Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Home to you


--Note: I initially wanted to write something a bit fun and silly, but apparently I wasn't feeling that way. Hope it's ok.--

It had been a long day. She had been tending the bar alone for almost three hours - admittedly during the day shift when there were frequently more staff than there were customers - but today a bus load of tourists had stopped in and stayed for almost two hours, eagerly peering out of the windows trying to spot any celebrities that might wander past.

They'd had several drinks among them and been free with the tips so she had done quite well out of it, but that didn't stop her feet aching or make her in any less need of a nice long bath.

Before she could pamper herself though, she had responsibilities. She walked over to the sofa and flomped down.  The TV went on, the feet went up and for three seconds she had a sofa all to herself before tiny feet jumped onto her belly. The cat, Harris, purred frantically down at her as she reached up to lazily scratch his ears. He spent a few minutes kneading her into his own idea of comfort before curling up over her heartbeat and settling down for a nap. Her left hand stayed in contact with him, while her right reached out to where the dog, Jake, sat patiently on the floor. Jake had much better manners than Harris and merely rested his head on the sofa cushions bringing his ears within easy scratching reach.

She reclined for a few minutes, gazing in the direction of the television without really being aware of it before suddenly falling asleep. Both animals, disturbed by the cessation of her petting, realised quite quickly. Harris demonstrated his approval by tucking his nose under a paw and continuing his nap while Jake first nuzzled the hand, then patrolled the room restlessly before returning to her side and curling up on the floor to join the unscheduled nap time.

An hour later Alan arrived home. The flat had darkened considerably in that time and the light from the TV flickered through the door of the lounge. Jake came padding silently through the doorway and greeted him enthusiastically but with no barking. Alan smiled and made a fuss of him quietly before going through to the lounge.

This was his favourite thing to come home to. Usually she was up and about - baking, cleaning or crafting something - but every so often this would happen. He looked down at her and smiled. Jake had returned to his position under her hand and Harris remained unmoving and thoroughly disinterested in his presence. She lay, utterly at peace yet conscious of both animals and their dependancy on her. Caring for the creatures around her was an automatic reaction and one she couldn't hide although he saw her occasionally try to look "less like a crazy thing" and avoid expressing her affection through one-sided conversations.

As he watched her sleep he imagined that she loved him with the same depth and sincerity that she felt for the animals lying beside her. He knew when she opened her eyes she would smile up at him with delight, and for a brief moment she would welcome him into her little family. But then the light would rapidly fade from her eyes and she would distance herself. Initially he had wondered if she thought he was someone else in those few moments, but last time he'd woken her she'd murmured his name and smiled before even opening her eyes.

Since she had moved in he'd smiled more than he could remember in his life before, but over the last month a dissatisfied frustration had been building within him. He hadn't understood it until he'd realised how jealous he felt of Harris - the damn cat! - every time he saw her greet it when she arrived home after a late shift. She always smiled and kissed Alan, but when she fussed Harris, she radiated a kind of warmth and love that she did not show to him. He wanted that off her and he had, over the last few weeks tried to understand what was missing. She certainly felt affection for him and the sex was great, but there was something lacking.

Finally, last night, he'd coaxed her into talking about her previous relationships. Her taste in men was apparently execrable. All three of her previous partners had, after six months together, cheated on her. Now she was with him, and she was terrified to trust him. He'd spent the morning at work flicking through project documentation, and looking busy while trying to come up with a solution. There was nothing he could do to prove that he was trustworthy, except to carry on being faithful to her. But that wasn't going to make her take that leap of faith immediately and, although he felt a little guilty about pressuring her, he wanted her trust right now.

At lunchtime he and three co-workers went to a nearby deli and had their weekly pig-out. Over his pastrami and rye he asked if any of them had difficulty trusting a new partner. One of the women laughed and said she had a failsafe - a guy was absolutely trustworthy if he had paid enough attention to buy her something she never admitted she loved. The others ribbed her for being easily bought, but Alan was intrigued. "Like what?"

She blushed slightly as she confessed: "When I was a little girl there were these crisps that absolutely stank. Seriously, when you opened the bag you'd clear the room, but I ate them with my grandad and they've been a bit of a guilty pleasure since. I wouldn't eat them in front of my boyfriend - I wouldn't even admit I liked them, in case he thought they were disgusting. You know? You don't want your boyfriend to associate you with smelly and disgusting. But this one time, Mark and I were supposed to go on a date and I had a really bad day at work, so I called to cancel. He asked if it was OK to come around and I said sure - I was a bit surprised, you know, but pleased that he still wanted to see me. Anyway, he arrived half an hour later and he'd stopped at a shop on the way. He'd brought a bottle of wine, my favourite ice cream and a sack of these crisps. I'd never told him, but he'd been interested in me enough to notice and to go out of his way to get some when I was down. That's a man you can trust."

That afternoon he'd cut work a couple of hours early and headed to a string of shops, thinking of her and what he could possibly buy her to show he'd noticed the small things. He started off in the high end, classy jewellers, but although some things caught his eye, he knew none of it would convince her to trust him. He walked past clothes shops, music stores, and food venues. He hesitated for a while at a book store, but everything seemed too shiny and new. She was drawn to old things - things with history, or things that had been abandoned or discarded and were ready to be loved.

With that in mind, he headed to the antiques dealers and flea markets, but was unable to find anything that was really about her. Feeling dispirited, he began ambling through the stores more casually, glancing around but no longer expecting to see anything. Every now and then he saw something that would suit her - he bought a scarf because it was the sort of thing she would wear and a bracelet in case she liked it, but he still saw nothing that would really catch her imagination.

However, he did recall that she'd mentioned she wanted some wrapping paper that looked like old maps - the large fantasy style ones to use as decoration under glass on the top of a coffee table. Wondering if he could get a large print book of maps, he headed for a second hand book store. Inside the store the books were piled haphazardly and he asked, optimistically, if there was a geography section. The guy behind the counter pointed him to the back right of the store, next to the history/ politics and kids sections.

It wasn't long before he found exactly what he wanted: an old book with large printed maps in colour, folded down to the size of a page. He smiled, knowing for sure that she wouldn't remove any of those maps from the book. As far as she was concerned it would be an act of desecration, but she would hopefully like it and possibly be able to photocopy one of the maps for her coffee table project. As he was heading back to the checkout he saw something else and, pretty sure she'd like it and bought that as well.

Now, as he looked down at her, he wondered how he'd know if she had something she secretly loved. If she'd kept it secret, it just wasn't possible to know.

He'd left the bracelet and scarf with his coat by the front door, but carried the books through with him. He bent over and kissed her and revelled in that brief light in her eyes. When she was fully awake he suggested they go out for dinner. she smiled, delighted, and asked how she should dress. After thinking it through he decided to really push the boat out and called a super-high class restaurant across town. Because it was Tuesday they had an empty table for two and he reserved it immediately. From his side of the conversation she knew immediately where they were going and the second he hung up she threw her arms around him and gave him an excited hug and kiss. As she was about to run to change he caught her hand: "Hang on, you've got a few minutes. I think I've found some maps for your table."

"Oh?"

He handed her the bag and she drew out both books. The maps were on top and she looked at a few of them. She caressed them lovingly and sniffed a few of the pages before looking sheepishly up at him. "Sorry, you know that I'm a bit, well, fanatical, right?" He nodded and laughed.

"The other one isn't maps, but I thought you might like it too."

She looked at it and her jaw dropped. Her whole face froze for a few seconds, then her eyes slowly widened. She opened the front cover carefully and read the fly leaf with the publication details. She stood gazing at it for a few moments and then stared at him. Her eyes were filled with unshed tears and she reached out for him with one hand while the other held the book like it was the most precious thing she'd ever seen.

He suddenly realised he'd accidentally hit gold, but she hadn't kept it a secret like Sally had with the crisps - she'd told him months ago after a bottle of wine that she wanted to get the 1980s version of the Enid Blyton Circus of Adventure series to read to her own kids one day instead of the heavily edited versions that were available now.

"You said you'd read this version of them when you were a kid. I couldn't find them all, but I thought you might like this one to start your collection."

Her eyes lit up like fireworks and she kissed him. For a moment he wondered if he should let the dinner reservation go hang, but then decided that tonight might be a good night to have a bottle of champagne and broach the subject of having those kids so that she could start re-reading the books the way she wanted to. After all, the first thing he'd bought on his shopping spree today was an engagement ring...