For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.
Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
* * * * *
Chapter 18: From far, from eve and morning [i]
They came blinking out into the daylight, the sun almost blinding and the air heavy with Sunday afternoon lethargy. Across the square was The Ship Inn, pretty and dominant. Drinkers still relaxed at the tables in front of the building.
But Striker had soon realised why the Llewelyns frequented The Half Moon. Its initially dark interior had blossomed into something far less threatening. The gentle buzz of conversation, lyrical Welsh counterpointed by middle-C English, provided a harmony to their own conversation.
It was cool inside. Large ceiling fans circulated air, sweeping away the muggy smells of cigarette smoke and stale beer through the open windows, where outside the harbour square sizzled.
Striker had mellowed into a follow-up half pint of the revolting bitter. It was a taste she was quickly acquiring. Even Morien had welcomed a small glass of shandy.
The food was excellent. A Sunday pub lunch: Welsh roast lamb with a cornucopia of trimmings followed by home-made peach ice cream. A good meal, great company, and a cup of coffee attended by a gentle cigarette. Very different from a beer at the Boom. Striker had felt she could get used to this.
As closing time approached, bilingual goodbyes had echoed from the doorway. On several occasions, Morien and Sullivan would add to the chorus, and Striker had found herself joining in. Until their own turn to step back out into the afternoon.
They watched Sullivan make his way across the square and back up the hill, a pile of exercise books and a red pen awaiting him.
Morien and Striker dawdled in the square, drawn towards the harbour wall and the little boats bobbing on the nursery waves. Seagulls wheeled above them. Striker glanced back at the emptying Ship Inn. "So, why dont I want to go in there?"
"Looks pleasant enough, doesnt it?" Morien seemed to pause with thought before she continued, her eyes fixed firmly away from the building and out into the harbour. Her voice seemed low and dark in the bright light. "I suppose you could say that my type isnt welcome in there."
Striker looked from the building back to Morien. "But they cant do that!"
"No, they cant. But there are subtle ways and means of making me or my family or my friends feel very unwelcome should we step through the door. That building is the pretty face of small-town bigotry."
"Fucking bastards. I wouldnt let them get away with it. I would ."
"I know you would, Striker. But Im smaller than you and not as strong as you ." Morien sighed. "Sometimes, its safer to go for the easy life. Keep your head down, go to a different pub ."
" let the drug dealers get away with it? Morien, I know thats not you."
"Maybe you dont know me as well as you think, stalker."
There was an awkward pause. The heat seemed heavier.
"What do they do?"
"Nothing much. Name-calling. Spitting. Ive been threatened before, but its never got beyond words. My dads a friend of Idomeneo Jones, remember, so they cant get too obvious. Besides The Half Moon serves better food and the people in there are better company. So, whats the problem?"
"Is it a problem that theres a bunch of guys coming over from The Ship who look like rejects from the Hood?"
"What?" Morien finally turned round. There were five of them, barely out of their teens some of them hardly seemed out of short trousers. But even in the hottest of weather they wore caps, hoodies, big baggy clothes.
She mumbled something under her breath that sounded Welsh and vulgar to Striker.
Striker, for her part, simply leant back against the harbour wall. Leisurely, she extracted a cigarette and, nonchalantly, she lit it. Just a few days ago she had stared down the barrel of a gun. She wasnt about to be alarmed by some punk kids who looked and walked like wannabe rapper trolls on E.
In fact, she couldnt help but be amused.
But Morien was on edge, and Striker briefly remembered the youths in the packed carriage of the Underground train, from whom Morien had shrunk all that time ago....
"Hey, dyke, what are you doing here?" the first called as they approached. He seemed to be the oldest of them, the leader. He must have been just escaping his teens, small and wiry, and the kind of complexion that displayed a pubertal battle with acne which he had well and truly lost.
Morien sighed. "Thats none of your business, Dean."
"Its my fucking business when perverts like you invade my town."
The others chimed in. "Yeah, fuck off."
"Go back to England, dyke."
"This is my town too. If you cant accept that, then maybe you should leave."
"Yeah, right." There were laughs round the group. "We live here, you dont."
Morien moved. "Come on, Striker, lets go," she said quietly.
Striker didnt move. She took another drag from the cigarette and watched the group through half-lidded eyes. They had ignored her until then.
"Maybe your girlfriend wants a taste of something different," Dean grinned. Sweat was dripping down from under his cap. A rivulet ran down through the pockmarks. "You want to see that, teacher-girl? Want to see me give your girlfriend one?"
Morien rounded on him, her voice as angry as Striker had ever heard her. "Cau dy ffwcin ceg, ti cachu mes."
Striker had absolutely no idea what Morien had just said, but judging by her friends tone, the surprise on the pock-marked face of the young man and the laughs it received from his friends, it was something very rude indeed. She grinned.
Great curveball, teacher-girl.
"So, little teacher-girls learnt some grown-up words, has she?" Dean replied.
"At least little teacher-girl has grown up," Morien spat back.
There was a chorus of "Ooooh" from the amused boys.
"You want to see grown up?" Dean said, fingering his fly.
"Ive seen it, thanks, I didnt fancy it."
"I can see what you fancy."
Deans shaded eyes dallied up Strikers body. She smiled, taking a final drag from her cigarette and flicking the stub over the harbour wall.
"See anything you like, boy?"
Grown up had arrived.
Her voice was so sultry the summer heat went up a few degrees. She licked her lips. Morien could feel her cheeks burning as her eyes followed Deans.
"I see a lot I like."
"Good." Striker smiled, encouragingly. "Come here."
Dean didnt have to be asked twice. He moseyed over, stopping barely inches away from her, invading her body space.
Thats right, little boy, come to momma.
He was considerably shorter than Striker, his eyes rested easily on her breasts, which suddenly seemed to blossom under the t-shirt. Distended tips thrust through the material. Dean licked his lips
...and found himself sprawled on his back, Strikers trainer balanced on his groin.
"Like picking on girls, do you, you little shit?" she said. "Figures. Little boy like you cant pick up girls so you have to pick on them, is that right?" Her foot pushed downwards, just enough to put pressure where it mattered. She bent down a little, smiling at him. "Or is it because youre jealous, boy, because this is the closest thing youre dick is getting to any kind of action."
And she stamped on his groin. Even Morien winced as Dean cried out.
But Striker was moving off him, moving away. "Do you honestly think someone like me is going to be interested in a skinny little pizza faced runt like you?" She paused. "Especially when I can have a sweet thing like her." She gifted Morien with a smile.
Morien felt her cheeks go even pinker. Any more and she felt her freckles would explode from her skin. Long, sensuous fingers ran across the bare flesh of her upper back, and an arm was draped around her shoulders.
Striker glanced back at the gaping and watery-eyed Dean, his friends agog behind him. "Now be a good boy and go play with your little friends." She smiled again. "I know you want to. Isnt playing with your friends what you really dream about at night?" She winked at him and, her arm still round Morien, they walked back up the square, towards the High Street.
Morien looked back. Dean was trying to get up, but he seemed to be caught up in his own voluminous trousers. His face was red with heat and anger. "Youll get yours, slebog [iii]. I know you will," he shouted. Morien slid her arm round Strikers waist, needing reassurance. Needing to feel the wonderful freedom of her arm round Strikers waist.
"Youll be all right, honey," Striker whispered in her ear, aware that they were still being watched. "Theyre not going to touch you. I wont let them." She pulled back and looked at Moriens pink face. "Hey. Looks like youve caught the sun."
"Striker, you dont have to protect me, you know." The words came suddenly, as if from nowhere.
Striker stilled for a moment. Removing her arm from her shoulder and shifting away from Morien, she looked down at her. She frowned and her voice was tense with suppressed annoyance. "Im sorry, I thought I could help."
Morien sighed. Damn it. Damn Dean Powell and his stupid friends. We were having such a lovely day. "You could have seriously hurt him, Striker."
"Asshole deserves it," Striker mumbled. "Anyway, it could have been worse. Could have been wearing my boots ."
"Striker " Morien picked her words. "Not everything calls for physical payback."
"But I couldnt walk away from that."
"You didnt have to hurt him."
"Morien, dickwads like that dont understand anything except fighting."
"But doesnt that bring us down to their level? Doesnt it make us as bad as them?"
Striker flinched from the comment.
"No, Im sorry. I didnt mean that. You could never be Your intentions were honourable, when they wouldnt know the meaning of the word."
A slight smile appeared.
"I appreciate what you were trying to do back there. I appreciate everything youve done to help me this last week. I suppose I suppose Ive got tired of people always fussing around me. People always worrying about me. I used to be able to look after myself and now all I seem to be is a burden ."
"Youre not a burden!" Striker exclaimed. "How could you ever think youre a burden?"
"Ive had to ask a lot of people for help and understanding these past few months ."
" and I charge in, in my big black boots, when you dont even ask for it?"
"Youre wearing trainers."
"Okay, I charge in, in my crappy trainers ."
"No, my love, you charge in riding a white stallion. Thats the difference between you and everybody else. You really do protect me. Youre my knight in shining armour."
The look on Strikers face was one that Morien wanted to inspire again. Time and time again. Every day for the rest of their lives. It was like sunrise over the hills: the faintest confusion of light, followed by the slow explosion of dazzling joy. Her eyes shone with blue radiance. Her smile was pure brilliance. Moriens heart bloomed with love.
Striker wasnt sure what had thrilled her more, Moriens description or the use of "my love". Had she been ten she might have found herself cartwheeling round the square. Instead, she played it cool.
"Knight, huh?" she said. "Better go buy some smarter sneakers then."
Morien grinned. "You dont have to do that. I love you the way you are, Striker West. Dont you change a thing."
And Striker stopped breathing.
The sun stopped burning, the sea splashed to a halt, the seagulls cries were drowned in beautiful silence: nothing was left but Moriens shining green eyes, her smooth, pink mouth, the distance between them .
So Striker did something shed been wanting to do for her entire life. She bent down and kissed Morien.
Her lips were soft beneath Strikers. And warm. She melted at the heat of it, and the gentle, determined strength of Moriens response. It was a kiss that made promises: fidelity, adoration, breath-taking fantasies of flesh and sinew and bodies moving together in the most divine of harmonies.
It lasted a second, maybe less. A quick, non-threatening peck. Sweet, chaste and pure before the world started turning again.
And from the harbour end of the square there were shouts of "Fucking perverts".
So she was a pervert. Fine.
If something this good was perverted then the world was screwed.
"Fuck em," Striker said.
"Id rather not," Morien replied. She slipped her arm back round Strikers waist, and welcomed Strikers loose embrace across her shoulders. And they wandered back up the High Street.
* * * * *
They walked their lunch off.
Morien gave Striker a guided tour of Lleuadraeth: a journey through her life. They passed the squat primary school shed attended, with its cream-coloured walls, friendly in the summer sun. Peeping in at the windows, they glimpsed the proud work of the youngest members of the community bright coloured and enthusiastic on the pinboards. Striker had the greatest urge to push Morien on one of the lonely-looking swings in the playground, but decided that lunch hadnt settled enough, and contented herself with imagining the ginger-headed, skinned-kneed, little girl running and screaming and laughing there instead.
They wandered down streets of small terraced houses Morien entertaining her with stories of the friends whod lived there. How theyd played cowboys and Indians in the streets, Morien spending an entire summer wearing feathers in her hair. How Drake had fallen out of the apple tree in the Williamss garden, only to be relieved that it was only a toe that was broken and he could still play the violin. How Mrs Bevan, her art teacher, had caused scandal by running off with the milkman only for Mr Bevan to get it together with the replacement milkwoman. How Davey Miles had proposed to Morien on the corner of Bryn Mawr and Llywarch Street at the tender age of five, and how Morien had turned him down with a giggle and a toffee. And where Morien had kissed Annie Sayce. Just a touch, but .
" I knew then, you know? I was seven. And I just had a feeling that something was different about me. I didnt know the words or anything or understand what that difference was. I just knew that all those stories that I read about princes and princesses, I was always so uninterested in the princes. I went running home to talk to mam about it and ." She stopped walking for a moment, and sighed a deep sigh. "It went out of my head, because I got home and found that mam was just back from the doctors."
Striker didnt say anything. She just put her arm back round Moriens shoulders, welcoming the returning arm around her waist. And they carried on in silence. For a while.
They walked as far as the High School, where Morien and Drake had studied and where their father still taught. It was a large complex, based around an older building that still had ivy clinging to its brickwork, despite the tugging of many generations of destructive young hands. There was a modern science block; an extension that boasted a well-stocked library; an ugly, but comprehensive gymnasium; and a playing field that was currently hosting a game of cricket. They sat on the edge of the grass and watched for a while, neither of them following what was going on, and neither of them caring, simply enjoying the sunshine, the peace, and the irregular but hypnotic slap of leather on willow. They half-dozed with the afternoon.
"Can I ask you a personal question?" Strikers voice was low and hazy.
"Mmm?" Morien wasnt sure if she could say more than that. She felt too contented, too lethargic, to think.
"How did your family take it when you came out?"
An inexplicable grin suddenly shone on Moriens face.
"What?" Striker asked, echoing the expression.
"Just remembering telling them," Morien replied.
"So what happened?"
"It took me years to figure out that I wasnt miraculously going to change and stop being interested in the princesses, you know? So, that was it seventeen years old, and after a little bit of making sure ." Striker lifted an eyebrow. " I consciously accepted I was a lesbian. But its one thing accepting it yourself, and another to admit it to anyone else. So I picked out a day: a Saturday morning breakfast, when I knew wed all be together. I didnt sleep a wink the night before, worrying about their reaction, what they might say and practising what I was going to say how I was going to phrase it. My stomach was in knots when I sat down at that table."
She paused. "And?" Striker said.
"Well I told them . And Drake glanced up from some football magazine he was reading and said, Yeah, we knew that, Mo, can you pass the marmalade?"
They both laughed. But Morien continued, "Actually, its funny now, but I felt really upset at the time. I wanted them to acknowledge what Id said, you know?"
"But Dad did. He gave me a big hug and told me he knew how hard that must have been for me to say, and how brave I was for saying it. And that whatever, he loved me and was proud of me and he wanted me to be happy." She smiled. "I love my dad."
"He seems like a really nice guy."
There was a silence, and Morien felt a sudden weight of guilt. She looked at the woman beside her, long legs stretched out on the grass. She could still feel Strikers lips on her own, and hoped that the feeling would never leave her. Strikers head was up, staring at the sky, her hair escaping, as it always did, from the confines of its braid; but even from this angle Morien could distinguish the furrow on her brow.
"What about your dad?"
Striker looked down, but her gaze seemed to have captured some sky. "What about him?"
"How did he react to your sexuality."
"Never told him. Its none of his fucking business who I choose to . Its nobodys business but mine." She bit her lip. "Youre very lucky, Morien. You have a fantastic relationship with your father. Cherish it."
She got up, and swiping grass off her shorts, walked off. Her hands in her pockets. Morien got to her feet and followed, watching Striker from behind as she went through the now familiar motions of lighting a cigarette.
"Im sorry," Morien said, finally, as they got the school gates.
Striker turned round. Her voice was bitter. "What are you apologising for? Its not your fault that your father is a decent human being and mine is an asshole. Makes you what you are, and me what I am, doesnt it?"
"And what are you, Striker?" Moriens voice betraying aggravation.
"Im a bitch, honey, get used to it."
"Then why the hell do I like you so much then?"
Striker inhaled smoke leisurely, letting it escape through her nose. "I dunno. Maybe that bump on the head made you crazy."
The words froze Morien mid-thought. She blinked, unsure of what shed just heard. Striker couldnt have said that, could she? Not Striker?
Then anger as bitter as Morien had ever felt flooded her. She couldnt speak, afraid of what might come out. She was afraid of crying. She was afraid of the wave of nausea that washed over her. And right now she was more afraid of herself than anything else.
She turned her back on Striker and bolted down the road.
Striker started moving.
You stupid, fucking jerk.
How could I do that?
How could I ?
Striker threw her cigarette into the gutter and ran after Morien. Despite her long legs, it wasnt easy to catch up with her, but she did, grabbing her arm to stop her.
"Im sorry, sweetheart."
Morien didnt move.
"I get angry," Striker continued, struggling to make her understand. Struggling to make herself understand. "And when I get angry I dont think. I would never want to hurt you. Morien, I lo ."
She felt the stinging pain in her cheek before she realised that Morien had turned round.
They stared at each other: shocked blue locked on shocked green. There was anger, bitterness, hatred warring between them.
And then Morien spoke, her voice shuddering. "Striker Im so sorry. Cariad I should never ."
She had never planned to hit her. Her anger had dictated that she either strike out or explode. Her hand had made the decision before her brain was even aware of it. She had actually hit her. And it was only now that her brain registered that picking a fight with Striker West was not sensible. It wasnt even sane.
Striker blinked. "Youre sorry ." She put a hand to her cheek. "Dont be sorry, you saved me the job. Jesus ." She spat blood into the gutter. "You could teach Bruce a thing or two."
"Oh, dont ." Morien put her hand over her mouth. There was so much shame in her eyes that Striker almost laughed. But it was a laugh partly of relief. The idea of facing Moriens anger had almost had her back on the train to London.
"Hey ." Striker removed Moriens hand from her mouth. "Dont you dare be sorry. I deserved every bit of that. In fact, if you got any more in you I probably deserve that too. Youre not crazy. Im crazy. For all sorts of reasons Im crazy. But that doesnt give me an excuse for hurting you."
"And it doesnt give me an excuse for hurting you ."
"Then I guess that makes us quits, huh?"
Morien looked up into Strikers waiting, hopeful gaze. "If youre sure ?"
"Come here," Striker said and took the confused Welsh woman in her arms.
Morien snuggled into the embrace, wrapping her own arms round Strikers back, relishing the smell of Strikers sun-warmed skin beneath her cheek. She wondered if she could risk kissing her neck, but felt Striker move.
"Lets go home," she said.
Morien felt able to smile at last, and she took her hand and led her home.
* * * * *
They opened the front door to music. The same breathtaking music to which Striker had woken that morning.
Sullivan was in the dining room, exercise books piled around him at the table, glasses perched on his nose, red pen soaring in mid-air as he conducted his invisible orchestra. He glanced up as they stuck their heads round the door. "Ssssh," he said, "its getting to the really good bit." So, they retreated to the sitting room and let the music come to its climax.
It was cool indoors, a blissful remit from the heavy sun and their exercised emotions. They sat on the sofa, calm and quiet, letting relaxation and harmony wash over them until Easey landed on Strikers lap with a silent thump and a loud, "Shit!" from the American. "Damn cat." But she willingly stroked the tabbys back, while Morien petted Easeys cheeks and rubbed her little pink nose with her own.
And Striker added another Morien fantasy to her anthology. Nose-rubbing now that would be a first.
"I want to give Kish a call, see how Dan really is," Striker finally said, as Easey settled between them. Her body relaxed further into the comfortable sofa. "But that involves moving."
Morien stirred slightly. "Is my bag still on the floor down there?"
Striker reached down the side of the sofa and felt for the now familiar handles of Moriens tapestry bag.
Morien went through the contents, manoeuvring Easeys nose out of the way, pulling out sketchpad, poetry book ah, mobile phone. A piece of paper fell out of the book as she placed it on the table. Striker picked it up, idly unfolding it while barely looking at it. At its head sat the crest of the East Metropolitan Borough Council. It seemed to be a list of names, jobs and contact numbers. She was about to refold it and take the mobile from Morien, when something jumped out at her.
"Jesus Christ ."
"What?" Morien asked.
"How long have you had this in here?"
Morien had the vague memory of reading on the Tube. "A week or more. Why? What is it?"
"Is this an official council document?"
Morien looked over her shoulder. "Yes. Well, an old one. It was updated, so I included the update in the proposal, but used that printout as notepaper at the back of my ." She saw where Strikers finger was pointing.
It was a list of council employees associated with buildings and regeneration their posts, their details and near the bottom of the list danced a single name.
i A poem by A. E. Housman from his
signature work A Shropshire Lad.
ii One of the ways to tell someone to "Fuck off" in Welsh.
iii Slebog = slut
Continued in Chapter 19...