelby began, “ How can I help you?” The woman looked at him. He was tall, trim, with short black hair, not particularly good looking, she thought, but she felt he had something. He also had a dimple in his chin.
“We arrested a man earlier tonight. He was causing a disturbance in a restaurant just down the street. Apparently, the staff were familiar with him, they knew he was homeless, often found him scrounging food out of the dumpster. He insisted he could pay, they didn’t believe him, they tried to eject him, and he hit one of the male staff. They were about to call us, but we happened to be in the restaurant having dinner. We took him into custody, and when we searched him, he did have a hundred dollars on him, but the coat he was wearing was a very expensive Burberry, and it had a card with your name in an inside pocket.”
“I see,” Shelby said thoughtfully.
“He said you gave it to him, and he saw you go into this hotel. We just needed to verify his story.”
“Of course. Well, it’s true. I gave him the coat and the money.”
“That coat is worth over two grand!” Kopetnik exclaimed. Shelby smiled slightly.
“It’s just a coat, and he was cold.” “So you’re verifying his story?” Manners asked.
“I am,” he asserted.
She got up. “Thank you for your assistance. The restaurant may still wish to press charges.”
“Oh, will they now?”
“Yes, the owner was quite adamant. People like that scare patrons away, he said.”
“I imagine news of a restaurant prosecuting a homeless man wouldn’t do too much for their reputation either,” Shelby remarked.
“I suppose not. I might point that out to him. Thank you for your time, sir.”
“Oh, call me Shelby, please. Will you let me know whether they’re going to proceed with the charge? I might need to have a word.”
She looked at him for a moment and wondered what motivated a man to give away a two thousand dollar coat and defend a homeless man. It would have been interesting to find out.
“I will. Goodbye.” They left. As they descended in the lift, Kopetnik exclaimed, “Wow, what sort of guy does that?”
“A very interesting one,” Manners said thoughtfully.
Shelby lay back on his bed and thought about his two recent guests. Sargeant Manners was quite an attractive woman. Not pretty in the accepted sense of the word, but nicely put together, with short auburn coloured hair and curves in all the right places. She intrigued him. He hoped she would contact him about the homeless man. Of course, she could be happily partnered with no interest in him whatsoever. Hopefully, he’d find out.
There was another knock on the door. Then, it opened. The receptionist who had given him his keycard came in hesitantly.
“Are you alone?”she asked.
“Sadly, yes,” he answered. She closed the door, then walked to the bed.
He sat up and folded her into his arms.
“It’s so nice to see you, uncle Shel,” she said.
“Me too. Pumpkin” He released her. “Still enjoying the job?”
“Love it!” she exclaimed. “Thanks so much for putting in a good word for me.”
“I put in several actually. Threatened to take my custom elsewhere if they didn’t take you on.” She giggled. “I told that lady I was serving that you were the owner when she objected to me giving you your keycard.”
“Well, I’ve been here so often, I should probably have taken shares in the place. Anyway, how’s your mother?”
She pulled a face. “Same old, same old. She complains about everything! No wonder Dad left her. I’m so glad you’re not like her.”
He ruffled her hair affectionately. “Yes, I’m afraid she takes after your grandma.” “Are you going to see Grandma while you’re here, uncle Shel?”
“Probably. Apparently, she’s driving everybody in the nursing home nuts.”
“I can imagine. What about Mum?”
“Honestly? I don’t know if I want to see her. Last time, I got a long lecture about the things I’ve done wrong over my life.”
“I don’t blame you. Best thing I ever did was to move out and share with Bethany. But I know she’s a bit lonely.”
“I’ll think about it, but no promises. So, are you off duty yet?” “No, just popped out for a moment to see my favourite uncle. I’d better get going.” She reached out and hugged him again, then got up and walked to the door.
She blew him a kiss, then left the room. He lay back with a smile. What a lovely girl she’d turned into from the pigtailed little tot he used to take for walks, to the park, and the zoo, and so many other places. How fast they grow up, he thought to himself. But as for her mother, that was another story altogether. He really didn’t want to see her if he could help it, but he probably would. Most of his friends thought he was far too much of a softie, considering he was a highly regarded senior executive for a very prestigious corporation. Wouldn’t they be appalled if they knew what he’d done with his Burberry coat. But it had been a gift from a grateful client. He would never have bought one himself. Speaking of which, he wondered what had happened to the homeless man. Just as the thought occurred, his phone rang. He didn’t recognise the number.
“Hello, Shelby Marriott.”
“Mr Marriott, this is sergeant Manners.”
“Hello, sergeant, nice to hear from you. I thought I told you to call me Shelby, or Shel for short.”
There was silence for a moment, then, “Alright Shelby, I just wanted to tell you I spoke to the restaurant owner and he’s decided not to proceed with charges against Mr Watts.”
“Good to hear. Very sensible. The homeless man’s name’s not Charlie, is it?”
“As a matter of fact, it’s Charles. Why?” She sounded mystified.
Shelby laughed. “Oh sergeant, or can I call you Ashley? Haven’t you heard of Charlie Watts?”
“No, not really.” “Oh dear, there’s something sadly lacking in your musical education, Ashley. Charlie Watts has been the drummer for the Rolling Stones since 1963.”
“Oh. I’m an Eagles and Fleetwood Mac fan myself.” “Not bad. You’ve got some good musical tastes. Now, was there anything else?”
“No. I just wanted to let you know what happened.”
“Why on earth did you give him that expensive coat?” she blurted.
He laughed. “Oh Ashley, it’s just a coat, but if you want to know more, you’ll have to have dinner with me, unless there’s a Mr Manners who might object.”
She didn’t answer for a moment, then she said cautiously, “No, there’s no Mr Manners, or anyone else for that matter.”
“Great!” he said enthusiastically. “Do you want to have dinner here? I can highly recommend the food.”
“Alright,” she agreed. “I’m supposed to finish at five tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow’s fine. About 6.30?or so?”
“Yes.” “Good. Look forward to seeing you.”
“Ok. Goodbye Shelby.”
She was gone. He lay back on the bed again. He had an idiotic smile on his face. He reviewed his day in his head, It had been very interesting. Successfully resolved meetings, helping a homeless man, he’d given away his coat, met his adorable niece, and finally, secured a date with an attractive woman. All in all, a very rewarding day.
“Life’s like a box of chocolates? More like a pile of rubbish,”
Peta looked up from her desk and asked, ”What on earth are you talking about?”
“That Forrest Gump movie quote. It’s a pile of rubbish.”
Peta looked at him with amusement.
“It’s just a movie you know. And why are you referencing it anyway?”
“My mother quoted it at me last night at dinner. ‘You never know what you’re gonna get’ he parodied in a high pitched squeaky voice.
“Very good. You sound just like her.”
“Yeah? Well, I got a pile of rubbish this morning. Derek rejected that programme I worked on all weekend in favour of that idiotic braindead moron Sean’s piece of rubbish!”
“You’re starting to repeat yourself,” she told him.
“But what did you expect. Sean’s his nephew. And his brother’s got a stake in the company, don’t forget.”
“A company that’s going down the toilet if he adopts Sean’s programme..”
“No, it’s not. Derek’s smart enough to modify it so it doesn’t do too much damage. He’ll probably use bits of yours too.”
“Yeah and I’ll get no credit for it,” Ren huffed.
“We are in a mood today, aren’t we?” Peta said.
“Tell auntie Peta what’s really bothering you.”
He looked at her askance.
“You’re the same age as me!”
“But so much wiser and more mature,” she observed.
“Hell,” he muttered.
‘He was really getting very tiresome,’ she thought.
But normally upbeat and quite fun to be around, she knew something was bothering him. She waited and said nothing further.
He sighed, then said abruptly, “I’m going off.”
“You can’t. You just got here,” she protested.
“What will I tell Derek?”
“Tell him I got a severe attack of diarrhoea. My mother’s cooking. It could be true, she’s a terrible cook,” he said, picking up his laptop bag, slinging it over his shoulder and walking out the door.
She watched him go. Derek was going to be pissed, but it wasn’t her problem. Still, she worried about Ren, it was quite unlike him.
Ren strode out of the building. He had no idea where he was going. He just knew he had to get out. They were located on the outskirts of the bustling city and there was a park nearby. He headed for it, passing a coffee vendor on the way. He bought a cappuccino, found a bench and slumped down on it. He stared moodily at his feet while he sipped his coffee. He had no idea why he felt so unsettled and frustrated this particular morning. It was a mild day. There were quite a few people about in the park. Didn’t any of them work? he wondered. He closed his eyes and took another sip of his coffee and tried to marshall his thoughts into some coherence.
He’d worked at the company for two years now. At first, he’d quite enjoyed it. He liked the relaxed atmosphere, and Derek wasn’t a bad bloke. He liked Peta too, a lot, but she had a boyfriend. He still enjoyed the work, but Sean’s arrival had changed the dynamic. It hadn’t bothered him at first, but increasingly, he found himself more and more frustrated. No matter how good he was, Sean would always be the favoured one, only because he was the boss’s nephew. Maybe that was it. All the suppressed frustration had boiled over into this feeling that he felt barely able to contain. So, what was he going to do about it?
He opened his eyes. He was startled to see a tall dark-haired girl sitting on the other end of the bench. She had a laptop on her lap and was engrossed. Her lips were pursed, a frown marred her forehead. Quite attractive, he thought, if you liked them tall and skinny.
Suddenly, she said, “Damn!”
He was amused. Just like him that morning. Everything had been rubbish.
Impulsively, he asked, “Problem?”
She looked around at him and said in a frustrated tone, “It’s frozen,”
“Have you tried rebooting it?” he asked.
“I’m too scared to in case I lose everything,” she said.
“Would you like me to try?”
“Do you know anything about computers?”
“I work for a software company, so, a little bit,” he said.
“Well, if you’re sure, I really can’t afford to lose all this work. I spent all weekend on it.”
“And you haven’t backed it up?”
She shook her head.
He moved to sit next to her. She was wearing a perfume that he quite liked.
She handed the laptop to him.
He looked at it critically while she watched fearfully. It only took him a few minutes.
He handed the laptop back to her.
“There you go,” he said.
“I’ve backed it up as well so you can’t lose it.”
“Thank you so much,” she said.
“You’re a lifesaver,”
She looked at the screen, then closed the lid.
“I really appreciate what you did. It’s so lucky I ran into someone who knew what they were doing.”
He smiled self-deprecatingly.
Impulsively, she said, “Would you allow me to take you to lunch? As a thank you?”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Ren demurred.
“I’d like to. Please.”
‘You idiot. How often do you get an offer like that?’ a voice in his head asked him.
“Alright. Thank you. I’m Ren,” he said.
“Jasmine. I’ll meet you at the Romano at twelve. You know it?”
He nodded speechlessly. It was the most expensive restaurant in the city.
“Don’t worry,” she laughed.
“On the company expense account.”
She added thoughtfully, “It might be a business lunch. My computer guy just quit. If you’re interested, maybe I can steal you away from where you’re working now.”
Ren stared at her, then nodded.
“Sure, we can talk about it,” he managed.
Jasmine got up.
“See you at twelve,” she said, and strode away.
Ren watched her walk out of sight. She had a very trim behind.
He picked up his coffee and sipped it. It was cold. He put it down again, thoughts swirling around in his head. Then he thought about his mother. He smiled ruefully to himself. He owed her an apology, even if only in his head. He had a few hours to kill before his lunch appointment. Would it be a date or business? He wouldn’t mind if it was both. He wouldn’t go back to work. He’d text Derek, let him know his diarrhoea had laid him low, then go off to visit the art gallery. He hadn’t been there for years.
On the way home later, he’d drop a box of chocolates off at his mother’s. He figured she deserved it.
Jenny bounced into the room, slung her schoolbag onto the couch, and announced, “School’s having a fete on the thirtieth.”
Simon, busy on his phone, didn’t bother to respond. Her mother Sara looked up from the stove where she was stirring bolognese sauce, sighed and said, “That’s next week, I suppose I have to make something.”
“Not if you don’t want to, Mum. I can ask Chantelle.”
Sara bristled. She couldn’t help it. Chantelle was their father’s new girlfriend. She was extremely obliging, irritatingly so, in Sara’s opinion. Trying to win the kids over. Sara, against her will, quite liked her. The divorce had been reasonably amicable. Chantelle was a recent arrival on the scene, and shouldn’t bear the brunt of her sometimes unreasonable hostility, but still. She bit her tongue, and said, “I don’t mind making something, but if you’d rather ask her?”
“Oh Mum, you’re so transparent! Of course, I’d like you to make something. Your cupcakes are fantastic. You can make them.”
Chastened and chuffed at the same time, Sara marvelled at her daughter’s perceptiveness. She was fifteen. She should be totally self-absorbed and completely oblivious to what was going on around her. Like her twin brother.
Simon uncurled himself from his chair.
“Yeah Mum, your cupcakes are the best. Wonder what would happen if you laced them with marijuana. Be interesting, wouldn’t it? I could make it a study project.”
Taken aback, she looked at him for a moment, then said, “Could you get me some?”
She said patiently, “Could you get me some marijuana?”
He looked at her in disbelief.
“Are you serious? Where would I get marijuana?”
She shrugged and said, “It was your idea.”
“Yes, Simon,” Jenny joined in.
“It was your idea. I wouldn’t mind trying some.”
He looked at them both in disgust, shook his head and walked out of the room, leaving them laughing in his wake.
It was the following morning. The kids had gone to school. Jenny, who ran a part-time accounting business from home, decided to take the day off and do some shopping. The divorce from John had left her financially secure, partly she knew because of his guilt. He had been sprung with his attractive nubile young assistant. It was so cliched, really.
‘Middle-aged madness’, he admitted. But things hadn’t been good between them for a long time anyway. And she didn’t ever tell him about her own moment of weakness, well several hours really, with one of her clients, who, fortunately, now lived overseas.
She drove to the nearby shopping mall. New shoes. That’s what she needed, well, wanted. Same thing. As she pulled into a parking space in the underground car park, she was forced to brake hard as a car rapidly reversed out of the adjacent space and took off with a squeal of smoking tyres. She shook her head. He or she, it was hard to tell with the tinted windows, was certainly in a hurry. She parked and got out of the car. On the ground where the other car had been, she saw a small plastic bag. She crouched down and picked it up. It was green and looked like grass clippings. With a start, she realised it must be marijuana.
She straightened and looked into the eyes of a man who had walked up quietly and was now regarding her thoughtfully.
“Oh,” she said, “You startled me.”
“Sorry,” he said, without sounding the least bit apologetic. He was tall, athletic, with black hair and piercing blue eyes, probably about her age, which meant the wrong side of forty.
“What’s that?” pointing to the plastic bag.
“I don’t know,” she answered.
“I just found it on the ground. It must have dropped out of that car that just left.”
He said sharply,” Can you describe it? Did you see the driver?”
“Sorry, but who are you?”
He reached into his pocket and flashed a warrant card.
“Detective Ryan Harris. Now the car and the driver. Did you see him?”
Confused, she shook her head.
“No, it had tinted windows, but was a black BMW.”
He also shook his head, but in frustration, then took a plastic bag out of his pocket, held it open and said.”Would you mind dropping that in there please?”
She obliged. He sealed it and muttered to himself,’ Might get some prints off that.’
To her, he said,”We think that guy’s a dealer. We’ve been following him, but we lost him. We need to get your prints so we can run whatever else is on the bag. Would you mind coming to the station?”
“Unless you have important shopping to do.”
“Yes, very. I need to buy shoes.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Need to, or want to?”
She said stubbornly,”Need to.”
He smiled unexpectedly. It was a very nice smile. Then said, “I suppose you can do it later. So can I expect you sometime in the next twenty-four hours?”
” Twenty four hours?” she echoed.
“Yes,” he said.
“I’ve been married. I know how long shoe buying takes.”
“I will be over in a few hours,” she said firmly.
“So, who will I be expecting?”
“Sara. Sara Daniher.”
He reached out and shook her hand. It was a nice firm handshake.
“You know where the local police station is?”
“Ok. See you then,” and turned and walked away. He had a very nice walk.
‘Get a grip,’ she told herself. Nice smile, firm handshake, nice walk. It had been far too long, she was starting to lose it. Still, she couldn’t help her mind from wandering. Time to go and buy those shoes.
It was just two hours later. Sara parked in the police station car park and went up the steps and to the reception desk.
“Ryan Harris please,” she said to the absurdly young-looking policewoman behind the desk. She looked Jenny’s age. She went off, and Sara heard, “Ryan, one of your girlfriends is here.”
His reply was indistinct, then he came out. His eyes widened in surprise, then said, “So you didn’t buy any shoes then?”
“Of course I did. Two pairs.”
“In only two hours?”
“I knew what I wanted, so I went and got them.”
The young policewoman came out and looked at them with great interest.
Ryan took her elbow, opened the flap of the desk.
“Come out to the back. We’ll get those fingerprints done.”
The policewoman said,”You need to fingerprint them now to keep track of them?”
“Just ignore her. Young people have no respect for their elders and betters.”
“I’ll give you elder, but I don’t know about the better.” she called out to their retreating backs.
Sara suppressed a smile. Definitely like Jenny. He seated her at his desk, which was in a large room containing a number of desks, some unoccupied, others with staff busily working at laptops, iPads or on phones. After a few curious glances, they were ignored. After he had taken her fingerprints, and given her wipes to clean her fingers, she asked, “Did you get anything from the bag?”
“This isn’t CSI, things don’t get done in an hour including ads. It’ll be done when they get around to it. Could be days, could be weeks.”
“Sorry, got work to do. Thanks for coming in so promptly. I’ll see you out.”
Oddly disappointed, she followed him out of the room. He raised the flap of the desk, then followed her outside, watched with avid interest by the young policewoman.
“I’ll walk you to your car.”
They walked in silence. She got in the car, wound down the window, and said,” I don’t suppose it’s any good asking you to let me know how you get on with your drug dealer?”
He leaned down.
“Why would you be interested?”
‘I’m not, I’m interested in you’, she thought silently.
Aloud she said, “I have to make some cupcakes for a school fete. My son suggested I try lacing them with marijuana, you know, so he can study how it affects people? I may need a contact.”
He looked at her for a long moment, shook his head slightly, then said, “I have an idea that sort of thing is illegal. It looks like I might have to keep a close eye on you, Sara Daniher. You don’t have an inconvenient husband around do you?”
Mutely, she shook her head.
“Good,” he said briskly.
He reached in and gently touched her cheek.
“I’ll be in touch.”
He strode away. She watched him walk up the steps and disappear into the building. Yes, he definitely had a nice walk. She drove away slowly. She realised he hadn’t asked for her phone number, but he was a detective, he’d track her down if he really wanted to. She fervently hoped he did.
Back home, she made herself a salad for lunch, then settled down to finish work she had started for a client. But her mind kept wandering, and she had to force herself to concentrate. It had been a long time since anyone had sparked her interest, and she had to admit, she was definitely attracted to Ryan. A man she had known all of an hour if that.
The doorbell went. It was too early to be one of the kids who had forgotten their key, which happened frequently. She opened the door. It was Celie, whom she had met when she started doing yoga classes. She was Mauritian, a tiny woman, barely five feet, around sixty, but who looked forty, something Sara was extremely envious of. The two women had formed an instant bond and met regularly. They hugged briefly, then Sara led her to the kitchen and immediately put the kettle on for Celie’s jasmine tea, which was the only tea she drank.
Soon, she was telling her all about Ryan.
“You are attracted to this man after only knowing him for less than an hour?” she asked in her lilting, almost singsong voice.
“Well, I hope you know what you are doing,” she said, concern in her voice.
Celie was married to Roger, who, at six foot, towered over her and absolutely adored her. He called her his little Mauritian princess. Sara found him pompous and overbearing but tolerated him because he was so obviously besotted with Celie. She could twist him around her little finger. She didn’t love him, she confided once when she had more than one glass of wine, but she had escaped from an abusive relationship and was content with her life.
The slamming of the front door heralded the arrival of one of the twins. Jenny charged into the room.
“Auntie Celie!” she cried and rushed to hug her. She had insisted on calling her ‘auntie’, Sara having no siblings, and her father, only brothers. Soon, they were chatting away, and Sara left them to it and tried to finalise her client’s account. But her mind kept wandering. She made a determined effort, and finally managed to finish it. By this time, Simon had arrived, and the discussion turned to dinner. Roger was at a conference so wouldn’t be home till late, so Celie was pressured into staying, and what’s more, volunteered to cook, much to everyone’s delight. Simon was dispatched to the local supermarket to buy the ingredients required.
Much later, after a delicious cari poule(chicken curry) meal, the kids had gone, not to bed, it was pretty much a waste of time trying to get them to do that, but to their rooms.
Celie said,”Roger wants to go on a cruise.”
“Really? Where to?”
“Probably a river cruise, you know, from Amsterdam to Budapest. Something like that.”
“How exciting for you.”
Celia pulled a face.
“I do not like boats.”
“You’ll love it. Go, it’ll be a great experience.”
Celie got to her feet.
“I will think about it. I must go.”
Sara rose and hugged her friend.
“Thanks for dinner tonight. The kids thought it was wonderful.”
After Celie had left, Sara sat down, turned on the television and sat watching without registering what was on. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have someone take her on a cruise. Her mind turned to Ryan. She wondered if he liked cruising. Probably not. He looked the kind who would want to be out sailing his own yacht or something. Why was she even thinking about him? She might never hear from him again. She knew absolutely nothing about him. He might have a girlfriend or even a string of them. What had that ridiculously young-looking policewoman said? She tried to steer her thoughts in a different direction.
The problem was that she suddenly realised she was lonely. There had been no one since John left. It hadn’t bothered her till now. And she didn’t think she could live like Celie, with someone she didn’t love, but then her circumstances were different. This was getting her nowhere, so she switched off the unwatched tv and went to bed. And tossed and turned all night. It was ridiculous. Ryan kept marching through her mind. Eventually, she fell into a fitful sleep.
The days passed. To her increasing angst and frustration, she did not hear from Ryan. It troubled her how profoundly it affected her. She felt cranky and out of sorts. The kids noticed and warily steered clear of her. Until Jenny demanded to know what was wrong with her. Caught by surprise, she knew she couldn’t tell her the truth, that she was mooning over a man she had known for less than an hour, like a lovesick teenager. But Jenny was a teenager, maybe she would’ve understood. Or maybe not. She prevaricated and said she was stressed about a difficult client. But it did serve as a wake-up call. It wasn’t to be. She made a determined effort to put Ryan out of her mind.
The day of the fete dawned. She had made the requested cupcakes, two dozen in all. Jenny had taken them the day before. It being a Saturday, she decided to go along. Jenny was helping out at one of the stalls. Simon declared he wouldn’t be seen dead at a fete and went to a mate’s house to play video games. The day was cloudy and overcast, and rain threatened. Sara arrived later in the morning and noticed the weather had not deterred the throngs of people who turned up. She didn’t see Jenny anywhere but noticed with pleasure that only one of her cupcakes was left when she wandered past the cake stall. She threaded her way through the crowds, occasionally exchanging greetings and chatting with parents whom she knew. She decided she needed coffee and headed for a van she had seen parked nearby.
An arm slid through hers. It was Jenny.
“Hi Darling, Didn’t see you. Where’s your stall?”
She waved her hand in the air.
“That way somewhere, but I’ve done my bit. I’m off to hang out with Lee. Oh, your cupcakes were a hit. They’re all gone. I snagged the last one. See ya!”
With that, she was gone. She smiled to herself and continued on to the coffee van. And stopped in her tracks. Ahead, in the queue waiting to order, was Ryan. Next to him, holding his arm, was a stunningly attractive blonde woman. Holding his hand, bouncing up and down, was a little blonde girl. Her heart sank into her shoes. No wonder he hadn’t contacted her. He was married! She turned away and walked blindly in the opposite direction. She narrowly avoided bumping into people but didn’t stop until, near the school office, she sank down on a bench near the front of the building. She found she was shaking. What an idiot. And how could she possibly have thought he would be interested in a middle-aged woman like her. Thoughts swirled through her head. Hadn’t he said he’d been married? Past tense. Maybe it was his ex-wife. It didn’t seem like it. And the flippant remarks by the young policewoman? She felt confused. Be that as it may, he hadn’t contacted her anyway. Again she berated herself for being such an idiot. She buttoned her jacket. It was getting cold. The threatened rain was probably on its way. But she found she couldn’t move.
People started walking past on their way to the car park. She was staring at the ground and was caught unaware when a voice said,
“Sara? Sara Daniher?”
She looked up and into Ryan’s eyes. He stood in front of her with his blonde companion and the little girl, both looking at her curiously.
“You go, guys. I’ll catch up.”
“Who’s the lady, uncle Ryan?” the little girl piped up.
“Come along Maddy. See you at the car Ryan.”
The woman dragged the protesting little girl away. Through the roaring in her ears, all Sara registered was, ‘Uncle. Uncle Ryan.’
She tried to pull herself together. He sat down next to her.
“Hello,” she managed through chattering teeth.
“Why are you sitting here in the cold?” he asked.
“Waiting for my daughter,”she lied.
He looked at her sceptically, then said,”Sorry I haven’t been in touch. We’ve been planning a sting operation and I had to go undercover for a while. Couldn’t contact anyone. I only got back last night and my sister dragged me to this fete this morning.”
She looked at him.
“And how it did go?”
“It was a bust. A complete fizzer. They were onto us. They got away. But we got their stash. About five acres of marijuana. I thought about getting you some for your cupcakes, but I didn’t think I’d get away with it. By the way, if those were your cupcakes at the cake stall, Maddie and I thought they were delicious. Stella didn’t have any, watching her figure.”
“She’s very beautiful,” Sara ventured.
“Only on the outside. She’s got a vile temper. Takes after our mother.”
He got to his feet.
“Gotta take the witch home, then I’ve done my duty. So, Sara Daniher, doing anything tonight?”
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out, so she mutely shook her head.
“Good, want to have dinner? I’ll pick you up at about seven.”
She found her voice.
“Do you know where I live?”
“I’m a detective. I detect. So, yes, I know where you live. See you tonight.”
He reached out and gently touched her cold cheek, then swiftly walked away. She watched him. He still had a nice walk. She sat for a while, no longer feeling the cold. Then she got to her feet and slowly walked to the car park, her thoughts racing ahead. What was she going to wear, something to go with her new shoes perhaps.
What would the kids say when they met him? After all, she hadn’t dated in all the years she’d been divorced. It was new but exciting. She quickened her pace. What a bizarre coincidence running into him at the fete. Perhaps it was meant to be. She laughed to herself. That’s what it was, a twist of fete.
Patrick wanted a banana. Bananas were his favourite fruit, by far. He had a banana a day rather than the more traditional apple. He had a bowl full of them sitting on the kitchen bench, but he had forgotten to put any in the car, when he had decided, quite on the spur of the moment, to drive down to the beach and go for a walk. He had been very restless the night before, so, now, as the sun was rising and the first rays were lighting the skies, here he was, striding along, skirting the waves as they washed up in a continuous line. With his mind preoccupied with other things, inevitably, he got caught unawares, and now his socks and runners were soaked. He stopped and looked out at the horizon. There was a tiny ship in the distance. Of course, it wasn’t tiny. It just seemed that way. And the waves appeared to be receding. They hadn’t come near where he was standing, which was where he got his runners wet. The tide was probably on its way out. He retreated, sat on the sand and pulled off his wet footwear. Should he continue his walk or not? He quite liked the feel of the sand beneath his feet. Why then had he donned his runners in the first place? He didn’t know. He stuffed his wet socks in the runners and left them on the sand. If they were gone when he got back, so be it. There weren’t that many people about as yet.
He walked down to the water’s edge and in the direction of the high rise buildings which loomed in the distance. His mind returned to what had preoccupied it earlier. Or rather, whom. It was Ingrid. When he had rung her yesterday, she had informed him she wouldn’t be seeing him this weekend as she was going to her aunt. Aunt? What aunt? It was the first he had heard of her. In answer to his query, she had tartly informed him that she hadn’t realised that he needed to know every detail of her life. He immediately apologised, as he always did. Ingrid was an extremely attractive woman. Blonde, blue-eyed, statuesque, pretty much a product of her Scandinavian forebears. He was, well, to put it kindly, average. Average height, average build, average features. At least, that was how he saw himself. He considered himself lucky that she agreed to go out with him.
It had been six months so far. He had planned to do something special for their six month anniversary, but it was not meant to be. He really craved a banana. Maybe it was just comfort food, he really didn’t know. But suddenly, he needed to go home.
He trudged back to where he had left his runners. He was mildly surprised to find they were still there. They were very expensive, he had bought them online from L A. But who would know that anyway? Barefoot, he drove back home.
Once inside, he made a beeline for the banana bowl. He sat at the dining table and slowly savoured each bite. It was immensely satisfying. He wondered if there was something wrong with him. His fondness for this fruit seemed mildly disturbing to him at times.
The rest of the day passed quietly. He read, played a few video games, and watched a movie. He didn’t have many friends. Since Ingrid, he had seen even less of them than before. He just wanted to spend time with her. He was mindful of that old Dr Hook song, ‘When you’re in love with a beautiful woman.’ He suspected that played a part in it too.
He hadn’t heard from Ingrid, but then, he hadn’t expected to, although it would have been nice. He decided, alone or not, he would cook himself a nice meal, something that would occupy his mind. Ingrid, surprisingly, at least to him, liked Indian food. So he decided to make a chicken curry. She wouldn’t be there to enjoy it, but he liked it too and he had all the ingredients. Maybe he was only tormenting himself, he thought, but he had to cook something. Soon he was immersed in the preparation, and aromatic flavours permeated the house. It was almost done, and he was about to set the table when the doorbell rang. Puzzled, he opened the door and stood aghast. It was Ingrid, and she was dressed in a banana costume, carrying a small banana-shaped suitcase. He goggled at her, then looked into her mischievous blue eyes. She smiled and said,” Did you really think I’d forget our six month anniversary?”
Overwhelmed, he pulled her into his arms or as much of her as he could reach considering the odd shape of her costume. Eventually, he let her go and said, “How on earth?”
She said. “I just told the taxi driver I was going to a costume party.”
He led her inside and shut the door.
“What is that divine smell?”
“I made a chicken curry.”
“My favourite. Even when you thought I wasn’t going to be here?”
He just nodded. She pulled him to the couch and then sat on his lap. Still overcome, he simply held her. Then she pulled back, and said, “Happy anniversary, Darling. Seeing bananas are your favourite fruit, I thought I could be your second banana. What do you think?”
He shook his head.
“Never second, ever.”
She laughed, then got up and said, “How about you take this banana into the bedroom and peel it.”
Jeremy brought the car to a screeching halt, leapt out and ran to open the gate. If he managed to open it and cut across the field, he might get to the train station in time to board the train. It only ran once a day, and he was late. Something nudged him in the back. It was the car. He’d forgotten the handbrake didn’t work all that well and it had rolled into him. Fortunately, it was only a slight decline. He cast about, found a tree branch and stuck it under the front wheel. He pushed the gate wide, it rebounded on a rock, swung back and smacked him in the head. It was a high metal gate with horizontal bars. He went down with a thump and saw stars. He struggled to his feet, pushed the gate open, more gently this time, ran to the car, depressed the clutch pedal, jammed it into gear and took off. The engine roared, the car rocked but that was all. Damn! He’d forgotten the branch under the front wheel.
He yanked at the handbrake, praying it would hold, leapt out, and pulled at the branch. It wouldn’t budge. He swore to himself, got back into the car, put it into reverse and backed the car up a few metres. He jumped out, pulled out the branch and flung it aside, in time to see the gate swing gently back. He stopped, squeezed his eyes shut in frustration, then pushed it back, and was back in the car and through into the field. He needed to shut the gate again. This he did in record time, the car kept rolling, and he jumped back behind the wheel and sent it bouncing across the field in the direction of the other gate which opened onto the road next to the railway line. He reached it without mishap, carefully opened the gate and was through. He closed it and was soon racing along the gravel road, leaving dust and gravel in his wake.
He reached the station, locked the car and ran up onto the platform. There was no one around. This was not good. Something was wrong. Did he have the wrong day or the wrong time? He had checked and double-checked. He looked at his watch. Despite the hold-ups, as far as he could tell, he’d made it with time to spare. So where was everyone? Then it struck him. Daylight saving time. He hadn’t adjusted his watch for daylight saving which had started just this morning. The train had come and gone an hour ago. No wonder there was no one around.
He sat down disconsolately on a bench on the platform. Now, what was he going to do? He could have driven, but a landslide had cut off the only road south. They were scheduled to clear it but only in the next few days. He only wanted to get to the next town, where Lucinda said she would meet him. Of course, to compound matters, there was no phone signal, he was in a dead zone. But he only had himself to blame. He had chosen to come out here, away from the stresses of work, the city, and his fracturing relationship with Lucinda. He wanted no contact with the outside world for a bit, no phones, emails, nothing, just to get himself together. He had always liked hiking, and these were some of the best hiking trails in the state. Lucinda hated anything outdoorsy.
So why on earth had he fallen for someone so utterly unsuitable? Physical attraction probably, he had to admit. She was into social media and technology, always texting, on Facebook, or Twitter. She even FaceTimed him from another room when they were in the same house together! She refused to go walking, she preferred the gym. He didn’t get it. So he suggested this little break. He had decided on the train, even before the landslide and given her a time to meet. It didn’t look like it was going to happen.
He heard the sound of music. He wondered where it was coming from. He didn’t think there was anyone around. He got up and walked along the platform to the other end of the station, and stopped in surprise. A girl was sitting on a bench, red cowboy booted feet on her suitcase, and her phone on the seat beside her, blaring out, ‘Roll over Beethoven,’ the original Chuck Berry version. He knew it well. It was a favourite of his father. He played it all the time when Jeremy was growing up.
She looked up at him with small pale blue eyes in a rather plain freckled face, and said, “I don’t suppose you’ve come to get me?”
Her voice was soft and melodic, startling coming from such plain features.
He said, “Sorry, no. Who are you waiting for?”
“My grandma. She was supposed to meet the train. I’ve been waiting almost an hour.”
She picked up the still blaring phone, and muted it.
“I can’t ring her. No reception.”
“No,” he agreed.
“What are you doing here?”
He was captivated by her voice.
“Missed the train.”
“You’ve got a long wait for the next one.”
“I know. Forgot about daylight saving. I was supposed to meet my girlfriend at the next stop. I can’t contact her either, so she’ll be wondering where I am.”
Actually, he knew she wouldn’t. Impatient at the best of times, she would almost be home, fuming that he had made her drive all that way for nothing. The relationship, he suspected, was unlikely to survive. Now, he said, “Where does your grandma live?”
She pointed vaguely, “She owns the caravan park.”
“Oh, that’s where I’m staying. I can give you a lift.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sure that I’m at the caravan park, or sure I can give you a lift? Because it’s ‘yes’ to both.”
It was the only one for miles around, and, he just realised, there was a payphone. It wouldn’t do any good, but he would ring Lucinda anyway.
“That’s very kind of you.”
She got to her feet. She was almost as tall as he was and wearing an over large flannel shirt and jeans. It was hard to tell what she looked like under that, he mused, then stopped himself. Lucinda would have accused him of being typically male.
She pulled out the handle of her case, and followed him along the platform as he walked to his car.
“I’m Tammy,” she introduced herself.
They reached the car, and he placed her case on the back seat.
Soon, they were on their way. This time, he took the more conventional route, through the little town.
He waited for her to speak, loving the sound of that lilting voice, but she said nothing. Questions. He needed to ask questions that required long answers.
“Why do you think your grandma didn’t come and get you?”
“She probably forgot, or she’s too busy. She knew I’d find my way. She’s done this to me before.”
“And how long are you staying?” “
“Not sure. I just quit my job. My boss was always harassing me. I got sick of it.”
With alarm, he said, “There are laws about that sort of thing. You could have reported him!”
“Her. My boss was a her. No, I was tired of the job anyway, so I left. I can help grandma for a bit until I decide what to do. What about you? What are you going to do about your girlfriend?”
“I thought I’d ring from the payphone and explain. Not that it’s going to do me any good. She’s not very tolerant at the best of times.”
“Payphone doesn’t work, or it didn’t last time I was here, but grandma will let you use the park phone anyway. How long are you staying?” “
“So why isn’t your girlfriend with you?”
He said candidly, “She hates the outdoors, wouldn’t be seen dead in a caravan park. And I love hiking, so no Lucinda.”
“Sounds like a match made in heaven.”
He said with a wry smile, “Yes, it does, doesn’t it? Oh, that Chuck Berry song you were playing earlier, was my Dad’s favourite.”
“My dad’s too. What a coincidence, but I love the old fifties songs. I get them all from Spotify on my phone. Here we are.”
Jerry swung into the entrance of the caravan park and stopped outside the reception area. Tammy opened the door, jumped out, opened the back door and pulled out her case.
“Thanks for the lift. Come inside and call your girlfriend. May as well get it over with.”
He followed her inside. She indicated the phone, then said, “I’ll see where grandma’s got to.”
She disappeared into the back of the reception area.
Jerry picked up the phone and hesitantly rang Lucinda. She picked up almost immediately. He started to explain but didn’t get very far. He listened for a while, then said, “okay.”
Tammy had returned and looked at him quizzically.
.”Well, at least she didn’t do it by text,” he said.
“So no more Lucinda?”
“No,” he said.
“I can’t find grandma, but the buggy’s gone so I guess she’s around somewhere. Thanks again for the lift. If you need to talk, I’ll be around.”
“Thanks. I’m in caravan 17.”
“What, no roughing it in a tent? What would Lucinda say?”
He merely smiled and left.
It was three days later, just after lunch. Jerry lay with Tammy nestled in his arms.
He couldn’t believe how quickly it had happened.
That first day, he had gone back to his caravan, changed into hiking gear and taken a long ten-kilometre hike. He wanted to clear his thoughts, the short conversation with Lucinda still fresh in his mind. She had not even driven to the station to meet him. It was pretty pointless, she informed him. She had already decided it was over when he left for his hiking holiday. She had just not bothered to tell him. He found he was quite relieved. It was finally over. He had reached the turning point of his hike, sat and rested for a few moments, drinking from his water bottle, then started on the return journey. He was halfway back when he rounded a bend and saw a figure perched on a rock. It was Tammy. She was wearing brief shorts exposing tanned slender legs, hiking boots, and a tank top, he noted appreciatively.
She jumped up.
“Mind if I join you?”
Wordlessly, he shook his head and they trekked in companionable silence back to the caravan park.
‘Did you find your grandma?”
“Yes, I sprung her having sex with a worker in one of the empty caravans.”
“She’s a randy old thing. They didn’t see me. I left them to it.”
At his caravan, she said,”I’ll come by with a bottle tonight if you like. We can celebrate or commiserate the end of your relationship.”
He just nodded, unable to speak. She gave a cheerful wave and went off. He went and had a cold shower. It didn’t help. Thoughts of Tammy’s randy grandmother kept intruding. Did she take after her grandmother? And that luscious body revealed in that brief hiking outfit, he couldn’t get the sight out of his head.
He waited in nervous anticipation. She hadn’t mentioned food, but he had bought some frozen meals, which he could microwave if needed.
It was seven when she arrived, bearing a bottle of champagne and a food basket. She was wearing a short flowered dress and sandals. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her as she set the table and laid out a chicken and avocado salad meal and bread rolls.
“I even brought champagne glasses,” she said. “You pour.”
He complied and soon their glasses were raised in a toast.
“New friendships?” he said.
“And randy grandmothers,” she added.
They both laughed. Later, after they had consumed the meal and the champagne, they sat on the small couch and she turned to him, and said slyly, “I bet you’ve been wondering if I’m as randy as my grandmother, haven’t you.”
He opened his mouth to deny it and she kissed him.
A long sensual kiss that immediately aroused him.
She drew back and whispered in his ear in that low, lilting melodic voice that so entranced him, “She taught me everything I know.”
She got up and pulled him willingly to the bed.
Now, it was three days later, three sex-filled days and nights. As they lay intertwined, he couldn’t believe it had only been such a short time that he had known this captivating woman. He supposed he would need to think soon beyond the end of the week when he was due to leave, but his mind shied away from the very thought.
“How come you don’t have red hair to go with your freckles,” he spoke into her mop of curly auburn hair.
“I dye it, stupid. Otherwise, it’s a bright fiery red, like my pubes. Haven’t you noticed? Your mind too occupied with other things?”
“Hmm,” was all he said.
She pulled herself from his embrace.
“I’m going to have a shower, then I promised grandma I’d go into town to get some supplies.”
“Like some company?”
“Sure, why not?”
Shortly after, they were bouncing into town in grandma’s old ute. Having met her when booking into the caravan park the week before, and not seen her since, Jackson found it hard to reconcile the plump, matronly woman with the image Tammy had conjured up.
When he mentioned this to her, Tammy laughed delightedly.
“Are you saying you can’t picture me having sex at grandma’s age? She’s only seventy, you know.”
He had to admit he hadn’t thought that far. Now, after they picked up the supplies at the food store, Tammy drove to the top of a lookout just on the outskirts of the little town, which gave a scenic panoramic view of the forested hills they had recently hiked. She got out and wandered over to a bench situated at the very edge of the lookout and sat down. He sat beside her and put his arm around her.
“Pretty spectacular, isn’t it,” she murmured.
“Not something you’d ever tire of.”
“I can see myself coming up here till I’m as old as grandma,” she said.
“Me too,” he said.
“What, with me?”
“Yes,” he said simply.
She pulled away from and looked at him.
“Oh yes, and these last sex filled days wouldn’t have something have to do with that would they?”
He thought for a moment, then said slowly, “You know, I came out here to get away from what I thought were the stress of the city, my job and my relationship with Lucinda. I found peace and I found you. I don’t want to let that go. I don’t want to let you go.”
“Are you really sure that’s not just the sex talking?”she said forthrightly.
He shook his head, then said, “I suppose that’s part of it but I just enjoy being with you. Can you think about us as a couple, at least until we get to your grandma’s age, by which time I doubt I’ll be in any state to leave you anyway.”
“What about your job?”
“I’ll sort something out.”
“Ok, as a relationship proposal, it’s a bit different, but I’ll take it. But I have a rule. No sex on Sundays. It’s a day of rest.”
“But that’s tomorrow!” he protested.
He thought for a minute, then, reluctantly, “All right.”
She clapped her hands with delight, flung her arms around his neck and kissed him. Then whispered in his ear, “I lied about Sundays,” danced out of his reach and got back in the ute. He shook his head and got in the passenger seat. Life was never going to be dull from the look of it. She turned on the ignition, started the ute and slowly drove off. They looked at each other and burst into laughter as the radio came on and ‘Roll over Beethoven.’ blared out.
“Excuse me Ma’am,” a voice said and a hand tapped her on the shoulder.
She swung around.
“You scared the crap out of me! In fact I think I crapped myself.!”
Eloise looked into the embarrassed face of the young man who had stopped her. At his mortified look, she chuckled.
“Sorry, just kidding about that. I didn’t really crap myself, but you did startle me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, holding up a package.
“A lady back there thought you might have left this on the table. She’s got a walker so she couldn’t catch you.”
Eloise scratched in her capacious bag, then said, “Thanks. I’d lose my bum if it wasn’t attached to me.”
The young man said, “That’s okay,” and turned to walk away.
“Hang on a minute,” she said.
He turned back and looked at her enquiringly. He was quite a personable looking young man, she thought. Tall, athletically built, with curly brown hair, brown eyes, and even features.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Yes?” he said cautiously.
“Are you presently attached to anyone?”
No.” he responded, “And I have no interest in being anyone’s toy-boy.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you’d seen me twenty years ago. But no, I don’t need another toy-boy, I’m happy with the one I’ve got.”
He looked at her with amusement. She was certainly the most entertaining person he’d met in a while.
“So, why the question?”
“Before you run off, hear me out,” she said.
He folded his arms and cocked his head.
“Alright. I have this granddaughter, gorgeous girl, smart as a whip, but just makes these godawful choices when it comes to men. The last one was a total moron. Everyone could see it but her”.
“By everyone, I presume you mean you?” he said.
“Smart boy,” she acknowledged.
“She saw the light and finally dumped him. She’s in between at the moment. I’d just like to steer her to someone reasonable before the next disaster.”
His mouth quirked into a smile,
“And how do you know I’m ‘reasonable’ as you put it, and how do you propose to do this ‘steering,’ always assuming I’m agreeable of course.”
She looked at him shrewdly.
“I’m a pretty good judge of character. I think you’ll do very well.”
“And you’ve decided this after five minutes of talking to me,” he said sceptically.
He stood there looking at her for a moment.
“Oh come on,” she chided.
“What have you got to lose?”
“My senses probably,” he muttered.
“Alright,” he sighed.
“So how are we doing this?”
“She’s picking me up in ten minutes just outside. I’ve twisted my ankle and you’re helping me.” “You’re a devious old biddy aren’t you. You realise we haven’t even exchanged names?” “That’s no biggie, “she said airily.
“I’m Eloise, my grand daughter is Samantha, Sam for short, and you are?”
“Nice name. How do you do Brandon?”
“I’m not at all sure right now,” he answered.
“You’ll be fine,” she assured him.
They stood at the entrance to the mall.
“You’d better hold my bag, and support me,” she told him.
“ I’m not really happy with this subterfuge. It’s not a good way to start a relationship,” he grumbled.
“Once you’ve hooked her, it won’t matter,” she told him.
“She’s not a fish, he retorted.
“Here she comes!” she exclaimed.
A blue BMW sedan drew up and parked illegally close to them. An attractive, blonde girl jumped out and came hurrying over.
“Grandma, what happened?”
“Hurt my ankle. Brandon here came to my rescue. Just help me into the car will you dear?” Sam took her grandmother’s arm, opened the passenger door and helped her into the car. She caught Brandon’s eye. Unable to help himself, he gave a slight shake of his head. She looked uncomprehendingly at him for a moment, then a look of understanding appeared in her eyes. She gave him a wry smile, then came over to him.
“I’m Sam. Thanks, Brandon is it? She’s incorrigible. Always trying various ways of setting me up with someone. She doesn’t understand, I need to make my own mistakes.”
“I’m sorry. She seems to think you’ve made quite a few lately.”
She pursed her lips.
“She told you that did she?”
He shrugged apologetically.
“And she thinks she can do better by picking you?”
Again, he shrugged. He saw her struggle to control herself. Then, unexpectedly, she laughed.
“I suppose the old biddy’s right. My batting average has been pretty woeful lately”, she said mournfully,
“I just don’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing she’s right!”
“Bit late for that, I think.”
“Alright, Brandon. Here’s my phone number, give me a ring in a few days.”
She rattled it off and he programmed it into his phone. She shook his hand and got into the car. He watched them drive away, Eloise giving him a cheeky wave as they went.
It was a few days later. Brandon had rung Sam and they had agreed to meet for coffee in the same mall where he had encountered her grandmother. After they were seated and had ordered, he asked, “And how’s your grandmother?”
“As interfering as ever. She kept asking if you’d rung, and why I hadn’t taken your number and rung you.”
He said, “Sorry about that.”
“You’re sorry? She’s my grandmother! Interfering old biddy.”
“Does she really have a toy-boy?”
“She told you about Gordon?”
“Not really. Just in passing.”
“He’s about twenty years younger than her. He adores her, just can’t understand why. They’ve been together for about five.”
“She’s certainly something.”
“Yes, but I love her, the evil witch. What are we going to do?”
“We don’t have to do anything. We met, things didn’t work out, end of story.”
“We haven’t exactly done anything yet,” she pointed out.
“Would you like to?”
“I don’t want you to start a relationship with me because you promised my grandmother.”
“This is really awkward. What do you think would have happened if we had just met in a different way?”
She grinned unexpectedly.
“Probably nothing. You’re all wrong for me.”
“According to Eloise, you’re not a moron. I’m only attracted to morons.”
“ I can be as moronic as the next guy if you want me to be.”
“You’d do that for me?”
“If that’s what it takes.”
She reached out and took his hand.
“I think I might grow to like you, Brandon.”
Their coffees arrived. As they drank, she thought to herself, ‘This could work,’ despite Eloise’s interference, or perhaps, because of it.
Anyone who was prepared to go along with her madcap idea just after meeting her, had something going for them. It might be worthwhile finding out what that something was.