Friends

24 October 2011

Trust Not The Vow ... Chapter 1


She stood in Harrow and Spicton's loading bay fiddling with the tail-end of her blue and white woollen scarf, almost swooning with the realisation that if she hadn't used the bay as a short cut she might have missed this extraordinary sight.

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 Gary and he was employed by a subcontractor, which meant he would not come in as often as she would like. When he did, he was accompanied by an older man who dealt with the paperwork himself. Each day, she kept a vigilant eye on the window overlooking the bay, praying he would come alone and bring a docket she could deal with.

News of him travelled to the offices: Sales, Accounts, Reception, and the Switchboard Room. Gary's audience steadily increased. Obsessed by him, yet too shy to go near, Rachel experienced the first tremors of jealousy as she witnessed the spectacle of parading females. She became acutely aware of her chubbiness and formed the habit of covering herself with loose jumpers and cardigans to conceal her podgy breasts. She felt bad enough next to Cynthia but that stylish lot made her imperfections seem gross. When it got unbearable, she buried herself in her work and tried to dismiss Gary from her thoughts.

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.’

Rachel's stomach did several high-speed somersaults. Beads of sweat lined her brow and the hand holding her ballpoint pen began to quiver. ‘Where?’ she asked, hardly daring to breathe.

Cynthia had no chance to answer for the door burst open and Rachel's dream-man strode in. He quickly surveyed the layout of the office and then marched over to Rachel's desk.

‘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?’

Speechlessly concurring, Rachel took the paper from his remarkably clean hand which, in view of the work he did, flaunted surprisingly spotless nails. She scribbled her signature beside that of the foreman, feverishly wondering how to initiate a dialogue before he marched out again. Mentioning his superb physique didn't seem an appropriate opener somehow, and reference to his gorgeous looks would be a little premature. There was, of course, the weather to fall back on; a dreary topic, but it would do for starters. However, just as she opened her mouth to speak, Cynthia beat her to it.

‘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,’ Cynthia said. ‘My name's Mates!’

He laughed, believing she was joking, but Cynthia swiftly pointed out that it truly was her name.

‘Well, indeed I would have sent for you, Miss, if I'd known.’ Turning to take the proffered docket from Rachel, he beamed at her and said, ‘Name's Gary, by the way. Gary Ellison.’

Inarticulately, her voice strangely impeded by a brick-like obstacle in her throat, Rachel gave her name, mumbling disjointedly about it being dull and old-fashioned. She felt terribly gauche under what she felt was a critical gaze, but she did notice how white his teeth were, how moist his lips, and she predicted that she would die happy if only Gary Ellison's smiling mouth would attach itself to hers.

‘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, Rachel confessed to Cynthia … boldly, now that Gary's spell had worn off and she was in complete control of her emotions … that if she hadn't been glued to the chair she would have vaulted the desk to kiss the man.

‘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 Gary. She had hung around after work, hoping to see him and had been rewarded for the longish wait with a grin and a wave as he drove by in his lorry.

She believed she was in love. Certainly the excitement bubbling inside like a seething cauldron was nothing like the way she felt with Keith. But she didn't want to analyse or compare; she wanted to relish these escalating sensations not put a damper on things, which thinking about her previous boy friend would definitely do.

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 Gary. ‘I'll wager you didn't expect to see me.’

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 Tim O'Flaherty's family in Coombe Road. D'you know them?’

‘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?’

Rachel swallowed hard, thinking she would faint if he didn't move away. She didn't dare speak lest the words emerged all wrong and he thought her a simpleton. In the end, she nodded her agreement, but gave him a smile to be going on with.

‘That's dandy,’ he said, touching her arm. ‘I'll see you then.’ And he marched away in the direction of Coombe Road without enlightening her about where or when.

PROVIDENTIALLY, the house was empty except for Rex, a retriever-spaniel crossbreed, who was wagging his tail as if trying to dispose of it. Rachel gave his head an affectionate pat. ‘You're a nutty dog,’ she said. ‘Anyone would think I'd been away for months.’ She buried her nose on the top of his head and gave his belly a quick rub. ‘Okay, that's enough. I've got to iron the last two sheets before Mum gets in.’

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 Rachel did her share of housework, especially the ironing. So you'll know what to do when you grow up, she’d explained when Rachel was about four. And woe betide her if she failed to execute the tasks. Social excursions were allowed in this house only when all the work was done.

Amy Skinner came in as Rachel was folding the last bed sheet. Rex lifted his head, but sensibly chose to stay where he was.

‘I'm bushed,’ Amy said, kicking off her ridiculously high heels and padding across to the chair by the grate. ‘Are you getting the tea tonight, or must I do it again?’

‘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 Gary's weird invitation, endeavouring to determine if he was the sort of guy who said things in jest without really meaning them. Could someone so captivating be that unkind? Swiftly, she drove the notion away, reasoning that he hadn't actually made a date; he'd merely asked her opinion of the idea. She might have read more into his remark than he intended. Nonetheless, her palpitations were rife, and that was usually a sign of things about to happen.

‘What're you doing that for?’ bawled Amy.

Rachel paused with the peeler poised, silently cursing the intrusion into her deliberations.

‘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, Amy shoved her aside. ‘Shift,’ she said. ‘Let me get to the sink. Your Dad will want his tea any minute.’

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 Rex to greet him. Toby removed his cap and planted a kiss on her cheek, then tweaked the dog's ear. Rachel snuggled up to him, a childish practice never outgrown. She breathed in the odour of fresh sawdust and it occurred to her that Gary might feel equally as strong, and cuddly, and warm. Her doubts had entirely disappeared.

‘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.

Rachel followed, aiming to confide in him about Gary, but her mother's deafening summons stopped her in her tracks. She sighed loudly and resigned herself to tackling whatever it was her mother had in mind for her to do.

‘Don't idle,’ Amy cried. ‘Get the table laid, and don't forget your father's napkin. And the cruet. Then you can butter the bread, there's a new loaf in my bag.’

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. Gary's image flashed before her and an unexpected eagerness consumed her, an exhilarating expectancy of a future spent with the amazingly handsome Gary. She would have to discuss it with Cynthia. No use bothering her Dad at this stage. He'd have a blue fit if she suggested marrying a man she scarcely knew.

But she would know him.

She'd make sure of it.

(to be continued)

7 comments:

Brian Miller said...

oo nice...i enjoy these characters and you def allow us to feel their feelings....enjoying the story...and awaiting what is to come next...

Ron said...

Oooo...you've got me eagerly anticipating what's next!!!!!!

" 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."

You GO, Rachel! I would feel the same way.

GREAT story, Valerie! And like Gary shared, I love the way you clearly allow us to feel your characters feelings!

Have a terrific Tuesday, dear lady!

X

An English Shepherd said...

Rex sounds interesting... ;-)

Mel said...

LOL 'Dishy'....I'm going to remember that word.

What's a cruet? And I'm not sure what 'podgy' means--but I did get a good chuckle out of 'it being no fun to hump crates on your own'.

Next!! :-)

Mr. Shife said...

Good work, Val. Hopefully it will not to be continued when I will be starting the next chapter of my to be continued life. Take care.

HermanTurnip said...

*Very* well done. Love the pacing and the life you breathe into the characters! Here's hoping that Cynthia's knee didn't infected! ;-)

Valerie said...

Mel. I thought I should answer your questions about some of our English expressions. A cruet is another name for a holder for condiments. It's a decorative stand with three sections for salt, pepper and vinegar. Podgy is another way of describing plump. Isn't language strange?

Brian, 'next' is on Tuesday. I thought I ought to space them our rather than create boredom.

Ron, there's a certain element of truth in the mother/daughter relationshp.

ES, all dogs are interesting.

Shifey, your chapters are more important.

Herman, thank you. It's interesting to hear the views of others.