For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.
Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (email@example.com)
* * * * *
Chapter 20: Spinning out gold from the hollow of the heart [i]
They moved slowly. Painfully slowly.
Constantly, Striker would be listening for the hiss of tyres on the road above the onslaught of wet sound. For the sound of voices. Foreign London accents in this inaccessible Welsh waterland. The rain sounded like Cockney laughter.
She would jump at shadows in the downpour, seeing large hulks stepping out from curtains of water, seeing glints of metal in the shining drops, seeing the shrouded figure of Gilbert Lamprey rolling back the thunder.
On more than one occasion Morien would find her feet slipping under her and she would clutch on to Strikers strong arm for support. Already Striker had taken the bag from her. More and more, the American found herself half-carrying her friend along the path of the swelling stream. Morien seemed weightless in her arms. "Youre too thin, my love. Let me take care of you," she whispered with her arms around her. But, above the rain, Morien didnt hear her.
They stopped, the barest hesitation to catch an instant of air. And finally the question was voiced. "How?" Morien breathed. "How can they be up here?"
Striker shook her head in reply. Raindrops sprayed from hair, that shone like obsidian. Her t-shirt clung to her like a second skin. Water was dripping off her chin.
"We were supposed to be safe up here."
"We are safe up here."
Morien stared. "Did you miss what happened back there?"
"This isnt London, Morien."
"Meaning this is your territory. You know this place. They dont. Its small. People will notice them. Theyll be caught."
They had to be.
"So why didnt we know they were here?"
Striker couldnt answer that. "Come on," she said, holding out a hand.
It had cooled considerably. Morien noticed the shiver that Striker tried to suppress. Thats all they needed, both of them sick. They needed to get warmth and shelter, and soon. This time she guided Striker, up the slope.
"Morien, what if theyre ."
"Ive remembered something ." She slipped again on the mud, and found sturdy hands at her waist. They clambered up the incline on all fours, and stood warily back on the grass verge.
For a moment, Striker wondered if theyd moved at all. Fields all around in the thick rain. The dark slate road winding like a river towards the hills. But this time she could just make out, not that far ahead on the road, like a scarlet beacon, an old-fashioned, red telephone box, quiet on the corner of a byroad.
Now they were running again, for shelter, hope and a colourful oasis of civilisation. The door creaked open and they sighed to be out of the storm; Morien light-headed, clutching onto the Striker for support. Loose change slipped through wet and shaking fingers, as they fumbled to make the call.
Morien dialled a number.
It seemed an age before anyone answered, while the rain clawed at the glass and flurries of drops mimicked the sound of tyres on tarmac, making them jump. The phone continued to ring.
And then it stopped.
"Daddy," Moriens speech was half sob. Striker could hear Sullivans worried questions fired back. "Dad, could you call Idomeneo. Theyre up here," another sob. Another question. "Were on the Old North Road. At the phone box by the bridge."
Striker even heard Sullivans next panicked question. "Cariad, are you hurt?"
"Were okay, dad were fine."
Striker mouthed "Doctor". Morien turned her eyes away. Striker snatched the receiver from her hand. "Hello, sir. Its Striker. Would it be possible for you to contact a doctor? Moriens had a seizure and someone ought to check her over. Thank you, Mr Llewelyn. Well wait here, sir. Dont worry, sir, I promise Ill take care of her." She put the phone down and looked into Moriens accusatory gaze.
"You told him." Her voice was venomous.
"And what kind of friend would I be if I hadnt?"
Morien turned in the cramped phone box, pressing her head onto the glass, she looked out into the landscape. Her shoulders shook. Striker could tell that she was crying. She put a hand on Moriens back. "Look, I had to ."
Morien shrugged the hand off.
Striker crossed her arms across her saturated t-shirt and stared outside. The rain, at last, seemed to be easing, the sky lightening. She could see more clearly now. Up the road, Lleuadraeth looked more distinct, its roofs and lights glistening like some remote Celestial City. The byroad crossed the stream over a little bridge, barely more than a footbridge, and wound its way over fields. In the distance there was a building, as if tiptoeing around the extreme edge of town. Its shape looked familiar and Striker wondered if theyd passed it during their wanderings the day before. But they hadnt walked that far out.
There was no sign of any car, despite their willing the sight of the old Volvo. Striker looked out towards Lleuadraeth again, less than a mile away now. They could start walking again.
But, would they come out searching now that the rain was dying?
Striker was suddenly aware: the phone box had been a beacon for them; it could be a beacon for any other passer-by, local or stranger.
"Morien, I think we ought to go back down to the stream."
Morien turned her head slightly in response, saying nothing. Her eyes were red.
"Nigel and Bruce they might come out again. I think we ought to keep off the road, outta sight."
Moriens whole body sagged, and for a moment, Striker wondered if she was going to faint. But she turned, and met Strikers eyes. "Okay."
They slid their way back down the slope, Morien refusing Strikers helping hand, and stood again by the stream, listening out for the sounds of a car above them. Striker eyed the bridge. The arch beneath was barely big enough to crouch under, let alone seek adequate shelter.
They stood awkwardly, uncomfortably, up against the rough stonework of the bridge. Morien regarded Striker from the corner of her eye. She made an abject picture, hair hanging in rivulets down her face, arms tight across her chest. Morien was incredibly angry with her. She was even more angry with herself.
"Youre going to catch your death, you know."
Moriens soft Welsh burr was warming and welcome. Striker smiled. "Ironic, huh? Escape fires and bullets and I end up dying of pneumonia."
Morien held out her hand. "Come here." Striker moved and Morien wrapped her arms round her. "Youre not going to die, stalker," she whispered into her neck. "I wont let you."
Striker returned the embrace and the feel of Morien against her made her groan. The slim body felt hot against her own, and the material of their clothes, rendered sheer by the downpour, made the contact feel like moist skin on skin. Moriens breasts pressed against her ribs, her breath was hot on her neck and it was a feeling that flowed through her like a river of warm honey, pooling at her groin.
She leant back against the wall, taking the Welsh woman with her, not wanting to lose a second of contact. In a jumble of legs, she felt her thigh slip between Moriens, a gentle insinuation, material lightly caressing material.
It was the adrenaline, she knew. The thrill of being chased. Desire was suddenly coursing through her body, nerve endings quivering at the contact. She could almost feel an answering tingle.
Morien looked up, and her eyes were as dark a green as Striker had seen; they seemed deep and endless. The dusky gaze flicked down to kiss Strikers lips, and Striker found herself entranced by Moriens own mouth. Her lips seemed suddenly swollen, pink; her tongue peeped out just to wet them. Strikers own tongue responded in kind and she moved forward, drawn .
And Morien shut her mouth. Her gaze was abruptly shuttered. She glanced up at Striker, a fearful, apologetic glance. A single word was in that look. Stop. She rested her forehead against Strikers shoulder and Striker could hear her breathing, hard.
The tall woman simply held her, loosely. "Its okay," she whispered, so only she could hear. I understand. Its only the adrenaline. Youre tired. Youre sick. Its raining. This is not the time or the place. You love your girlfriend.
And then they both tensed.
The sound of a car, just above them, pulling up by the bridge.
Moriens head was up. She looked at Striker and spoke, her voice like air, "Its not the Volvo. Id recognise it ."
Rain still pattered around them.
Morien leant backwards in Strikers arms ever so slightly. She lifted her eyes.
There was the barest squeak of a car door opening.
She dived back towards Striker, terror evident in her eyes. "Silver," she mouthed.
They pressed themselves against the bridge, sliding across the stonework to the arch across the stream. Striker squeezed herself under the bridge, crouching in the flow. Morien crammed herself in next to her, her sandalled feet paddling in the shallow water.
A footstep above them. Two.
A murmur of voices. They couldnt make out the words. They were moving.
Someone was coming down the bank, mud and grass squelching underfoot. The women pressed themselves against the arch.
There was a man standing at the foot of the bank, a big man: they could see smart shoes now coated in dirt, suit trousers .
A voice as loud and slow as thunder seemed to echo in their hiding place.
"Morien, lle dach chi?"[ii]
They breathed in a rush. The stream started running again. They could hear the sweet dance of the rain.
"Idomeneo!" Morien called, her voice echoing against the walls. She pushed herself out of the tunnel and found herself on her knees before the large policeman.
Idomeneo bent down to help her up, as he did so, spotting Striker crawling through the stream to extricate herself from the archway. "Getting caught in the rain wasnt enough, then?" he said.
Striker gave him a look of thunder. Thats all we fucking need, an amateur comedian. "Theyre up here. Bruce, Nigel and Gilbert Lamprey, whoever the hell he is. What the fuck are you going to do about it?"
* * * * *
It was a silent journey in the silver Ford as Idomeneo and his young colleague drove them home. Striker and Morien were slumped on the back seat, staring out of opposing windows, hands touching.
They could hear the wash of windscreen wipers and the gentle murmur of Welsh between Idomeneo and Constable John Smith. He had to be, Striker thought, Alas, Smith and fucking Jones.
Morien looked exhausted. Her eyes were closed and her skin pale against the dark car seat. Every ounce of life had been drained from her in the past hours. Her eyes fluttered open for a moment, and she caught a glimpse of cerulean blue in the dusk of the car. She was too tired to speak now, but she blinked slowly at Striker as if conversing with one of her cats. And Striker understood: trust, understanding love.
Morien closed her eyes.
The drive only lasted ten minutes.
Striker found herself carrying the shattered Welsh woman up the now familiar pathway and in through the open front door, past an ashen-faced Sullivan and a grey-haired gentleman who turned out to be the family doctor. Sullivan had already drawn a hot bath for his daughter, and once clean and warm, she was examined by Dr Probert in the privacy of her bedroom.
Striker showered, chuckling with an almost manic irony as the hot water rained down on her. Then, in the comfort of the sitting room wrapped in a pair of pyjamas and a towelling robe that Sullivan had pressed into her hand, and sipping at soup she was questioned by Idomeneo.
There seemed far too little to tell.
Idomeneo sighed. "Ill be back tomorrow, if you remember anything. And to talk to Morien."
"In the meantime?"
"Uniform will be out but keep your head down."
That was it.
She was left alone. Soup finished, and two sleepy cats pawing at her seat on the sofa. It was a lovely room: cosy, with soft furnishings, and dark wood that didnt detract from the breadth or the light. Again there were photographs everywhere. Endless unknown family members, old and young.
(It made her think of her own family. Aunt Claire would have her shot if she ever set foot near their house again. Hell, Aunt Claire would probably pull the trigger herself.)
Pictures of Morien and a young man she recognised as Drake. Pictures of a toddler and a baby. A wedding picture of Drake and a striking blonde. An older wedding picture of a mop-haired Sullivan, uncomfortable in a neat grey suit, with a pretty auburn-haired woman on his arm. And there was a picture of a skinny girl with strawberry hair, green eyes and a quiet smile. God, she was so cute.
Striker found herself staring at the girl wondering. Was that before or after she lost her mother? Was that before or after she kissed Annie Sayce?
The phone rang and Striker was jerked from her reverie. Sullivan was upstairs with Morien. It seemed unfair to interrupt them. She heaved herself up from the sofa, much to the cats delight, and picked up the phone in the hallway.
"Hello er Llewelyn residence."
There was a long pause. "Whos that?" The voice seemed familiar.
Striker thought. Considering what had happened, should she be blithely giving out her name to anybody who asked? "It depends," she said, "on who this is."
Another pause. "This is Drake Llewelyn. Do I know you?" The Welsh accent was suddenly so precise, so pronounced, that Striker almost laughed.
"Oh, hi Drake. This is Striker West." And had to remind herself that, despite the fact that she felt like she knew this man, theyd only ever met once. Briefly. "Im staying with Morien and your dad." Obviously. She felt the need to elucidate. "We met a while ago now. I work worked at St Vincents hospital."
She could almost hear his thoughts. American. St Vincents . "Were you the doctor in A&E who showed me where Morien was?"
"Well, Im not a doctor but, yes."
There was such a tangible rush of warmth from the other end of the phone that Striker could feel her face flush. "You dont know what you did for us that day. I cant thank you enough ."
"Hey, dont mention it. Im glad to help. Your sisters very special to me."
There was another pause. "Is Morien there, by any chance?"
Striker sighed. "Im sorry, Drake. She was feeling a little tired. Shes already gone up to bed. Id rather not disturb her."
"No, no, I quite understand," Drake replied. Always the concerned brother. Striker could imagine his forehead creasing like his fathers. "And dad?"
"Hes upstairs with her. I can get him if you want."
Drake seemed to be choosing his words. She wondered why. "Are are you the friend thats been helping Morien these last few days?"
"Yeah, I am." Striker smiled. "She mentioned me?"
"Yes, she mentioned you. Look, maybe you ought to know. I popped round to her flat today I try and keep an eye on things when shes away ."
"I went to pick up the new key from Mrs Kantorowicz, do you know her?"
Striker almost felt the echo of a poke in her shoulder. "Old eastern European lady. Yeah, Ive met her."
"Shes been attacked."
"Attacked? By whom?"
"I dont know. I bumped into someone from victim support at the house. I thought she might have been there for Morien, but then she told me about Mrs Kantorowicz."
"When did this happen?"
"Yesterday lunchtime, apparently. They broke a couple of her fingers, poor love. Terrified, she is. Wont say a word about who did it."
Striker covered her eyes with a hand. "Drake, would Mrs Kantorowicz have this address?"
"Probably. She keeps an eye on Morien, just in case shes taken ill. She used to be a nurse, see? And Morien does the same for her, you know? Im sure shes got dads address." There was a pause. "Are you saying this is connected to whats happened to Morien?"
The stair creaked and Striker looked up to see Sullivan making his way down.
"Thats exactly what Im saying. Drake, thank you for letting me know. Would you like to speak with your father? Hes right here."
"She wants to see you," Sullivan said softly, then frowned at the look on Strikers face. He took the phone from her. "Drake? Besyn bod?"[iii]
Striker climbed the stairs two at a time. The bastards had hurt an old lady for information. Admittedly, a cantankerous bitch of an old lady. But if Mrs Kantorowicz hadnt given them the information, would they have gone after Moriens brother, Moriens little nephews ?
But, she wasnt going to tell Morien. Not now.
"Hey," she said, sticking her head round the bedroom door. She didnt need to fake a smile. One came naturally as she saw her friend curled up in bed. She still looked exhausted, but a little colour had returned to her face.
Morien smiled back, feeling awkward. "Who was that on the phone?"
"Your brother." Striker sat herself on the edge of the bed, smoothing the duvet beneath her.
"Oh, youve been Draked have you? Is everything all right? Theres nothing wrong is there?" She noticed a little pleat between Strikers eyes.
"No, he was just phoning up to say hi, I think." She looked at Morien. Her face was still a little pale, a frail sprinkle of freckles standing out on her cheeks. There were still dark circles like clouds beneath her eyes. "Howre you feeling?"
Morien looked awkward again. "Im fine, really." She picked at an embroidered flower on the duvet.
"What did the doctor say?"
"Not much. Id been through a stressful situation. I got dizzy. I was tired anyway. So a seizure wasnt really surprising. Hes given me a mild sedative. But he was unwilling to change my medication. Thats something Ill have to talk about with my GP in London."
"Is that good?"
"I suppose so. Ive had problems with medication since the beginning. I was getting horrible side effects with my original drugs. I felt sick all the time, and Im sure it stopped this from growing properly." She ran her fingers through her hair. "Im okay with the pills Im on now. They make me tired, but thats about it. I dont want to have to try something new." There was an edge of desperation in her voice.
"It wont come to that will it? This last week youve been stressed out, and no one could blame you. Dont tell me this has been normal for you!"
Morien smiled, "No!" And made the mistake of looking directly into Strikers eyes. Her face suddenly creased and the tears came.
"Hey come on ." Striker reached out, took her hand in hers. "Everythingll be okay. Idomeneo says the police are out looking for them. Theyll catch them."
"Its not that ."
Moriens expression reminded Striker of the little girl in the photograph downstairs. There was a pause, as if Morien was dredging for the words. "I hate having to take pills all the time. I feel like I rattle."
"Isnt it better that you rattle and be able to live a normal life?"
"I wish I didnt have to rattle at all." Another juddering sob. Striker handed her a tissue from the box by the bed. "I hate epilepsy, Striker. I hate it. Look at today, I could have got us killed ."
"No!" Striker interrupted so ardently that Morien looked at her in surprise. "If anything, your seizure could have saved our lives. If wed have carried on running they would have seen us."
"Then Im just sorry you had to see it." Her voice was so soft Striker had to strain to hear it.
"Theres nothing to be sorry for."
"Im so embarrassed." Morien hid her face in her hands.
Oh, my love . Striker didnt know what to say. How could she tell her that it didnt matter? The only thing that mattered was that she was all right. But would that be dismissing her feelings? Morien needed to talk about this. So she asked a question instead. "Why?" she said, softly.
Morien sighed through her hands, but didnt speak for a moment. Then, muffled, she said. "I lose control. Of everything. I come out of it and I dont know whats happened. Except, Im covered in drool and sometimes " Another sob. "Sometimes Ive, you know wet myself."
"Hey, its ."
"And I come out of it and everyone always looks so shocked and pitying. And I feel so helpless."
There was a silence. Striker could say nothing. She put her hand on Moriens leg, through the duvet, and rubbed gently.
Eventually, Morien took her hands away from her face, replacing them with a tissue.
"How often do you have seizures?"
Morien jumped at the question. "Not often " Her voice was almost pleading. "Not often. I havent for a while. The medication seemed to be doing its job, but this week has been ." She shrugged.
There was something in her voice that made Striker pause. This week. Not today, this week . "Morien, at the Boom was that why you left?"
Morien looked shamefaced. And slowly nodded.
Striker thought. "The lights and the noise . You didnt have a seizure, though, did you?"
Morien didnt answer her. She couldnt look Striker in the face.
"Morien?! Why didnt you tell me?!" Strikers voice was edged with anger now a warning rumble of thunder. She grasped Moriens arms tightly a tightness not quite bordering on punishment. "What happened?"
"It was okay before, when we were just talking. I really enjoyed it. The noise was fine, the lighting was okay. But the lights, when they started flashing its like my brain couldnt cope with it. I could feel a fit coming. I was scared. I didnt want you to see that. I didnt want you to see me like that." She took a deep breath and the admission came out in a rush. "I had a seizure in the alley. In the dark." She shivered at the memory.
Striker felt the shiver through her fingertips and rubbed Moriens arms in an unconscious response, but her voice was still hard and hurt. "Did Thomas and Paully did they see did they know?"
Morien shook her head. "They were busy with some people. I I think Thomas thought Id fainted. He was very kind."
"Why didnt you call me? Why didnt you trust me with this?"
Morien looked her in the eye for the first time. "I thought you... wouldnt want to be with me."
Striker looked astonished. "I would never ."
"Striker, youre the first person and I mean the very first person Ive told about my epilepsy who hasnt reacted badly to it. All my family have been very supportive, but every one of them was shocked or overly worried or in some kind of denial when they first found out that I was an epileptic. At the very least they didnt know how to react. But, you it just doesnt worry you. I thought it was because you were a doctor, but ." Striker turned her face away . "Well, I was wrong there. But ever since I met you, youve treated me like a normal person instead of a freak or a burden or someone to be pitied or avoided. I mean, look at me, Striker, Im not normal. Im Frankensteins monster. I cant live a normal life. Today just proved that."
"Morien ." Striker watched the tears roll down Moriens face, a face twisted in self disgust. She cupped a damp cheek, stroking the tears away with her thumb. "Morien, listen to me. Listen ." Morien finally looked up at her. "Let me tell you something. You are not an epileptic. You shouldnt label yourself like that. You are a sweet, kind and good woman and a great friend who just happens to have epilepsy. You are not a freak, your life is not over, you are not a burden to your family. Ive seen how much your father loves you. How much he treasures you as a human being, and as his daughter, irrespective of neurological disorders, sexuality or drug-dealing friends." She caught a smile. "Hey did you know that Lord Byron had epilepsy?" Morien looked surprised. "Did you know Julius Caesar had epilepsy?"
A sniff. "Really?"
"Yeah, so if you want to go conquer Gaul anytime, there shouldnt be problem."
Morien giggled. It was a beautiful sound and made Striker grin inanely. But she let go of Moriens face. "Okay, so epilepsy sucks. But this is just something else that were going to have to make part of our lives along with I dont know paying taxes and watching the Phillies lose ."
"Our lives?" Morien looked at her, blinking tears away.
"Yeah. You, your family, your friends Sophie " Morien looked away. Striker saw a glimpse of shame on her face. "What?"
"I ," she sighed, " I havent told her."
Strikers eyes widened to a glowing blue. "Your girlfriend doesnt know youve got epilepsy?"
Morien shook her head.
"Why havent you told her?"
"Because I dont know how shell react."
Strikers heart bled for Morien, for the misery she must have been carrying inside her for so long. She wanted to hug her, but she was scared she wouldnt be able to let go. Instead, she did the honourable thing, despite the lump in her throat. "Sweetheart, if she loves you then it wont matter to her. If she loves you shell be there for you whatever."
If she loves you like I love you.
Morien nodded, unconvincingly.
There was a silence. A tense, thick silence that was both intoxicating and terrifying. And then Morien spoke. "What about you?"
Striker blinked. Unsure of the answer. Unsure of the question. "What do you mean?"
Morien looked back into the sapphire. "You said our lives."
It was Strikers turn to look away. "I did, didnt I?" Her fingers twisted around each other on her lap. "Well I hope that when all this crazy stuff is over we can still be friends."
"Striker, of course!" Morien reached for her hand. "I cant I couldnt imagine us not being friends."
Then she spoilt the sentiment with an enormous yawn.
"Good." Striker smiled, a big grin that lit up the room. This wasnt over. There was more she knew it. Morien had more to say, but she needed rest more than conversation. The sedative was finally kicking in. "Now shouldnt you be getting some sleep?"
Morien slid down into the bed as Striker pulled the covers over her. "Nag," she said.
Striker grinned even more as she wiped Moriens damp face with a sleeve. "You feeling better?"
"Yes, thank you." The lines round Moriens nose crinkled. Her eyes were feeling heavy. She gave in and closed them.
"You all nice and dry now?"
There should have been fodder for banter in that line, but Morien was too tired to react. So she simple agreed. "Nice and dry."
"Want a bedtime story?"
"Mmm, but I dont think Id last past Once upon a time ."
And she didnt not quite. Striker thought she had fallen asleep, she was about to get up, when there was a final, drowsy question. "Striker ."
"Are those dads pyjamas?"
Striker looked down at the blue and maroon striped garments, under the loosely tied robe. "Yeah."
"They suit you."
Striker watched as Moriens face relaxed, her breathing evened, gazing down at her in the muted light of the bedside lamp. A thousand thoughts went through her mind. A thousand words that could be whispered into the still room.
For a moment, the nights of reading to the comatose woman were as close as yesterday. Sitting by the bed, it was as if she could still hearing the beeping of the EEG, before the noise drifted into birdsong in the outside evening.
She bent down, a hand paused on the lamp switch, but gave into temptation and touched her lips against the soft cheek. "I love you," she whispered, as quiet as night, and turned the light out.
* * * * *
Striker was starting to feel exhausted herself. In addition to the chase in the rain and the fear of the day, she guessed she still owed herself at least a good ten hours. But she was feeling wired. She needed something just something to relax her.
She came down into the sitting room and found Sullivan bending over a wooden cabinet. He turned round and held a glass out to her. "You strike me as the kind of person who might appreciate a single malt."
That was what she needed. "Yes. Thank you," Striker said, and took the glass.
Sullivan closed the cabinet door. "You also strike me as the kind of person whod accompany that single malt with a cigarette. So, shall we step out to the garden?"
They did, Striker with a slight sense of trepidation: Sullivan obviously wanted to talk.
The heavy rain had made the evening cool, although not cold. The sky was still speckled with cloud, but it was light and high and allowed the sinking sun to peek through.
Striker had barely made it into the garden during her stay. It wasnt particularly large, with just a few feet of lawn, shaped in an erratic oval. Flowerbeds dominated, exploding with colour and greenery; a paved path led through the borders to the unknown dark twilight of trees. There was a patio area nearest to the house, with garden furniture surrounded by pot plants. There was a harmony of sweet scents: wet grass, herbs, jasmine climbing up a nearby trellis; and the mysterious, dreamy smell of night-scented stock.
With a spray of raindrops, Sullivan whipped a cover off the bench like a conjuror, and they found comfortable, dry wood beneath them as they sat.
Striker produced her cigarettes and lit one. She saw Sullivan eyeing the packet.
"Um may I?" he asked. Striker looked at him in astonishment, but nodded, and Sullivan helped himself to a cigarette. "For goodness sake, dont tell my kids," he said, and he leant forward to accept the flame.
The cigarette seemed alien in his fingers. His hands were shaking.
It took a sip or two of malt before either one of them spoke.
"Its extraordinary," Sullivan finally said. "I always thought the most traumatic thing that my family could go through would be losing Gwen my wife." He took another sip of malt and let it warm his throat; soothe the burning of the smoke. "But I look at what Moriens been through this year ." He shook his head. "What do I do? How can I protect my daughter my little girl from this? I dont even know where to begin."
Striker watched her cigarette smoke dissipate into the sunset, unsure of how to answer, even if the question had an answer.
"I just wanted to give them a quiet life, you know? I grew up in the city, but my wife was always a country girl. Thats why we settled in Lleuadraeth. Its a small town. Its quiet. It has a good school. It has a caring community. And now look at us . Drug dealers, guns . My daughter almost died today. And I cant even say that thats never happened before or itll never happen again." He took a big gulp of malt and his shaking hand spilt ash from his cigarette.
Then he continued. "Morien she can be so headstrong, so determined, you know?" Striker smiled. "But, now she seems so fragile. She never needed protecting, although Ive always tried to watch out for her. So has Drake, bless him, even when he was young. You know, Morien was beaten up at school ."
"After she came out, you know? She was confronted by a gang of boys. She ended up with a broken rib, a split lip, a black eye, it could have been worse too much worse. But it was Drake who was more upset, because he felt as if he should have done something. He was thirteen, and a small thirteen at that. But Morien, she walked right back into school, chin up, black eye glowing, confronted the boys whod done it, showed them she had nothing to be ashamed of, and the whole lot of them ended up getting expelled. They were bloody lucky not to get arrested."
Striker smiled again, feeling warm with pride and whisky.
"When that happened, I thought that maybe that was going to be the toughest thing she had to go through in her life. Confronting prejudice . Shes always been able to look after herself, and shes always kept an eye on us too. But Ive seen such a change in her this year. Shes been so low, her self-esteem Shes been so troubled." He shook his head, and took a puff of the cigarette, which was burning down without his help. "She hides it, of course. Seems like shes the old, laughing, joking, sweet Mo. But, its like shes lost herself ." He paused, and looked sideways at Striker. "Thats what I thought, anyway."
Striker looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"Youve been good to her. Youve been good for her."
"Shes been good for me."
Sullivan smiled. "Ive watched my daughter over the last few months. Shes been quiet, pale, far too thin. Its like shes struggling to come to terms with whats happened to her. When the two of you arrived on Saturday, I knew she was in some kind of trouble, and I expected to see her even more pale, even more quiet. And she was tired and concerned but there was a sparkle in her eyes that I havent seen for I havent seen." He didnt continue, just glanced at Striker again. And then, "Today scared me though, Striker. Today scared me badly. But Im so grateful you were there."
"It scared me too."
"Then you were extremely brave."
Striker shook her head. "Im not brave. Moriens the bravest person I know."
Sullivan reached down beside him and revealed the bottle of malt. He topped up Strikers glass and then his own. Behind his glasses, his eyes glittered briefly in the light from the house. "Drinking on a school night. Its not often I do this."
"I think tonight youve got an excuse."
"I think tonight I have." He took a sip, and sucked at the remaining stub of his cigarette. His hands were still shaking. "My God, the thought of losing her ."
"I wont let that happen." The words were quiet, resolute and carved in stone in the cool night.
Sullivan looked at Striker. Strange that those steadfast words should come from someone who suddenly seemed so shy. "What is my daughter to you?" he asked.
Although Striker still didnt look at him, Sullivan couldnt help but notice an eyebrow raise. She couldnt keep the bashful laughter out of her voice. "You sound like youre asking me my intentions."
There was a pause. "Maybe I am."
Now Striker did look at him, blue eyes wide with surprise.
"I might not know you, Striker, but I know love when I see it."
The night was suddenly warmer, whether from the whisky, the cigarette, the towelling robe or the fact that shed just been caught out. And there was Sullivan, ball in catchers glove. Her cheeks were blazing, she knew it, and she also knew she couldnt lie.
"Sir Mr Llewelyn ," she cleared her throat, " Sullivan ." And then the words came out in a rush, spinning out into the night. "I love your daughter more than anything in the world. And I will protect and treasure her while I still have breath in my body to do it. If shell let me." She emptied almost the entire glass and almost lost her continued words in its smooth fire. "And if I have the guts to tell her."
She glanced up at Sullivan. He was regarding her. With amusement? With satisfaction? With gratitude? He grinned and held out his tumbler. "Heres to guts," he said.
* * * * *
Striker tiptoed up the creaky stairs, determined not to wake Morien.
Sullivan and she had watched the dusk turn to night, moths tapping at the windows, an owl calling into the lonely dark. And beneath it the gentle wash of the sea as if it was another heartbeat or a breath.
They hadnt talked much more.
But Strikers admission whirled round her mind. The words were out there now, teasing the moths and dancing with moonbeams.
Striker and Morien, sitting in a tree .
So, Sullivan knew, Danny knew, how long before the whole world knew and . Oh, Dan, what am I going to do? I think Im about to fuck up again, bro. Please dont let me fuck this .
"Striker." She was passing Moriens bedroom, the door ajar, and the words were so quiet that she barely heard them. She stopped, listening intently.
Nothing. Just the faintest sound of even breaths.
That was the whisky talking.
She closed the bathroom door behind her and concentrating on brushing away the malt and smoke from her teeth. That finished, she peed, flushed, washed and headed out onto the landing again towards her own room.
"Striker." That was louder. She crept to Moriens bedroom door and peeked round. It was quiet and dark in the bedroom. She could see the rounded shape of her friend curled up in the bed. No sound. She turned . "Striker... dont go."
"Youre supposed to be asleep."
"I am asleep at least Im so tired I cant think straight."
"Do you need anything, honey?"
"Yes." It was a muffled affirmation, spoken into sleep and pillows.
Striker went closer, her eyes becoming accustomed to the dark. "What?"
Morien turned. Her eyes were open. Striker could almost see the green in the shadows. "You cariad, I need you."
The breath caught in Strikers throat. "What?"
It sounded as if it was an effort for Morien to talk. "Please Striker stay with me. I dont want to be alone."
The words were out, working their magic. Striker didnt even need to think. She closed the door behind her, slipped off the robe and stepped out of the pyjama bottoms. The shirt barely made it past the dark curls between her thighs, but she didnt care any more.
She lifted the duvet and glided along the cool sheet until her body hit Moriens with the softest of collisions. A sweet confusion of limbs as Morien turned, burrowing into Strikers arms, and then the gentle, bittersweet resting of bare skin a flicker of breath, eyes closed in sleep and wonder.
There was a creak on the stair. A step on the landing. The squeak of a door. Sullivan going to bed. Water gurgled through pipes; a brief symphony. A light clicked off. Another door closing.
Then stillness dripped in the room.
Morien stirred briefly against her. Striker could just make out her face in the dim light. She looked more like a child than ever.
I will protect and treasure you while I still have breath in my body to do it. Whatever happens between us, you are my love, Morien, you are my life.
Striker lay motionless, letting the cool night move across her heated body. The window was open. The perfume of night-scented stock stole into the room on the sound of the wavering sea. Moriens skin smelt softly of flowers and her slow and even breathing rippled against Striker, igniting fire in her veins.
She was in love. She was alive with it. She was buzzing with it. She wanted to dance with her love on the swell of fragrance, she wanted to shout her love over the harmony of the waves. The feeling took her breath and her heart.
Denise Levertov's beautiful poem "The Sea's Wash In The Hollow of the Heart";
[ii] "Lle dach chi?" = Where are you?
[iii] "Be' sy'n bod?" = What's the matter?
Continued in Chapter 21...
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