Disclaimers: Yep. Ladies getting to grips with love … and maybe a little more. They do resemble a couple of gorgeous women from a well-known TV show, but I have tried to make then a little mine in the process.
Sex: Erm. Cough. Erm. Blushing furiously. A little bit … or maybe a lot … you decide. And its between two ladies … therefore, if you are underage or it is illegal where you are I'm sorry. But I bet you read it anyway <wink>.
Violence: A warning … kids are cruel. But in this case its not intentional … or is it?
Thanks: To my beta readers, who tell me to get a grip and get on with it. Thank you for treating me like family <and if you've met my family …>.
Also a big thanks to you, the reader, who give me fantastic feedback and the want to keep on writing. Also thank you to all the fantastic writers out there who have given me hours of joy.
If you like what you have read, drop me a line. Warning. I am extremely sensitive … I can cry on demand. Grin.
Or if you want to check out my published work … under LT Smith …
Right Between the Eyes
It happened a while back, but I guess it still feels like it happened five minutes ago. Nothing major … don't panic. Well, when I say nothing major, what I really mean is nothing that will affect you. Because, you see … it affected me. A lot. Very much… too much in fact. And as I said … it feels like five minutes ago.
It all started in such a subtle way that before I knew it I was lost. Lost. Yep … lost in the way where you are lost and don't even realise it. Are you thinking that this is going to be a tale of love that has become sour, or that one has bunked off and left the other to rot? Maybe it is, and then again, maybe you are so wide off the mark you can't even see the target or where the arrow was meant to hit.
Well. I can tell you where it hit. Right between my bloody eyes. Did I catch you out? Were you thinking ‘Bugger. Get the hankies'? Hopefully you won't need them – but then again …
Let me start afresh, and tell you what actually happened. Ready? Stand on the start line ... crouch … prepare yourself …
And we're off …
Sport's Day was not one of my favourite days for many reasons. Seeing kids juggle spoons and eggs was not my idea of a ‘fun filled' day. Torture was more like it – and not just for me. Have you ever witnessed two kids strapped together with a piece of rope and run down a stretch of grass amongst the cheers of competitive parents? I should imagine it's what I look like whilst running to catch the last bus home after a night at the pub. Believe me. Not a good sight. Sack races … hurdles … high jump … shot put … all performed in the rain at the end of term. And there was me … Aunty Katie, waiting on the side to see my little nephew, Ben, run like crazy with a golf ball representing an egg, which precariously danced on a spoon, as he legged it like a crippled gazelle towards the finish line.
The worst thing was I didn't even want to be there (I think you got that already). If it wasn't for the fact my sister had a job interview I would have been at home on my day off with my feet up watching shite on the telly. But no. I had to volunteer. I mean, how can you say no to a little tear stained faced looking at you adoringly … beseechingly … covered in snot. Even I wasn't that heartless.
Didn't know about the rain then though. Snot or no snot, it would have definitely been a ‘Sorry, Ben. I've got to go into the office. You do understand don't you?' as I was ramming a fiver in his direction. But the English weather, although changeable, loves to surprise, as us Brits never expect it. Sad, but true. And it didn't show its ugly side until I was standing waiting for the race before Ben's to begin. Thoughts about suing the local education authority came into my head. I'm not so concerned about myself, and the fact I was pissed wet through, it was the thought that if one of the little darlings tripped over their shoelaces it would be goodnight Vienna for peace and tranquillity. This could scar them for life. Imagine the shame of a gob full of mud and the agony of a sprained knee. Not a pretty picture is it? Especially when it's accompanied by the deafening sound only a child can make when in pain.
But. The rain stopped. And so did we – but my whinging continued.
When Ben was standing at the line, looking like Tiger Woods gone mad, my heart lifted in my mouth. I admit. It was exciting. I wanted him to win so much … wanted all the other kids to drop their balls and stand there looking dazed so he would get a head start and fly over the winning line victorious. And when I spotted my parents standing on the other side of the hundred-metre line, I didn't even go crackers and demand why they were there when it had been made apparent he would have been stranded without me.
Looking back, I should have left then. Less painful in the long run – in more ways than one.
But. I stayed. Watched Ben struggle forward, ‘egg' on spoon … spoon sans ‘egg' and then on again. It's amazing that I didn't swear as he was inching it up the track, face dazed in thought and concentration. For eight years old, he looked like an old man who has just realised he is no longer constipated and the toilet is one hundred metres away from him. My heart was in overdrive; my mouth was too. The screaming coming from the sidelines made the world cup final seem positively tame.
Fourth. That's where he came. Fourth. For all my shouting and screaming and dancing and jumping up and down, he came fourth. My parents were there at the finish line, mum using her usual line about Moses coming forth and winning a teapot. I know. I never really got the point either. But I was more concerned about Ben – I knew he was seconds away from crying. Experience told me that he was more disappointed that I had witnessed his losing, than the actual losing, if you know what I mean.
‘Never mind, Tiger…' I should have thought through the usual nickname I gave him, as the golf ball on his spoon started to shake. ‘I thought you were perfect.' The sniff was loud, not dramatic, but full of welling disillusionment bordering on frustration … not me, him. I placed my hand on his shoulder and bent down so I could be just that little bit shorter than him. Green eyes, so like my sister's, looked back – full green eyes, glistening with the tears I knew were imminent. ‘I blame the …' I lifted the spoon from his hand and turned it over, the golf ball plopping helplessly on the grass, ‘Sheffield steel.' I smiled at him. ‘Never trust a Yorkshire man.'
The snort that escaped him was delightful; he knew I said that to make him laugh. His dad was a Yorkshire man … and he loved him to bits and pieces. But after laughter came the tears, and he threw his arms around my neck and cried. I looked at my parents who were pulling ‘aww' faces, before I snuggled him more firmly into me.
‘Ben's a puff.' My eyes snapped open to see two girls standing behind him, arms linked, hair in pigtails, looking the entire world like the Kray Twins. I swallowed the urge to respond in a less than lady like manner and just pulled him closer to me. ‘Crying like a big girl's blouse cos he didn't win.'
I couldn't help it. I swear. No, I didn't swear, I just looked the tallest one in the eye and said, ‘But he's not crying because he lost.'
My mum knew that I wouldn't let it go and tried to stop me. ‘He's crying because someone told him you fancied him.' The look of mortification on her face was priceless, especially when the other Kray, Ronnie, I think, started laughing. ‘He's just getting over the shock.' I know it wasn't that bad, but I also knew it would be round the school like lightning – Ronnie would see to it. Their disappearing bodies, and actions of trying to pull away from each other, laid claim to that.
Standing up, I placed a kiss on Ben's cheek before ruffling his hair. ‘Come on champ. Let's see who's about.' Hand in hand we left my parents arguing who was going to queue up for tea and walked without talking.
Fifteen minutes went by, and still not a word. It wasn't until we reached the far side of the field that I felt his hand grip mine more tightly. Looking down at him, I saw his streaked face break into a huge grin. Following the direction of his look, I felt myself stop in my tracks.
Standing near a table, clipboard in hand was a sight for sore eyes. Tall … dark … and positively sex on legs. I felt my insides shoot up into my mouth just so they could moisten my tongue. A vision. That's all I could say about her. And the light sprinkling down on her made her seem almost angelic. Maybe it was the sun, or maybe it was the light-headed feeling I was experiencing that made the outline of her seem blurred, like I was looking at her through a camera lens and the glass had been smeared with Vaseline.
But the feeling in my stomach didn't support it. It felt light. Heavy. Twisted and churned … and most definitely yearning. I had an over powering urge to walk over to her and kiss her, but I think the reception from that little action would be less than appetising. Probably leave me with a black eye … or a court order. However, there was no way I could move away from her without at least knowing her name.
‘That's Miss Jefferson,' Ben's voice seeped into my head.
Or at least talking to her. Trust kids to push you for another reason.
‘She's really nice.' I know, Ben … I know. And as I was thinking these thoughts, my legs decided they could move quite quickly when they wanted to, and before I knew it I was standing before her doing an excellent impression of a fish. I wanted to charm her, you know, give her the smile and the look that would do all the work for me, but no … I just gawped and swallowed and failed to anything constructive. ‘This is my Aunty Katie.' Thank you, Ben. You may go. ‘She's single.' And also glowing in embarrassment.
‘Really?' The voice could melt concrete. What's harder than concrete? Well, it would melt that too. I could even hear the hint of a smile in her response and my lips followed suit. ‘You must be so proud.' And then the laugh. Not any kind of laugh, but a deep timbered one that was rich and fulfilling … a laugh that held no malice, but was just filled with light.
I was mesmerised. The way she tilted her head and closed her eyes when she delivered the musical sound was captivating. But that paled in comparison when she looked at me.
Did I say looked at me? I meant to say looked through me … into me, more to the point. I felt so exposed at that moment, so transfixed by those blue eyes everything paled in comparison … the world faded away. And it was at this precise moment that the idyllic situation decided enough was enough. Time to fuck it all up.
It was the expression on her face that should have warned me. But no. I had to be the grinning idiot with no other thought than wanting to keep on grinning so she would smile in return. But the smile I had witnessed had changed, as if by slow motion. The lips that were crooked and adorably bent into a smile were now opening and changing into a sort of open-mouthed plea of sorts. I just smiled wider until the penny dropped and I squinted slightly. This was over a matter of seconds, but it felt as if it lasted hours – and if that were the case, then maybe I would have escaped the next part.
Although I wish I had.
I followed her gaze and turned my head, which now felt like an apple on a stick. BANG! Apple off aforementioned stick and falling backwards. Something black and hard had hit me straight in the face – right between the eyes to be precise. Everything in my mind seemed to shoot straight out of the back of it, leaving my head full of whiteness and the front full of pain. It didn't knock me out, just made me stagger and grip my nose – the same nose in which something hot, wet and sticky was now pumping through at a hundred miles an hour. Pulling my hand away, I saw blood pooling in my hand …
The ground beneath my feet seemed to be approaching my face rapidly, and it was no shock to find myself crumpled in a heap, grass antagonising my nose and moisture slipping along my cheek. Then nothing. The world escaped me … blackness took over the pain and the blood and the grass, and I was out like the bedtime candle. Puff.
Aching eyes opened to be greeted by faces surrounding me, Ben's the closest as he was lying on the ground next to me. I tried to get up quickly, but the pain in my face made me cringe.
‘Stay still.' It was the voice of Miss Jefferson, and through all the soreness pounding through my bones, I could still feel warmth in it. ‘You'd better not move until the First Aid woman looks you over.'
So, I lay there. My facial tenderness growing in might by the second, and by the feel of it underneath my fingers, also growing in size. I must have looked like John Merrick … elephant man of Manchester reincarnated. The dip where I used to call the bridge of my nose was absent. All I could feel was a huge lump the size of a golf ball replacing it. A bloody sore golf ball, like one had been inserted through my nostril and poked into place by a shitty stick. I did wonder if I had fallen on Ben's golf ball when I went down like a sack of spuds …
Eventually, a woman turned up, bag in hand and a face like a slapped arse. Yes, I know – I had room to talk. But she hadn't been hit in the face with an unidentified flying object had she.
‘She was hit in the face with a discus …' Thanks to Miss Jefferson, at least I knew what had pinned me. ‘She was ok until she saw the blood … then she fainted.' Ah shit. That's the last thing I wanted someone to think – especially her. I mean, how can you act in control and charming and be the thing they have been searching for their whole lives, when you pass out at the sight of blood? And I was doing so well until then. ‘No. She wasn't paying attention. I tried to warn her …' Bollocks did she. A grimace followed by a whistling sound through her teeth after I had been clobbered does not equate to a warning. I wanted to say something, but at that moment the first aid woman decided it was time to poke my lump, and it took all my energy not to tell her to get her fucking poking grubby short nailed lesbian fingers off my mother fucking face. All I can say is it was a good job my nephew was there, as I would definitely not been in control of my mouth.
Then came the torch … flick on … flick off … flick on … fuck off … Jesus. How many times can a person aggravate another person in the space of five minutes? I could have told her I didn't have concussion. All I had was a huge headache and a bloody painful face.
‘Looks like concussion.' The woman harrumphed and poked harder. I grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand down to deliver what I thought to be a killer look. ‘See? Weak as a kitten … sign of something amiss.' All this time she had not directed anything to me … not even a ‘Can you tell me where it hurts?' I know it was pretty obvious, but I still didn't like her professionalism. I could feel a letter of complaint forming in my head – and it didn't look good for the Florence Nightingale ‘wannabe' with fingers of a builder and the bedside manner of Dr Crippen.
At the precise moment I was about to deliver a recited version of my impending letter, my parents turned up. The look of concern was brief, before my mother started to laugh. I knew she didn't mean anything by it, and I also knew she was doing it from nerves more than anything, but still … I was expecting the line of ‘is your face hurting? Well, its killing me' to come out, but they spared me that at least. The words ‘adoption', popped into my head for a fleeting moment, before I decided to glean all the pity I could from them – just to make them feel bad, of course, not because I was a mard arse.
I had them. Like putty in my hand. My mother's eyes welled a little, I think out of guilt more than pity, and she leaned over me to check my eyes. ‘They look dull and lifeless.' Thanks mum. ‘She'd better go to A and E.' Why didn't anyone bother to speak to me about it? I was here after all?
Just as I was about to refuse to go, I heard Miss Jefferson make a suggestion. And that suggestion implied she was more than willing to drive me there, stay with me, and then take me home again. As if I could refuse an offer like that. I didn't care that my face was throbbing like a rugby player's testicles after a tackle … I was going to get ‘me' time with a woman I was attracted to. Stuff the six-hour wait on plastic chairs, the burnt coffee, and the bloke who wandered aimlessly in his pyjamas. I was going to have a prime opportunity to charm the socks (and other material layers) off Miss Jefferson.
And for a fleeting moment I believed it was worth being caned in the face by a flying disc of agony.
In retrospect, I must have had concussion.
Ben went with my parents, although he protested wildly that he wanted to make sure I was ok. Finally I convinced him that is was a waste of time all of us going to the hospital, and he was the only one who could give his mother a full account of why I wasn't with him. He looked over at his grandparents and I knew he was thinking ‘Why on earth can't they tell her?'
So I whispered in his ear ‘Never trust people who are always grinning.' At that point, he looked back at them, and there they were, grinning like the Cheshire cat and nodding supportively. ‘See what I mean?' He nodded at me and gave me a wink.
‘Consider it done.' He pushed his hand into mine to seal the deal and then he was off, gripping their hands and pulling them away. ‘Come on. We got news to spill.' One last turn, another wink and they were gone.
‘Let's get you sorted then.' Miss Jefferson was standing behind me: handbag and coat in one hand, car keys in the other. I actually caught myself giving her the once over, and the worst of it was, I think she caught me doing it. A blush, only a slight one, crept up her neck and spread over her face in the most delightful way, that I wanted to comment on it just to see the shade go darker. I tried to lift an eyebrow up but winced, my hand gently touching the ever-increasing mound of misery that was throbbing unceremoniously between my eyes. I squinted at the pain, and then felt a hand on my arm … a tender touch that allowed sparks of recognition to race through my body.
My head shot up quickly and I winced again, but this time kept my eyes open. She was looking at me with such gentleness and concern that I felt the inner workings inside my chest squeeze tightly. Blue eyes held mine for a few moments, and try as I might, I couldn't look away. All the pain in my head seemed to disappear at that instant, and I didn't care for lumps and bumps or anything. All that mattered was being here … right here, at this precise moment. No pain could replace the ultimate sensation of perfection I was feeling … I didn't care for setting or situation – all that mattered was …
‘You look awful. Your face is growing to the size of a basketball.'
Moment over. And in the usual fashion, I felt embarrassed. And when I feel embarrassed I usually say things I don't mean – maybe to cover up the fact I'm embarrassed in the first place. Too many ‘embarrasseds' there, I believe, but hey … that was the emotion of the minute.
‘Don't you think I can feel that?' The words shot out, and so did my hand, which snatched her hand off my arm and half flung it at her. ‘And the last thing I need is to be reminded.' With that, my little legs stormed off and across the field. For someone who had just been smacked by a piece of sporting equipment I was definitely sprightly enough. And a little bit annoyed. And when I'm annoyed, I mutter … mutter words that would never be deemed proper in any decent social situation, never mind a field full of kids.
I didn't even turn round to see if she was coming. Just raced onwards to the car park and then stopped. I didn't know which car was hers and it was at that precise moment I regretted walking to the school believing it was good for my health. A lot of good that did me. A walk that ended up with a visit to A and E … very healthy.
‘You waiting for me?' Her voice had the edge that screamed ‘smug', but I didn't want to bite. What I did want was to be at home and away from this mess.
‘I was just thinking …' a pause, a pretence at thought … ‘that I think I'll be ok. Don't think I need to get this checked out.'
‘You are not getting out of it.' She marched up to me and towered over. ‘I said I would take you to the hospital …' her hand gripped my arm, ‘and that's exactly where you are going. Whether you like it or not.'
The urge to go ape shit and declare my freedom was overpowering. And I would have too, but the look on her face so bloody close up told me that I wouldn't win. Now there were two things I could do at this moment. One … I could fight back and tell her I didn't know the post of my jailer had been filled. Or secondly I could just get it over and done with, suck air and take it like a bitch.
She was still glaring at me, the soft face of the concerned was gone and here stood nearly six foot of power. The look she was giving me said that there was no way she was going to back down on this either. We were either at an impasse or I could be the bigger person. I liked the thought of that. There were not many times I could be seen to be the bigger person – probably because at this moment I was approximately six inches shorter than her, face of Joe Bugner and a headache eking up the back of my neck and spreading like spilt oil over my head. Yeah … ‘bigger person' sounded good to me.
A cough. From me. Another cough. From her. Then I coughed again, and brought my hand to cover my mouth before asking ‘Which one's yours?' in a muffled kind of way.
She pointed over my shoulder and I saw the biggest four by four I had ever seen in my life. A teacher driving what they term as the ultimate ‘kiddie killer'. I was going to love taking the piss out of her for this.
I turned back and gave her a weak smile (anything more and my head would have kicked off again), before beginning to walk over to the beast parked over two spaces. Two. And when I was standing at the door looking disapprovingly over the metal monster, I wondered why it had taken her so long to get it unlocked. It wasn't until I heard a car on the other side of this one start up, that I realised she was sat in a Toyota Yaris and waiting for me to get my act together.
‘Why on earth are you waiting next to that? You not into those are you?'
The journey was completed in silence. Not even the radio to break the tension, and believe me, there was a lot of tension. Tension thick enough to slice through. But unfortunately, I had left my ‘knife to cut through tension' at home, as I didn't think I would need it. Shows how much I know, doesn't it.
Even when we arrived at the hospital, parked and walked over to A and E … still nothing. It wasn't until we got to the reception area that I actually heard the sound of her voice again. Momentarily, I was stunned at the musical quality of it, but then I realised that she was actually telling the people what was the matter with me.
‘I can speak for myself.' I didn't mean it to come out that sharp, but it was out. I didn't mean to half shove her out of the way – but I did. And when she called me a ‘nasty piece of work' under her breath, I just glared then gave her a cocky grin before turning to the woman on the desk.
As I was giving my details I could hear her huffing behind my back and couldn't resist a smug grin to achingly sneak over my face. The receptionist took down my details and what I thought may be the matter and informed me I should take a seat on the chairs in the ‘lounge' area. By the time I had turned around, Miss Jefferson had already gone and was sitting on a chair in the corner. For a fleeting moment I did feel bad, as all she had done was put herself out for my ungrateful ass. Taking a deep breath, I ventured forward.
‘Look … Miss … erm …' I couldn't keep calling her Miss Jefferson. It sounded like a line from Tenko. ‘Let's start again shall we?' I stuck my hand out in gesture and watched as her eyes went down to it and then back to my face. ‘I'm Katie. Katie Clarke.' I could see she was wary of the complete turn around in my attitude … the way her hand hovered towards mine, pulled back and then made a snatching motion paid claim to that. But as soon as her hand entered mine I felt something race through me. Electricity … or tension ... or apprehension ... or bloody something that I couldn't quite explain. My head shot up and looked her straight in the face, and I knew in that split second that she had felt it too.
‘Erm …' Her throat was bobbing up and down, and I knew she was trying to continue but couldn't for some reason. Unfortunately, I was in the same boat. The power to join one word to another and come up with a complete sentence escaped me. My head had the quality of fudge, or rice pudding, and the thick stodginess swarmed and throbbed and pushed all common sense out of the window. I didn't even seem to have the ability to let go of her hand – just gripped it tighter, like I wasn't going to relinquish it until I had a formal introduction.
Blue eyes looked imploringly at me, and green eyes looked imploringly back. It felt as if we were two dogs copulating and had reached the stage where they are stuck and need a bucket of cold water thrown over them.
‘Can I just do a quick examination?' The sound of the male nurse's voice broke through the fog that had descended over me, but it still took me what seemed like forever to turn and acknowledge his presence. ‘Before you go in …' He was waiting for a response, but I couldn't do it. ‘Check your eyes and …' his voice drifted off to create a stalemate.
It must have only been seconds, but it bloody felt like longer before I squeaked out a response and he pointed to the chair motioning me to sit down. Miss Jefferson didn't utter a word – just leaned forward and picked up a magazine, which probably dated back to the early 80s. And when he told me to move my head to the side, I could see her staring at the pages. I knew from old that she wasn't taking in anything she was reading. Not even digesting the pictures, if she was anything like me.
Inside my head I kept on reliving the sensation. What was it? I had never experienced anything like it before …
‘Fuck me!' Now, that I had.
‘Sorry about that … my finger slipped.' Bet it did. The nurse had tried to open my eye wider so he could shine his torch inside and pushed my lump to the side. What was it with the medical profession and torches anyway? Tears were streaming from one eye by this time making my vision blurred. But even though one of them was blurry, the other was wide-awake and taking note of everything else. I hadn't seen her initial response to my expletive, but I sure as hell could see her now. She was looking at me with such concern I felt a little ache rise and fall in my chest, and I had the urge to take her hand to let her know I was ok.
‘Someone will be out to get you soon.' I just wanted him to fuck off. ‘Maybe a couple of hours.' She was looking at me and I couldn't help but zone out a little. ‘Or a couple of days.' His voice showed he was pissed off with my spaced out approach to his medical attention. I wanted to explain that I was acting the way I was because of a blow to the head, but deep down I knew I would be lying. I also knew that I had to acknowledge his presence … thank him for jabbing me senselessly and making my head throb. Just what I had always wanted – pain added to more pain.
‘Thank you, doctor.' I knew damn well he wasn't a doctor, but it didn't hurt to butter them up a bit, did it? His mouth opened and closed as if he was going to contradict me, but he just nodded, straightened his back and tried to look the ultimate professional before sauntering off with his clip chart.
After he had gone, it was quiet once more. A strange quiet. A quiet where you know it should be uncomfortable, but isn't.
I turned to look at her, and she was looking at her lap before turning her face to mine. ‘Sophie Jefferson.' Her gaze was intent, but I could see the inkling of a smile forming around her lips. Then a hand pushed out towards me. It was weird, but for a moment I hesitated. I wondered if I would get the ‘sensation' again when I touched her, and I wasn't too sure if I wanted to experience it again. Mainly because it freaked me out a little – not because it was unpleasant. Far from it, in fact. But it still freaked me out. Well, it would do, wouldn't it? How would you like the feeling of electricity … or whatever it was, racing through you? Didn't think so.
But. I took the plunge. My hand shot out and I gripped onto hers to make the handshake short and sweet, but bugger me ... it happened again. Right up the arm, along my chest and down to the pit of my stomach. And I haven't even mentioned the other little sparks that travelled up the base of my neck and their friends that definitely went further south. Nevertheless, I held on, smiled and nodded. And so did she, until the time arrived where we thought it was ok to actually let go without making a scene.
Then quiet again. For a little while at least. I watched as she leaned over and grabbed the magazine she had been reading again and open it randomly. Taking stock from the action, I picked up the next on the pile and did the same thing. Good Housekeeping had some lovely pictures of recipes in there, but I couldn't quite grasp the method bit. Not because I was becoming delirious because of the crack to my head. Not even because I was having difficulty seeing it because of the swelling. It was more because I was totally aware of the woman sitting next to me. I wanted to make conversation, but couldn't think of a single thing to say. I could've mentioned the accident, asked her what she did at the school, interrogated her about her love life … but I did none of these things. All I did was steal sly looks when I thought she wasn't looking. And the funny thing was I am sure she was doing the same thing as me, but couldn't guarantee it. Maybe it was just wishful thinking.
We spent about ten minutes turning pages and saying nothing. Then, thankfully, she broke the silence. I knew it was coming, as I saw her close the magazine and hold it against her lap for a moment before turning slightly my way. I continued to pretend I was engrossed in reading about how to make flaky pastry even flakier, even nodding in agreement to add character and depth to my charade. But then I felt and saw her lean forward and slip the magazine back onto the pile. Something in my stomach jittered and danced about and even had the audacity to try and snake its way up into my chest. Before I knew it, I was trying to control my breathing.
‘Are you in pain?' Her voice seemed closer than I remember her sitting, and as I turned, her face was right next to mine. ‘Hooo!' She jumped back slightly, my closeness making her realise she was a little too close. ‘You ok?'
I looked at her, my face conjuring up a questioning expression that either asked ‘do I look all right?' or ‘what do you mean?'
‘You seemed to sway then. You feeling dizzy?'
Just a minute. It was her, not me, that had been too close. Talk about passing the buck. And I was just about to say the very same thing to her, but she stopped me in my tracks. Nope. She didn't say anything. The connection was far more than verbal. It was only a small thing, but it stopped me getting my knickers in a twist again. She cupped my face. Cupped it so gently as if it was made of porcelain and would break or disintegrate if she applied more pressure. Her thumb rested on my cheek and moved so slightly, I am surprised I felt it. But I did. And it felt wonderful. Even though she had turned my face to hers and was looking intently in my eyes, I didn't feel weird. I felt right … I felt … at home there.
‘Your left pupil is slightly bigger than your right. That doesn't look good.' I didn't care she was only checking my pupils either … unlike usual. I just wanted her to keep on checking them. ‘Do you feel safe sitting? Or do you want …' She paused, briefly, ‘erm … or do you want me to hold onto you?' Her face flushed and her eyes began to blink rapidly. ‘You know … like sit back and I'll support you?'
Inside I was singing. Inside I was dancing and shouting ‘Yes please!' Inside I was running into her arms and getting myself comfortable for the duration, as long as the duration would last. But in reality I said ‘If you want' and shrugged.
It was weird that I felt I wanted to be in her arms after only knowing her for a couple of hours, but I did. And it seemed the most natural thing in the world to lean forward and allow her to put her arm around me. When she pulled me closer, I felt a sigh slip through my lips and waft into the air in total contentment. Thankfully, it wasn't a loud one. My head was on her shoulder in no time and I felt the world right itself once again, my eyes closing with ease.
It was perfect.
The next thing I remember was waking up to someone shaking me, and not too gently at that. Lifting my head, I became acutely aware of my face being next to her bosom. But that wasn't the embarrassing part. The embarrassing part came as I lifted my head away from the aforementioned soft part and I felt the stream of saliva leave my mouth too. One end in my mouth: the other attaching itself to her top. It looked like a silvery tightrope and I knew I was balancing on the precipice of the utter loss of street cred of any description.
I shot backwards and nearly fucked off the chair in the process. Sophie grabbed my jacket and pulled me to her and I landed head first in the wet patch. Talk about facing your shame. And it hurt too. My swollen face meshed with her chest at speed and didn't allow me time to ready myself for the soaring pain shooting throughout my head.
‘Ah FUCK! Fuck it … fuck … it!' There was pain involved. What do you expect me to say? My, that smarts a tad? Didn't think so. But the rest of the waiting room did. I could hear their moans about vitriolic display from Quasimodo in the corner, and that just got my bile up even worse. If it hadn't been for Sophie touching my arm, I know for a fact the previous utterances would have been classed as tame in comparison. The anger just went. Disappeared. And I was left like a lamb.
‘Poor girl.' And it wasn't sarcastic either. The words tripping gracefully and delicately from her mouth were full of concern and tenderness. ‘They are ready to see you now. Do you want me to come with you?' My face was throbbing and rebelling against all the action it had received over the course of the day, but my mouth felt numb.
‘You can't come in, love. You have to wait here.' The nurse spoke quietly, almost intimately to us, and I felt a pang of sadness. I wanted Sophie to come with me. Not because I was a scaredy cat, but because I just didn't want to leave her. I thought that if I walked through the doors she would go, or be snatched away never to be seen again. It was more like a feeling than a thought … I didn't want her to go – not ever. And on that note I began to feel a little freaked out. What was the matter with me? I was not the kind of person who instantly fell head over heels for someone. So why was I acting like a love struck teenager.
Concussion. Had to be. Feeling of insecurity based on the blow to the head. I wasn't in my right mind, that's all. But looking into her eyes – those twinkling blue eyes, I knew I had never felt so ‘in my right mind' in all my life.
‘I'll be here waiting for you when you've finished. Don't worry.' It was as if she had read my mind, and on that note I felt myself stand up and begin to back away from her, not wanting to break the eye contact. She just stared at me – right in the eyes, a look of startled puzzlement shading her features. When the plastic chair met the back of my legs, I knew it was time to go – turn round and go. But it didn't stop me checking over my shoulder before I entered the double doors just to make sure she hadn't left already. Blue eyes just looked straight back at me and I knew it would be ok.
After what seemed a lifetime, they finished poking and prodding me. The nurses were a mixed bag– some nice – some downright surly, but I think you get that in all professions. I was asked why I didn't apply an ice pack to my face to try and reduce the swelling, and I thought back to the git of a first aid woman at the school. I really wanted to grass her up big time, but I didn't. Not that she didn't deserve it – more because I wanted to get everything over and done with so I could leave.
It wasn't until they had finished cleaning the blood off my face that I could my see the reflection in the glass of a machine next to my cubicle. I thought it was the glass that was distorted. Then I realised I really did look like John Merrick. The lump between my eyes made my face grotesquely out of shape; my top lip lifted and my eyes look piggy. The colours were also reflected as a deep purple and red. The worse thing was I was just day dreaming about Sophie and how I would ask her if she fancied grabbing a coffee or seeing a movie sometime. I didn't even know if she was gay or not, but it didn't hurt to ask. But after seeing how hideous I looked there was no way she would even look twice at me. And that bit hurt even more than all the discuses in the world. Self pity flooded throughout me, and I felt my shoulders slump in abject rejection.
‘Right. You're free to go.' Trust me to get a cheerful nurse just as I was at the point where I wanted to be spoken to by someone as miserable as me. ‘Only a slight concussion. You need to get someone to keep his or her eye on you. Have you anyone at home?'
Talk about rubbing it in. Kick me when I'm down, why don't you? But instead of saying that, I just shook my head and felt like a social pariah. ‘We could keep you in overnight if that would help?'
I felt like a charity case. Poor little single girl with no one to look after her when she's poorly sick and can't eat custard.
‘I'll go to my parents.' The sentence came out low, almost an admittance of still being dependant on my parents. The nurse, not taking the hint that I didn't want to talk about it asked me to repeat it. ‘I'll go to my parents.' This time everyone heard me, and it sort of echoed too. I could see people turning my way and knew they were thinking I had a face only a mother could love.
And that's what pissed me off. I should have ignored them and gleefully announced I would burden myself on the folks, but I was feeling extremely fragile and vulnerable at that moment. Unfortunately. For both me, and the poor unsuspecting Sophie who was watching with a smile at the other side of the door. The smile that disappeared when I came storming out, hastily putting on my jacket and marching towards the exit.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I'm a right baggage … easily angered and a pain in the arse. But you see … I am usually none of these things. I know I like to have a moan about stuff I don't want to do, like standing out in the rain watching kids in their Persil whites racing down a muddy track … or even tormenting a couple of kids who deserve it. But nastiness? Never. And anger? Nope. Not my style.
‘Hey! Wait up!' I could hear her racing behind me and something deep down told me to stop walking. So, I just stood there and waited for her to catch up. My back was rigid and I had adopted the stance of someone who had shut off the outside world – become almost clinical, if you will. ‘What's up? What did they say?' She was a little breathless, and I knew she actually wasn't, just making a show of it, if you know what I mean?
Swallowing a couple of times, I turned and looked straight at her. Such a beautiful face, the complete opposite of mine. And then there was that pain again … situated right behind my ribcage to the left. More of an ache really, and that ache became a sob that climbed up the back of my throat and slipped through my lips in a muffled moan. Thankfully, I think she thought I was upset because of the pain.
‘Why are you upset? What did they say?' Maybe not. ‘Do you have concussion?'
Once again I swallowed the ache, as looking at her standing there so bloody beautiful and healthy and out of my reach, I knew I had to do something. And from the dark recesses I delved and searched and finally brought up a smile that is always saved for situations beyond our control.
‘Just a little one.' And then I actually emitted a small laugh. ‘Got to go and stay with my parents tonight. How embarrassing.'
Her eyebrows furrowed before she said ‘Have you no one at home that could take care of you?' Then they unfurrowed again before she finished with ‘Like a flatmate or something?'
I shook my head and pouted trying to attempt humour. ‘Nope. Just me in all my singleness.'
Sophie grinned. Widely. ‘Well. To your parents then,' before gripping my arm, spinning me round and leading me to the car park.
In hindsight, I should have offered to get a taxi. Then maybe all hell wouldn't have broken loose on the way to my parents. Sometimes I surprise myself at the stupid things I do. Sometimes I wish I were someone else … someone who wasn't so bloody over sensitive … someone who was actually like me before I was caned in the face by a disc of plastic.
Now. Don't get all high and mighty on me. You have to remember I wasn't myself at this time. I was the understudy for a psychotic, but without the meds.
I'll tell you what happened, shall I? Please don't judge me too harshly. I didn't set out to be a twat … it just sort of happened. At first it was ok – we chatted about this and that and I felt quite comfortable, well as comfortable as one can get with a huge forehead and a bruise to die for. It wasn't until we were waiting at the traffic lights that I found I had a demon side within me. All she did was look at me with that pitiful face some people can just pull off, and lips that purse in empathy.
‘You face looks awful.' That was it. That was all she said to make me become a bunny boiler. The ire within in flashed up and out of my mouth so quickly and vehemently I startled myself.
‘What the fuck do you expect?' She reacted by widening her eyes and allowing her mouth to slacken in that tight way that only people who have been insulted can. My hand was on the handle of the door, and before I knew it I was standing on the pavement. ‘I don't need your sympathy.' Slam. And I was off, rushing down the pavement of a busy street, trying for the life of me not to turn round. But the sound of horns blaring made me turn, briefly. And in that split moment I saw her sat there at the green lights, her face ashen. Cars continued to blare even when I had walked away, but nothing could drown out the sound of my heart.
Arriving at my parents, I was calmer. When I say calmer, what I actually mean is I felt stupid. The way I had acted was totally unforgivable and totally uncalled for. There was no way anyone deserved to be treated the way I had treated Sophie. All she had done was put herself out for me all day; and all I had done was throw it all back in her face – with gusto. I had to find someway to make it up to her … blame my injuries … blame anything, accept anything to make sure she knew how repentant I was.
By the time I had put my key in the lock I had made my mind up to go and visit her the next day at school and just explain everything to her – even the fancying her part. I knew I didn't have a cat in hell's chance with her now, but that wasn't the point. The point was I had hurt someone who didn't deserve it. And I had to make that right somehow.
When I walked into the front room, they were all there. Mum, Dad, my sister Carrie, Ben and his dad Dave. I just felt like slipping off to my old bedroom, closing the door and blocking out the world so I could think about what I could do next.
Initially, they all made a fuss … and then it got to taking the piss. Totally expected from my family, and unlike my reaction to Sophie, I took it on the chin – better than taking it right in the middle of my forehead like I had done earlier.
I accepted the cuppa, and had a little chat about what had happened at the hospital, completely missing out the ‘I'm a twat' part. All I wanted to do was to sneak away and wallow in my own self-pity … just lie on my bed as I had done numerous times before in my teenage years and put the world to rights. Well, put to rights the stupid mistakes I had made that day – put to rights the prattish way I had behaved and wish I had acted like a normal human being. But no. I had to suffer all the stupid comments made by my family about catching the discus with my hands next time, or duck.
‘Miss Jefferson is nice isn't she?' Carrie leaned forward and gave me a wink. ‘Just your type, if I know you.' They all jeered, well apart from Ben who was just gazing adoringly at my face, his eyes transfixed by the hugeness of my lump. ‘I thought you two would get on.' It was the way she said it that got me suspicious. And then the colour flooding her face added to that suspicion.
‘Funny you should say that. How did your interview go?' Her face was scarlet by this stage.
‘What interview?' It was Dave, Carrie's hubby. Second alarm bell.
Then my mother decided it was time to ask if anyone was hungry. But I wasn't having it … and it also confirmed that she was in on it too – there were too many alarm bells ringing like crazy for me to ignore it.
‘I don't believe you two.' And I didn't either. Just because I had been single for a few months didn't give them the right to start fixing me up with any Tom, Dick or Harriett. Then I remembered Ben's first words to Sophie, ‘This is my Aunty Katie … She's single.' So, it was the three of them …
‘What interview?' Dave's voice was bordering on impatience now, as nobody was paying any attention to him. ‘You never told me you were thinking about going back to work. I feel like a mushroom.'
Same here, Dave … Same here. Left in the dark and fed bullshit.
‘Look, Katie. We weren't trying to fix you up – just wanted you to meet her, that's all.'
In my head, I had images of my mother lobbing the bloody discus that nearly had my lights out. At this stage, anything was possible. I felt the anger rise again – not surprising really. I mean, if they had kept their dire plans to themselves, I wouldn't have cocked it up big time in the first place. I wouldn't have an aching face … and I wouldn't have an ache deep inside me so bad I felt it was eating me up. For all their matchmaking, they had made things go in the complete opposite direction. Sophie hated me now, probably as much as I intensely disliked myself.
What could I do? Have a go? Tell them to keep their interfering noses out of my business and my life?
‘She liked you Aunty Katie.' Ben's voice drifted through my thoughts. I couldn't blow my stack in front of him, but the thought that even he thought I would get on with Sophie kind of smarted. And the fact he thought she had liked me too. Please note the word ‘had'. There was no way she would give me the time of day now. The only thing I could do was go and apologise in the morning – or maybe after school. Yeah … after school was better … more potential for things to get better …
‘You well enough to come to Mc Donalds, Aunty Katie?' The question nearly went by unnoticed, as I was daydreaming about my sucking up job I was going to perform the next day. It seemed to get a little brighter – the outlook, I mean. Ben seemed to think she had liked me – quite a leap of faith, but you know how imaginations go when left unattended or when they have been fed. Maybe it wasn't all over after all …
‘Cos we've broken up from school for the summer.'
That stopped me. Stopped all my mental meanderings about begging forgiveness and pleading for a chance with the dark haired beauty – and being accepted … and floating away on an airbed of expectation. School holidays lasted six weeks. Six weeks. SIX fucking WEEKS. And there was no way I could go and plead my case … I didn't know where she lived … and there was no way I could just turn up at the school in September – for one, I doubt she would even recognise me.
So I did the only thing I thought was reasonable.
‘Why on earth would you do that? Get me interested the day before the school broke up.' It was a reasonable question, I thought … and the statement wasn't bad either. ‘You tricked me into going to Sport's Day on the pretence that Ben would be left there on his own …' I looked at Ben, who was looking at me wide eyed. ‘Not that I didn't want to see you, sweetheart.' And then I ruffled his hair. ‘But you did trick me all the same. Then left me alone with her after I had been hit in the face with the discus.'
‘We thought it would be a prime opportunity for you to get to know each other better.'
I snorted at this, remembering all the ‘getting to know each other better' we had done that afternoon. The nastiness, the bitterness, the sarcasm, the marching off and door slamming. And that was just from me.
That did it. I lowered my head in my hands and sighed the sigh of the defeated. Just the beginning of the list of what a git I had been was enough for me to hang my head in shame. I would have cried, but I didn't have the energy, and I believe the pain of squeezing tears through the little slots of my eyes would have been sheer agony.
‘What's the matter Aunty Katie? Didn't you like her?' I lifted my eyes over the back of my hand and met Ben's open and honest green ones peeking over, the question he had asked still hanging in between us.
A slow nod, my eyes not leaving his made the smile forming around his mouth gradually spread wider and wider. ‘Good. Cos I like her and I want you to marry her.'
You have to laugh, don't you? With kids it is always black and white – no grey area. Marry her indeed. As if? I'd be lucky if she would grant me a couple of minutes to say my apologies before dismissing me with the wave of her hand. But even though I knew it was an impossibility, I still felt a slight smile creep onto my face.
Four weeks later saw me in the middle of Marks and Spencer's picking my knickers. I should rephrase that. I was in the middle of M&S choosing underwear from their fine selection, when I felt someone behind me. And I mean felt …
‘Katie? Katie Clarke?'
Why is it you are never standing there with some drop-dead gorgeous and sexy underwear dangling from your fingers when you meet someone you want to impress? Nope. You are usually standing there looking at the sturdy pair … the one you are trying to gauge the strength of by pulling the gusset to one side to check on stitching … the white cotton ones … with no frill. The ones you don't mind your mum seeing hanging from your washing line. And I think you get the message. And I also think you know who was standing there looking all the world more beautiful than she had looked when I saw her last. But then again, the last time I had seen her she had been sitting open mouthed at a set of traffic lights.
I felt the flush gather and rage all over my face as the embarrassment hit me. I had stormed off and left her sitting there. I could not believe I had done that … and I didn't know what was more embarrassing – then or now. Furtively I looked at the knickers, which were sitting innocently in the palm of my hand, and felt another wave of embarrassment wash over me. So I hid them … well tried to put them behind my back, but felt awkward, so I slipped them in my pocket. Why I didn't just drop them onto the pile I'll never know. And all this time she was waiting for me to answer … her smile crooked and expectant.
‘Ah … yes … that's me …' and I emitted the most fake shrill laugh I believe I had ever laughed in my life. It even freaked me out a little, and I could tell by the widening of her eyes it had the same effect on her. ‘Sorry about that … Just shopping makes me crazy.' The grin she gave me almost sliced her face in two, and she nodded dramatically.
‘I know exactly what you mean.' She leaned towards me conspiratorially. ‘I've been trying to get a cardigan to wear for work for the last three hours, but I can't see one I like.' Then she leaned back and looked down at my chest … then arms. ‘Although I do like your top. Where'd you get it?'
I was too busy blushing at the thought she might have clocked my breasts to answer straight away, and it had been a couple of erms before I actually got the name of the shop out.
‘Oooh … I've heard of that. Where is it?'
And here it was. My perfect opportunity to make good on my past misdemeanours – in other words, I could take her there; maybe invite her for lunch.
‘Half way up Underbank … before you get to the clock.' Her face still looked puzzled, so I bit the bullet. ‘I … I … could take ...' insert swallow here ‘you there if you want.' And there it was – out in the open – exposed and ready for a knock back. But it didn't happen. She just grinned. So I reloaded my gun and tried again. ‘Maybe we could grab a coffee … or … something.'
‘Something sounds wonderful. I'm starved.' And she turned to walk away, stopped and turned back to face me. ‘And if I were you, I'd take those white knickers out of your pocket. Don't want to get nicked for nicking knickers do you?'
I doubt I could go any redder. I doubt anyone could go any redder than I was at that precise moment. The heat coming off my face would burn bread, never mind toast it. Scrambling inside my pocket, I retrieved the briefs and threw them on the pile – a pile that wasn't there when I first arrived. It was M&S after all. Looking up I saw her waiting for me near the end of the aisle and my heart did a little jig inside my chest.
As I walked towards her I thought of how I would have felt if I had just walked through the doors with the underwear in my pocket. Crap. If I would have actually got further than one foot away from the exit before the store detective hauled my ass over the coals and made me look a total twat, that is. And what would she have thought of me? Would she have thought I constantly went around pilfering stuff from shops? A kinky kleptomaniac, who focused on bizarre and banal under garments?
The last thought made me laugh out loud – well more of a snort really. Sophie's eyebrows furrowed slightly, before she smiled at me and asked ‘What's so funny?'
I laughed again. ‘Life.' She nodded.
‘You can say that again.'
I was going to … or even repeat ‘that again', but I thought my humour would not be as funny as I liked to think it was.
‘Come on. This way.'
And I began to lead her to the shop on Underbank, but inside I was hoping that our journey did not end there. I still had to apologise for Sport's Day and my actions, but I didn't want to do it walking up the road or rummaging through rails. Lunch. That was the only thing I could do … coffee would not be long enough. She had already said she was starving, so it would be a case of would she like to satiate her hunger with me. Now that's a loaded question – well, if I had worded it as a question that is.
The real question was would she want to be with me after my behaviour four weeks ago? Or would I be sporting another lump between my eyes? I know. That's two. For God sake, give a woman a break.
‘Your face looks better.' Her voice drifted through my mental meanderings and shot a spark of panic through me. She wanted to talk about it now … and I wasn't ready. I had only had four weeks to think of a relevant and substantial excuse. It was too soon … shit … I couldn't think of anything to say.
‘You must have been in agony.' Like now, you mean? ‘I'm sorry I wasn't more sympathetic.'
She was apologising for me being a twat. And I was standing there taking it like an even bigger twat.
‘NO!' That was it. Four weeks and that was what I could muster. At least the pigeons eating fag butts stopped their crazy head butting and flew away. Sophie, on the other hand, just looked startled. The volume I had emitted resounded around the shop fronts and bounced back to slap me in the face. ‘I'm sorry.'
‘It was a little loud, but you don't have to apolog …'
‘NO!' I did it again. But this time I lunged out and grabbed her arm, as if that would explain everything. ‘I'm sorry … for being obnoxious.' I knew she was going to connect my statement to the here and now, so I carried on. ‘For Sport's Day … for the way I behaved. It wasn't me … I … I …'
‘I gathered that.' And she laughed, and I flushed. ‘Not because of all your sister had told me, but because you had been hit quite hard in the face – no one would be acting normal after a blow like that.' Then it happened. She lifted her hand and gently stroked a finger down my nose. The sensation of that lone digit caressing me made my eyelids flutter and warm waves seep and expand throughout me. Then a buzz … the buzz I had grown used to every time she touched me.
Wait a minute. What my sister had told her? Told her what?
‘I'm still surprised you didn't break it.' So soft. Her voice was so bloody soft and enticing. The feeling of the tip of her finger was raging through me and the outside world was beginning to disappear. ‘Carrie said you were not yourself for days.'
That did it. Carrie said? How on earth could Carrie tell her anything when school was closed? I didn't understand. The once fluttering eyelids shot open and looked into her blue eyes – the same blue eyes that looked guiltily back into mine. I didn't have to ask. I knew. I knew my sister had been leading me up the garden path and taking me on a tour of Gitsville. She was playing matchmaker … and playing it badly.
Then I had another thought. Carrie had insisted that I buy some new underwear today. Came round first thing and fiddled in my lady drawer for ages. I thought she was getting tendencies – never thought she would be looking for an excuse. And she made me wear the top I had bought from the shop on Underbank …
Then it occurred to me. If Carrie were playing matchmaker, she would already know something I didn't. And that something was if Sophie was gay or not. Carrie would never waste her time <she'd waste mine, but no hers> on something that wouldn't eventually fall into place. The next thing that hit me was the fact Sophie had nonchalantly met me in M&S … on a Saturday … when the store was packed out. She had been looking for me – she knew I was going to be there. Carrie had made sure of that.
I felt the smile creep up my throat, into my mouth and then spread like butter across my face. Sometimes I loved the fact my sister was an interfering little fu …
‘Katie? You ok?'
The smile was in place, and I'm sure I felt it getting wider. ‘Never better.'
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