She stood in
The subject of Rachel Skinner's fascination was dark haired and bronzed, slim waisted and lithe, sporting a smooth, bare chest that made her feel tingly cold to look at him, though she couldn’t decide if that was to do with the effect he had on her or the wintry weather. Although normally incapable of judging age, she guessed him to be mid-twenties and with those looks probably happily married. She had been secretary to the Manager of the Despatch Department since leaving school and knew every driver who brought in their dockets for endorsement. But she had never seen this one before.
Her red hair bobbed as she propelled herself through the metal door of the office. After saluting Cynthia, she slung her second-best blue coat at the clothes rack in the corner before speeding out to take another gander at the dark-eyed wonder. Moving swiftly, she hid behind a pile of wooden pallets where she could gaze to her heart's content.
‘What's going on?’ demanded Cynthia, towering over Rachel with a quizzical look on her face.
‘Shush,’ Rachel hissed, unceremoniously dragging her colleague to the shelter offered by the pallets. She was entirely oblivious to the wounded cry when Cynthia's knee caught a protruding nail.
Cynthia carefully inspected her knee before condescending to ask what the devil Rachel was gawking at, but she looked intently when Rachel pointed to the figure standing on the back of a lorry, stacking a consignment of milk churns.
‘Isn't he something?’ Rachel murmured, staring almost devotedly at the new driver. He had donned a thick blue shirt, left the buttons undone, and she observed the single streak of oil that sullied his golden skin. Seeing Cynthia pat her blonde hair, she cried impulsively: ‘Leave off. I saw him first.’
‘That must be the chap the girls were raving over in the cloakroom,’ Cynthia said. ‘They were right, he is dishy.’ Suddenly, she seized Rachel's arm. ‘Watch out, old Hudspith's coming. If he sees us shirking, there'll be hell to pay.’
Eric Hudspith, as boss of Despatch, rightly demanded that his girls applied their minds unreservedly to matters relating to work. He would not view favourably an episode of man-ogling and if he saw her ensconced by pallets he would definitely have something to say. Rachel reluctantly brushed the swarf from her linen skirt and chased after Cynthia.
DURING the ensuing week, Rachel researched the new driver. She learned little, except that his name was
News of him travelled to the offices: Sales, Accounts, Reception, and the Switchboard Room.
ONE afternoon, Cynthia hurried into the office, a cigarette in her hand, grey smoke belching from between her red lips. ‘Hey! Your bloke's here on his own.’
‘Hello,’ he said, pulling a pink slip from his overall pocket. He handed it to Rachel, obviously unaware of the havoc his appearance had caused in Rachel's heart. ‘Are you the girl who signs these things?’
‘Have you finished loading.’
‘Yes, and am I glad. My mate's off with flu and it's no fun humping crates on your own.’
‘You should have called me,’
He laughed, believing she was joking, but
‘Well, indeed I would have sent for you, Miss, if I'd known.’ Turning to take the proffered docket from
Inarticulately, her voice strangely impeded by a brick-like obstacle in her throat,
‘I think your name is charming,’ Gary remarked as he reached for the door, but before passing through he swept round and gave Rachel a huge wink which set her heart banging like a Chinese gong.
Later, at tea break,
‘Just because he winked? That's daft.’
‘But it was a knowing wink.’
‘What the hell is a knowing wink, when it's at home?’
‘Sort of ... seductive.’
‘Go on, you're off your rocker. He's a smoothie. I bet he bats an eye at all the women.’
DAWDLING home at the end of the working day, Rachel barely noticed the ordinarily tedious journey. Her thoughts were totally occupied by
She believed she was in love. Certainly the excitement bubbling inside like a seething cauldron was nothing like the way she felt with
It was gone six when she arrived at the house, an hour later than her usual arrival time; if her mother was home she would be in serious trouble. One step from the side entry, Rachel hesitated, sensing that someone was walking behind her, cushioned footfalls not detected because of her busy mind. She spun round, and promptly forgot her mother's likely vexation when she saw who it was.
‘Here we are, then,’ said
Rachel's speech only faltered when she was excited or nervous; unluckily, both emotions applied to the current situation and all she could do was stammer: ‘N-no.’
‘I've taken lodgings with
‘N-no.’ She urged herself to restrain the stutter.
‘So I may be seeing a bit more of you, my lovely.’
As if a blush wasn't sufficient evidence of her personal flurry her heart undertook to join in, embarking on a mercurial leap to heaven. Her lower limbs turned to jelly when he bent close to say:
‘What do you reckon to you and me going out one night?’
‘That's dandy,’ he said, touching her arm. ‘I'll see you then.’ And he marched away in the direction of
PROVIDENTIALLY, the house was empty except for Rex, a retriever-spaniel crossbreed, who was wagging his tail as if trying to dispose of it.
Discarding her coat, she fetched the iron from the old toy cupboard under the stairs and set to work, applauding the wisdom of doing the bulk of it at lunch time. Her mother insisted that
Amy Skinner came in as Rachel was folding the last bed sheet.
‘I'll see to it.’
Rachel put the sheets on the chair ready to transport upstairs, then fetched potatoes from the sack in the pantry. While waiting for the water to run into the bowl, she absently gazed at a splash of red poppies on the curtains and pondered
‘What're you doing that for?’ bawled
‘I told you this morning, we're having salad. Don't you ever listen? It's time you got your head out of the clouds, my lady. Airy-fairy, that's what you are. Neither use nor ornament.’
Rachel mutely threatened, as she invariably did when Amy set upon her, that one of these days she would thrash the living daylight out of her mother.
Not a woman to care if her actions hurt,
Her statement was correct for Toby Skinner appeared as she finished speaking. A welcome arrival for Rachel who loved her father to bits and only felt relaxed in the family home when he was there. She went with
‘Here, girl, what's all this for?’
‘I'm pleased to see you, that's all.’
Toby playfully pushed her away and went over to his wife, who was scrubbing celery as if her livelihood depended on it. ‘Is there time to wash before tea?’ he asked, squeezing her shoulder.
‘Half an hour, I'd say. I'm late tonight. Madam here didn't listen when I told her to do salad.’
‘I'm in no rush,’ Toby said, heading towards the stairs.
Doing the jobs in instructional order, Rachel swore that pretty soon she would do something drastic that would teach her mother once and for all that her detestable dominance was unendurable. Quite possibly she would run away or … or get married.
Married! Now that would show her. The unsolicited notion surprised her, it being a concept she hadn't contemplated before … not even on the occasion when her mother beat her almost senseless with a heavy poker. And never with Keith.
But she would know him.
She'd make sure of it.
(to be continued)