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.