A Little Piece of Paradise.
Victoria Conrad kept one hand on the steering wheel and one eye on the road. The other hand was shuffling through a small pile of cd's on the passenger seat of her Shogun. The four wheel drive vehicle ground to a halt a millimetre from the bumper of the car in front and the driver of the car glared at her in his wing mirror.
She gave him a sweet smile and took the opportunity to devote all her attention to finding the required CD.
Pulling the finished cd from the player she put that back in the wrong box and loaded the one that she'd found. Flicking through the tracks she found the one she wanted. The sax introduced the song and she sang along with George Michael.
She'd only been in Bath a couple of days but had learned, in that short time, that traffic jams were a normal occurrence every day. The city had been developed in the 1700's, it's streets not designed for modern day traffic. So she sat, watching the face of the man in the car in front as he watched her in his rear view mirror.
Victoria was used to this behaviour. A striking woman, she stood a hairs width below six foot. Her dark hair and tanned skin accentuated her most dynamic feature, her eyes, which were the colour of the sky on a summer's day.
But it wasn't a summers day. It was a dismal, damp Thursday in February. It had been raining all morning, and now the rain was turning to sleet.
The traffic started to move again and Victoria shifted the car into gear and started to crawl forward again.
Thirty minutes later she was driving down Milsom Street. A short street, with some of the more high class shops to be found in Bath. A car pulled out of a parking space just as she was thinking about parking on the yellow line on the opposite side of the road. She shot into the space, ignoring the glares from the woman who was about to reverse into it. Without locking the car she ran across the road and purchased a couple of parking cards. That would allow her an hour before she'd have to worry about being towed away. After buying the cards she scratched away the appropriate time and date and displayed them on top of the dash. She slammed the door and used the remote control to lock it.
Pulling the collar of her long, black Kashmir coat up she walked down Milsom Street before turning right into Quiet Street.
She found what she was looking for almost immediately. Luckily there was a small awning outside the estate agents, and she stood for a while, looking at the photos of the available properties.
The pictures and short descriptions were affixed to hanging boards in the window, and these suddenly swayed precariously as someone inside the offices peered around to look at one of the photos.
It was a girl. She was leaning sideways looking at the picture. She obviously suddenly realised she was blocking the view of a prospective customer and turned towards the woman on the pavement.
She smiled and put a hand to her mouth in a gesture of apology. Then she was gone.
Victoria peered between the hanging boards and watched as the girl went to a filing cabinet and pulled out some details, which she handed to a couple to inspect.
The tall woman went back to examining the photos. She walked to another of the windows, this was where the properties to let were advertised. Some had photos, but most were just a description of the property and the cost of the monthly rent. She made a move to step to her right and walked straight into another body.
She looked down into smiling green eyes.
"Sorry about that." The girl said. "See anything you were interested in?"
Victoria smiled back. "No problem. There are a couple, yes."
"Well, come on in out of the rain, I'll fish out some details for you."
She was lead into the offices and directed to sit in a chair infront of what she assumed was the girl's desk. The name plate said 'Miss E. Gallagher'.
Miss E. Gallagher sat opposite and folded her hands in front of her on the desk.
"What sort of prices are we talking about?"
"Actually I was looking at your properties to let."
"Any particular location?"
"Not too far from the city centre. I'm going to be working here, but I don't think I want to live in the centre. Somewhere on the outskirts I think."
"Large, small? How many bedrooms?"
"Not too big. It's just for me."
The girl nodded and stood to go to the filing cabinet. "Oh yes," Victoria added. "I want somewhere that I can move into immediately."
The girl stood for a moment thinking. "Okaaaay." She took a few files from the cabinet and returned to her desk.
"We have a number of suitable properties that have just become available." She put a few of the folders aside. "Those are all in the centre. This is about two miles outside." She handed the details to the woman sitting across from her. "Do you know Bath?"
"No, I've only been here a couple of days."
Victoria took the details from her and studied them. "Exposed beams, restored cottage." She looked back up to the girl. "When can I look at it?"
"We have the keys, I could take you up there now."
The girl stood and turned to one of her colleagues. "Mark I'm going out for a bit, shouldn't be more than an hour."
The man she'd spoken to looked up from the phone call he was taking and nodded.
Retrieving the keys from the filing cabinet she grabbed her coat and held the door open for Victoria to exit the offices.
"D'you mind if we take my car? I'll get a parking ticket if I leave it there much longer." Victoria said as they stepped out into the heavy rainstorm.
"No, not at all, where are you parked?"
"Just round the corner." The two women turned the corner into the gale that had blown up in the last ten minutes.
Victoria stepped into the road and unlocked the Shogun. "It's open." She called across the roof to the smaller woman who didn't realise the central locking had unlocked the passenger side already.
They both shook the rain out of their hair as they sat in the plush leather interior of the large car.
"Goodness!" Said the blonde.
"Goodness indeed." Victoria echoed.
"Gosh, I just realised. I didn't take your details."
Victoria turned in her seat towards the smaller woman and held out her hand. "Victoria Conrad."
The blonde girl took her hand. "Eden Gallagher." She said smiling.
"Eden." Said Victoria. "Nice name."
"Thank you." Said the girl sincerely.
Twenty minutes later Eden directed Victoria to take a right turn on a slight hill. They had climbed south out of Bath and now were heading down the other side into Midford.
"It's just down here on the right hand side, don't go too fast or you'll miss it." Eden was leaning forward, looking for the small turning to the private road that led to a handful of properties. "There!" She said and Victoria turned into the single track road. "Summer Cottage is at the end."
True enough, at the end of the lane Victoria recognised the cottage she had seen in the details back at the office.
Eden jumped out of the Shogun and unlocked the door so that her client wouldn't have to wait in the rain.
As soon as Victoria stepped into the small cottage she knew she had found her home.
Eden watched the woman as she walked into the hallway.
The cottage as furnished tastefully. Modern appliances in the kitchen blending nicely with the antique looking stove.
The lounge was uncluttered and sported a stone fireplace. A small room just off of that would do nicely for her office. The dining room had large patio doors which opened into a glass and hard wood extension which doubled the size of the room. Upstairs were two double bedrooms, both with king size beds. The bathroom held a large bath and shower unit.
Eden had been chattering away about the property, though Victoria had been lost in thought as she looked around the cottage.
"I'll take it." She said quietly.
Victoria turned back to the smaller woman. "I'm sorry, I said I'll take
A half hour later the two women were back in Bath. This time Victoria didn't attempt to park. She turned right into Quiet Street and dropped the young estate agent off outside her office.
"I'm staying at the Bath Spa hotel." She said. "I'll be in tomorrow to sort things out."
"Ok, it's been good doing business with you." Eden shouted over the sound of rain hitting the roof of the car. She slammed the door closed and ran into the office. By the time she'd turned round the Shogun had disappeared round the corner.
She shook her coat off as she got inside.
"Well?" Said her colleague.
"I just let Summer cottage." She said, a self satisfied smile on
It was just after 6 o'clock when Eden got home. She shared a small flat with an old school friend. When her parents had sold their Bath home in order to retire to the south coast Eden had decided to stay in Bath. Her friend, Cathy, had asked her to move in with her when she first obtained the small flat in Larkhall. It suited them both perfectly.
Cathy was curled up on the sofa watching TV when a damp Eden plopped herself down in the chair.
"Bloody buses! Two went past full up before I could get on one." Cathy seemed not to have heard her, so she looked to see what she was watching. It was the local news.
"It's four weeks now, they still haven't found her. She must be dead." Cathy said absently.
She was talking about a local girl who had gone missing after a night out in Bath. Nothing had been heard from her despite appeals from the police and her family.
"I think you're right, surely she wouldn't do that to her family."
Cathy turned to her friend. "I'll make some tea." She stood and went to the small kitchen. "Good day? " She shouted.
"Great day, I'm in love."
"That's good." There was a crash from the kitchen, and Cathy framed the doorway to the lounge. "You're what?"
"I'm in love." Repeated Eden, a comical dreamy look on her face.
"And I'm guessing it's not with a guy."
Eden smiled at her friend. A long conversation in the wee hours of the morning some months previously had brought about her friend's comment.
"You know, you always imagine that one day someone amazing will just walk into your life and change it forever."
"Did that happen today?"
"No, not really. But this really gorgeous woman came into the office looking to rent."
"Gorgeous like what?" Cathy's curiosity peeked. She sat on the sofa again, the tea forgotten.
"Well, she was tall, close to six foot. Almost powerful looking. She had long black hair, she wore it loose. A tan. And the most amazing blue eyes I've ever seen. And when she smiled...." Eden feigned swooning.
Cathy swatted her on the knee. "Eddie!"
Eden laughed with her friend. It was nice to be able to talk to someone about it. Coming to terms with her attraction toward other women had been hard for her. She hadn't been able to talk to her family about it, and most of her friends wouldn't understand. But she lived with Cathy, and she decided her friend deserved to know. So she'd told her one night after a particularly bawdy party when both of them felt relaxed from the effects of alcohol.
Cathy's first reaction had been one of disbelief.
"But you don't look like a............."
"Lesbian, dyke? So what am I supposed to look like?" Eden smiled at her friend's puzzlement.
"I don't know, but not how you look."
"Sorry. Are you ok with this? I can find somewhere else if you like."
Cathy's answer was to sit next to her friend on the sofa and snake an arm around her shoulders. "You're still my best friend Ed. You can stay here as long as you like."
Eden remembered the relief she'd felt and the gratitude for her friend's understanding.
"So what are you going to do about tall, dark and beautiful?"
Eden thought about it for a long moment. "Nothing." She finally said.
Cathy was quiet for a while and Eden knew she was working her way up to a question.
"What?" Said Eden, trying not to laugh.
"Well," Cathy exhaled. "How do you, you know, how do you find out if..........." She flapped her arms in the air, suddenly at a loss.
"How do I find out if she's gay, and then how do I find out if she's interested in me?"
"Yeah." Cathy leaned forward on her knees.
"It's in the eyes. If someone looks you dead in the eyes it means they're in love with you." As she was saying this she leaned forward with her elbows on her knees and looked deeply into the eyes of her best friend.
"Eddie! I was being serious." Said Cathy leaning back on the sofa and crossing her arms over her chest.
"So was I, sort of."
Eden got up and went to the kitchen, realising the cup of tea was not going to materialise on its own.
"So what you going to do about it?" Cathy called into the kitchen.
"Do about what?"
"The beautiful stranger."
"Like I said before, nothing."
"But you're in love."
Eden came back into the lounge. "She'll probably be in tomorrow to sign for the cottage, I'll see her then. But I'm hardly going to ask her out, am I?"
"Where is she staying now?"
"The Bath Spa."
"Oooh, money too. Is she from round here?"
"She said she doesn't know Bath."
"So she's all alone, in a city she doesn't know, no friends." Cathy snivelled unconvincingly.
Eden looked suspiciously at her friend. "What do you think I should do?"
"Well, if it was me..........."
Eden laughed and went back into the kitchen as the kettle started to whistle. "If it was you, you wouldn't be thinking about ways to find out if a woman was remotely interested in you."
"No, I mean, if it was me and it was a fella I was interested in, I'd get in his face. Find out where he went at night and make sure I was there."
Eden returned to the lounge with two cups of tea.
"So you think I should just turn up............where? The Bath Spa Hotel? As if that's a regular drinking hole of mine. I doubt I'd get through the door."
"So call her."
Eden's mouthful of tea reappeared quickly.
"Too hot?" Said Cathy in all innocence.
"Call her?" Eden reached for a box of Kleenex and dabbed at the tea on her chin and down the front of her blouse.
"Go on, go for it. Just say you wondered if she'd like a drink as she's new in town. She can only say 'no'."
The two girls sat for long moments looking at each other. Then Eden made a decision, and reached for the 'phone directory.
"There it is, the Bath Spa Hotel." Picking up the 'phone Eden dialled the number as Cathy squirmed in anticipation, clutching a cushion to her chest.
"Hello, I wonder if I could speak to one of your guests...... Victoria Conrad........thank you." Eden looked up at her friend. "Oh my God." She mouthed at her. "Pardon? Oh, yes Eden Gallagher."
Eden waited while her call was put through.
"Oh hi, it's Eden Gallagher......yes, that's right."
Cathy sniggered as Eden coloured up and the blonde refused to meet her gaze.
"No, no problems, I'll have the paperwork for you to sign tomorrow. No, I was wondering if you'd like to, um. I was wondering what you were doing tonight." She closed her eyes and screwed her face up. "I mean, as you don't know anyone in Bath, well, I assume you don't know anyone in Bath. Well, um, I thought you might like to go out with me, um, not out with me, just.......pardon?" Eden's jaw dropped. "Ok, by the fountain. Fine, fine, ok."
Eden placed the handset in the cradle and stared at it.
"What'd she say?" Said Cathy, peering over the top of the cushion.
"She said 'great', and she'd meet me by Laura Fountain because that was the only landmark in Bath she knew."
"Bloody hell. What time?"
"Eight. Shit! It's seven now! What am I going to wear?"
"Casual." Said Cathy. "Wear that white v-neck tee-shirt, with your blue jeans, you always look good in that."
"Ok, but it needs pressing, will you do that while I shower?"
Cathy stood and went to the kitchen to retrieve the ironing board while Eden made for the bathroom, shedding clothes as she went.
"And can I have a squirt of your musk?"
"Since when did you start asking me?"
"Oh Cath, " Eden reappeared wearing nothing but a towel. "Can I borrow your burgundy cardigan?"
"My best cardi?" She said looking up from battling to get the ironing board erected. But seeing the pleading look on the face of her best friend, she relented. "Ok, I'll put it on your bed along with the tee-shirt."
By seven forty five she was showered, hair washed and dressed ready for the evening. Cathy insisted on driving her into town, which meant that by eight o'clock she was standing at the top of Pultney Street next to Laura Fountain.
Cathy did a u-turn around the fountain and stopped allowing Eden to get out of the small car.
"You've got your 'phone?" She said, leaning across the passenger seat.
Eden put a hand on the waistband of her jeans, feeling the weight of the small mobile 'phone there. "Yep."
"OK, call me when you want picking up." A smile crossed her face. "Or call me if you're not coming home."
"Cathy, I'll be home. But don't wait up, I'll get a taxi." She reached into the back seat and retrieved her black quilted jacket.
"OK, but call me anyway, when you're in the loo or something, just so I know you're ok."
"OK." Eden said and pushed the car door closed.
She watched the small hatchback disappear down the street and made her way to the seat nearby. Unfortunately it was by the bus stop that was for the university bus. About twenty students were waiting, and there was nowhere for her to sit. So she went to the fountain and waited on the low wall that marked its edge.