At the back of the room six year old Jimmy bobbed about on his chair, desperately trying to attract the teacher’s attention.
Conscious of the time Mel carried on reading from the battered book, found that morning at the back of the classroom cupboard. The story was about pirates sailing on the high seas which she hoped would hold the children’s attention. Not so Jimmy, she thought.
Mel laid the book face down on the desk and gave way to the little boy; after all there was still half an hour to go before the dinner bell. ‘Yes Jimmy,’ she said, ‘what is it?’
Jimmy slid off his seat and stood by the side of his desk. Children tittered all around him. Mel wasn’t sure if they were laughing at his appearance or the fact that he had something to say. Jimmy was a child who always looked scruffy, no matter how much his Mom brushed his hair and tidied his clothes he would always look as if he’d been pulled through a hedge backwards. His hair stood on end, looking for all the world as if it had been gelled into tufts.
Please, Miss Roberts, I bin to
Resisting the urge to explain English grammar, Mel beckoned to him, indicating that he should come to the front of the class, whereupon Jimmy grabbed his friend's hand, pulling him from his seat. Together they moved to Mel's desk.
Mel stifled a giggle, gave her attention to Jimmy Collins. He was a lovable child, one of the few children she felt a need to hug. He walked with a limp, the result of a car accident when he was tiny. Drawing him close Mel invited him to tell the children about his trip to
Jimmy bent his head down so far his chin was hidden in the fabric of his royal blue fleece. Gently Mel tugged one of his ginger tufts so that he would look up. ‘Tell us about
‘Went on a BIG boat across an OCEAN.’
In one breath the children said Oooooh.
‘And I seen a whale?’
Mel wasn’t very knowledgeable about whales so she decided to hedge round that one rather than spoil his story.
‘Did you enjoy being on the sea,’ she asked.
‘I wasn’t on the SEA, Miss, I was on the OCEAN.’
Feeling it might be too difficult to explain Mel stayed silent and let him move on.
Jimmy put a grubby finger against his nose as if he was trying to think of something else to say. ‘Please, Miss, my Mom’s having a baby. Do all Moms have babies when they go on a boat?’
Some days Mel wished she’d chosen a different profession.
‘Not all of them, Jimmy. Would you like to tell us about
‘Ooooh yes, Miss, they reached right up to the sky.’
It must have been his ultimate revelation because he suddenly lost interest in the subject and leaned backwards to whisper in his friend’s ear.
Melissa sat down with a sigh, hoping that the child in the scarlet dress no longer wanted to say something.
Lunch was taken outside school. Mel had heard enough chatter to last her a lifetime and she just wanted to get away to a quiet spot. She went to her favourite eating place, a backstreet basement café that was usually on the empty side. She discovered it by accident one day when she ducked into the doorway to escape a sudden deluge. Immediately noticing a powerful smell of cooking, she decided to investigate.
The York Café was family-run. A couple from the Kendal area acquired it from the original Greek owner and settled in with their three school age children to entice the locals with surprising menus of home cooked food. The café was furnished and decorated in blue and white, from tablecloths to curtain drapes, with gleaming cutlery and tiny vases of silk forget-me-nots on all six tables.
Mrs Winters cooked simple yet delicious food, no frills, and nothing foreign which really suited Mel’s delicate digestive system. Mr Winters was an American, a hefty New Yorker with a heart of gold, who said he’d fallen in love with his wife’s cooking on their fourth date. He had such a wonderful accent that Mel could have listened to him for hours.
Mel had formed the habit of dining there, always alone because of her reluctance to share the lunch break with colleagues from the school whose only topic of conversation was school and kids. Today it struck her as coincidental that she should come here right after Jimmy’s little revelation about
The small café was unusually busy. A man on his own reading a newspaper, a couple of teenagers looking bored while their parents argued, and an elderly man with white whiskers who couldn’t decide which of two dishes to have. He had enlisted the aid of the proprietor who assured him that neither dish was fattening. Cal Winters wrote the final decision on his pad and walked away. Mel grinned at the frustrated look on his face as he passed her table.
Seated at a table on the far side of the room Gavin Wood watched Mel, noting the way her grin lit up her face. He had often wondered why she always seemed so glum. Until now her expression rarely changed. Perhaps she’s unhappily married, he thought, although he saw no sign of a wedding band on her finger. In time he might approach her, ask outright what was wrong, but for now he was content to watch from afar. She was a stunning woman, cascading red curls that bounced when she moved, a smattering of freckles across her nose, and a beautiful slender neck elegantly rising from the purple polo neck sweater she habitually wore. He longed to sweep the curls out of the way so he could see more of her neck. He smiled, wondering what she would say if she could read his mind.
He knew her, of course, that’s to say he knew of her. He’d seen her one day whilst waited for a cab to appear. She was going into school, stopped briefly to chat to a parent at the gate. A guy who was waiting at the nearby bus stop made the remark ‘She’s a bit of all right, that one. Teaches the kids in my lad’s class.’ When the man had moved away Gavin lifted his camera and took her picture before she disappeared inside the school building.
He’d looked out for her ever since and was unexpectedly happy when one day she walked into the café. It felt as though the demons that ruled his life were actually working in his favour. Watching her revitalised him on a daily basis. Unconsciously his hand went to his breast pocket, checking that the photograph was safe and sound.
Whenever possible Mel sat at the table in the window. She liked the view from there, the heavily laden horse chestnut tree waiting to shed its load, and the bevy of parked vehicles with others zooming by as if time was running out. Thankfully the noise didn’t disturb her reading. Mel always read while she ate; sometimes she glanced through the Daily News but most times she read a book. Today she was glued to a romantic novel propped against the water jug. She was half way through a three-scoop portion of vanilla ice cream when she realised she was being watched. She hadn’t seen young
‘I’m sorry,’ Mrs Sykes said, ‘we didn’t mean to disturb your lunch. I wanted to thank you for patching up Charlie’s knee the other day.’
Mel remembered tears more than the accident itself, the child could cry for
Mel asked the newcomers to join her but the invitation was declined on the grounds that more shopping had to be done before afternoon classes started. Mrs Sykes turned away and started towards the door, then hesitated and turned back to Mel. ‘Do you know that man,’ she asked, inclining her head towards the man sitting on his own at the back of the room.
Mel looked and declared that she had never seen him before, to which Mrs Sykes replied ‘Well, dear, he’ll certainly know you again,’ as she turned towards the door.
Gavin quickly averted his eyes and stared down at his motoring magazine. The covert glances had annoyed him, made him feel exposed. To take his mind off it he took his pen and notebook from his jacket pocket and started writing, making notes of things to tell his sister. He owed her a letter; it had been almost a month since he wrote telling her about his change of job.
Left alone, Mel got to thinking about
Frustrated by her thoughts she brushed a few strands of hair behind her ear and started to gather her belongings. She was just putting her book away when she heard the waitress say ‘Someone’s going to wonder what happened to this.’
The girl was a new waitress who, according to her name badge, was known as Eileen. She stood by an empty table. In her hand was a brown leather wallet. ‘Do you know the man who was sitting here?’ she asked, speaking directly to Mel. ‘‘I saw him go out but didn’t spot this straight away. He was wearing a blue pinstriped suit with a wet stain on the elbow of his jacket.’
Mel grinned at the description. She visualised a televised appeal, ‘has anyone seen this man, he wore a blue pinstripe with an identifying stain on his sleeve.’ Racking her brains she tried to recall the man who sat there. Mrs Sykes had mentioned him but apart from a cursory glance Mel couldn’t say what he looked like although she did have a vague impression of a blue suit and a smiling mouth.
In the end Cal Winters took charge of the wallet. Glancing through various bits of paper he came across the identity of the owner which he read aloud: Gavin Wood,
School in the afternoon was a doddle compared to the morning session and Mel knew it was her mood that had changed. She felt contented, though the reason for it was obscure.
After school, Mel left her car in the school yard and ambled towards the shopping precinct. She headed towards the travel agency to pursue the possibility of taking a trip to the
Gavin Wood blinked, unable to believe that the woman of his dreams was in his shop, walking towards him. He was grateful to be sitting down, his knees felt decidedly quivery as shyness overtook him. Silently he offered up a prayer that his stutter wouldn’t take over.
He watched her stop to investigate the brochures before moving towards his desk, saw her hesitate as she tried to recall where she had seen him before. He spoke, using the standard professional greeting. ‘G-good afternoon, Madam, w-what can I do for you?’ Damn it. Of all the times to get nervous.
Frowning, Mel looked directly at him. Gavin could almost feel the energy as her memory worked to recall, then she pulled herself together and took a step nearer. ‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘but I was sure I’d seen you some place before.’
Gavin felt obliged to smooth the situation by maintaining a practised approach. ‘Do you w-wish to b-book a vacation?’ he asked, adding that it was a good time of year to think about it.
Mel’s smile lit up her face. ‘I came in for some brochures on
Gavin got to his feet, walked to the display racks and selected several brochures. ‘Y-you’re too late for a cruise this year but there are several companies doing
Mel took the brochures, saying she would look through them that evening. As she reached the shop door she briefly turned and looked at Gavin, mentally snapping his picture to ensure future recognition. Though how she could forget such good looks was beyond her. She smiled again, a sociable ‘I’ll be back’ sort of smile, but she wasn’t prepared for the friendly grin she got back. The warmth of it took her by surprise, unsettled her composure.
After a hot shower Melissa emerged from the bathroom wearing a multi-coloured Japanese kimono. She smelled of perfumed soap and her face glowed after a generous application of rejuvenating skin cream. She always felt good after a shower, more relaxed and clear minded. Tonight though her mood was different, thoughts of Gavin frequently interrupted her thoughts as she recalled his smile. She knew she was being silly and childish but it didn’t hurt to romanticise once in a while.
The prospect of a lazy evening calmed her. She had it all planned. Armed with a glass of Chardonnay she would recline on the couch and trawl through the brochures.
It was the noise of the falling books that woke her. At first she thought she was listening to the sea until she raised her head and realised where she was. Fancy falling asleep, she thought, as bits of her dream came back to her. She had dreamed she was being escorted to the docks ready to board a ship, her escort being the delectable Gavin. The words ‘if only’ worked their way into her mind.
Gavin Wood didn’t realise he had lost his wallet until the next day when he went to pay for the toy he’d chosen for his young nephew. After an embarrassing search in front of an impatient female assistant, he admitted the problem and asked the young lady to put the toy back. He couldn’t remember when he last opened his wallet. He had paid cash for his lunch and for his newspaper. A sick feeling spread through his stomach when he thought about the credit cards laid out in the sectioned side of the wallet. Fearing the worst, he pulled out his mobile phone to ring the bank. Then he remembered the trouble he’d had slipping the wallet in his inside pocket after paying for lunch the previous day, a crumpled envelope and the photograph having blocked the way. Instead of ringing the bank, he rang the café and spoke to the proprietor. How relieved he was to know the wallet was safe and sound.
An hour later Gavin was in the café accepting the wallet from
The two men laughed and
Saturdays were usually taken up with housework and shopping but Melissa decided that for once she would drop the housework and go out. She fancied a trip to the shops right enough, but not to buy groceries. Now that she had decided on a weekend break her mind was set on touring the dress shops to get an idea of what to take and what it would cost. She spent the entire morning viewing and costing and making lists and felt that if she was sensible the expense might not be too high. The fact that she was only going for three days played no part in her heightened excitement.
By the time she had finished it was approaching and hunger pains were settling in. Since The York was in the next street she decided to pop in there.
Mel’s stomach flipped when she walked into the café and saw Gavin established by the back wall. Having spent virtually the whole night thinking about him, wondering and fantasising over highly pleasant but imaginative situations, it was like having a dream come true.
Cal Winters pulled out a chair at her preferred spot by the window but she surprised him by asking to sit with Gavin.
‘May I join you,’ she asked?
Gavin half rose to indicate both acceptance and pleasure. ‘Of course,’ he said. He was surprisingly calm, no hint of a stutter.
Mel introduced herself as Melissa and Gavin did likewise. Mel didn’t let on that she already knew his name. After briefly telling him where she worked she changed the subject to holidays. She couldn’t wait to tell him that she’d decided to go shopping in
‘It will be cold,’ Gavin told her. ‘You’ll need to take warm clothes and boots.’
‘With chips?’ asked
‘What else!’ replied Gavin.
It was amazing how fast the time went. While they ate Mel talked about her job and the children, relating the recent episode with young Jimmy. Gavin studied her face, noticing how her expressions changed with each tale. It struck him that she would make a good mother and was surprised by the inner warmth that developed within him. He felt he had known her forever.
As soon as lunch was over, they adjourned to Gavin’s office. Dealing with the hotel first. Mel checked her diary for the umpteenth time before finally deciding on a date in February. With fingers crossed, she watched as Gavin reached for the phone. The manager of the hotel was known to him and it only took a few minutes to learn that a room with a view was available. He looked askance at Mel, who nodded her acceptance. The booking was made, there was no looking back.
Privately Gavin decided to extend his own visit, after all
Monday morning - four months later
Young Jimmy was as boisterous as ever. Jumping up and down he told Melissa about his weekend. ‘We went to the zoo and saw an ephalump’ he said.
‘Oh, Jimmy, how nice. Did the elephant have a name?’
Mel suppressed a giggle. ‘And did you feed Jumbo?’
‘Yes, Miss, we had some buns and he ate them with his nose.’
‘Please, Miss, he means a trunk.’
‘Yes, Geraldine, I think Jimmy knows that.’ Mel went on to explain that the elephant uses the trunk to pick up the food and then pops it into his mouth.
‘It was a GIRL ephalump,’ cried Jimmy.
Mel smiled and decided that it wasn’t worth arguing with the boy. She would leave it to one of her colleagues to put Jimmy right about the how’s and why’s of descriptive conversation. Instead she would tell them a fairy story, about a teacher who decided to go to