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  • Writer's pictureCrone

Story-time

Life is about to change with the resumption of work... This is a good thing. I will earn money. I will have professional respectability (I hope). This is a bad thing. I will not have the time for my ruminations and cogitations. The fields and the tracks.


The world turns. I try to turn away. I cannot.


So, distraction... a story... the start of a story from years ago which I dug out and thought, well, I'll share it...


***


The air conditioning in the office was on high. Lara pulled a jumper over her head to cover the goose bumps.

‘Wish I’d remembered mine,’ said Mike and shivered theatrically.

Lara smiled, but her eyes were on the monitor, watching the transition from one shot to another. ‘Maybe come in a bit earlier on the close up?’ she suggested.

Mike shrugged and pressed the keys. They watched the scene together. He turned to her with an expression of mock solemnity, ‘Brava, Lara: right again. That is better.’

‘Play it through to the end of the sequence.’

The monitors showed a dancer attempting a leap. She was on her own in a bare room: floorboards, mirrors and a barre, shadows lengthening. She set up for the move three times, stumbling at the landing or failing to straighten her leaps in mid air, before the final, perfect jump, when the image slowed, stalled, leaving her flying for a split second before she alighted neatly on the floorboards in real-time.

‘Good!’ said Lara.

‘Yes, and the music is just right, don’t you think?’

‘Indeed, Michael. That was your call and I bow to your superior knowledge.’ Lara dipped her head, her hands in a prayer position at her forehead as he laughed.

‘That a wrap for today, then?’ he said.

‘I think so. We will get caught up in the next interview sequence if we go on. So,’ she looked at her watch, ‘seven thirty. An early night.’

‘Time for a drink?’

‘Whenever do I refuse?’

Michael shut down the machines as Lara sent an update email to the executive producer. She left her files and notepads in a pile on the desk and picked up her bag. ‘All set?’

‘Yup. Where do you fancy going?’

‘Your mate’s?’ One of Michael’s friends had recently opened a bar just a short walk from the production house. They’d been there a few times. It attracted a largely gay crowd and was always busy early in the evenings. Lara liked it – especially because you could sit outside. Not that pavements in London offered much in the way of fresh air, but in the summer, well, she thought, being outside was better.

Mike shook his head with the sort of grimace that most reserve for extremes of disgust.

‘Why not?’ she asked him.

‘Fell out.’

Lara didn’t ask him to elaborate. Michael’s friendships veered from passionate affection to virtual hatred with the speed and violence of a driverless juggernaut at full pelt. She expected they’d be back at Danny’s before the summer was out.

‘Well,’ she said, ‘I want to sit outside. So there’s Madison’s, the South Bank, Hammersmith, Acqua…’

‘Or any of a number of little bars with outside tables.’

‘I guess.’

‘Or Jake’s club…’

‘Mikey…’

‘Oooohhhh!’ A pantomime sound effect that expressed his satirical amusement at her irritation. ‘Don’t you want to see lover boy?’

‘Mikey, shut up. You know it makes me-’

‘There’s no one here to hear, Lara.’

‘Just in case.’

‘OK, OK. Well, Acqua, then.’

The bar was off Oxford Street, fifteen minutes walk from their studio in Soho. Lara took the jumper off as soon as they passed through the front doors. The city had soaked up the heat of the day and was now exuding warmth, like an animal, though from concrete and tarmac, rather than flesh and fur.

Michael rolled up the sleeves of his T-shirt to emphasise his biceps, triceps and deltoids. The muscles of his chest and back were highlighted by the tight fitting cotton. He didn’t favour the skinny jeans, which Lara considered unflattering, that seemed to be in that year. Straight Levis in pale denim.

‘You look good, Mikey,’ she told him.

He grinned, fluttering his eyelashes, then stopped and pulled her around to stand in front of him. He gave her an overt once over, before nodding, ‘And you’ll do, Ms Duarte.’

‘Senorita, por favor.’

‘My mistake: Senorita Duarte.’

She was wearing a dress she’d bought in Madrid the previous year, close fitting and long, but she’d hiked it up to walk freely, tying the skirt at her hips. Her skin tanned easily and the last three weeks of good weather had been enough – lunch-hours and weekends; one trip to the country with Jake, who’d been attending a golf day. She’d spent the time walking and in the hotel’s garden.

‘Let’s walk up Carnaby Street,’ said Mike, who always liked to see and be seen. His tan came from a salon near his home in Putney.

Lara considered asking him about Danny, but decided against it. Michael’s love life tended to be more tenuous than hers, which was saying something. She’d thought the barman was keen and that Mike might have settled down for a while. But then, perhaps the hours and temptations of bar-life would have counted against that as the possibility for a secure attachment. He’d had a long-term relationship. One. It had ended just before they started working together some five years earlier, and since then described himself as ‘footloose and fancy-free’. Though he didn’t seem, to Lara, happy. When she’d remarked upon it, he’d rolled his eyes and said, in a sing-song voice, ‘Hark at the pot.’ She had to admit he was right. Her relationship wasn’t exactly ideal. Though, she countered to herself, Jake was. It was just the circumstances. And you couldn’t have everything, right?

‘Look at him,’ said Mike, in a low hiss, though his gesture and body language made the subterfuge redundant. He was looking at a man walking towards them. Tall, dark, handsome, the full kit ‘n’ caboodle.

‘He’s straight, Mikey.’

‘Ooooh, whose gaydar is primed ce soir? I know he’s straight, ma cherie, I was thinking of you.’

The man caught them looking at him and his eyes flickered away, but Lara saw a slight smile curve his lips. ‘Self-satisfied twat,’ she said.

‘Bitchy, bitchy.’

‘Mike, I’m not looking. You know that. And if I were, he is a) too pleased with himself and b) too young, and,’ she said, turning to watch him walk away down the street, ‘c) not interested.’

‘Easy responses to all those objections, darling. First, you should be looking; second, what’s wrong with a bit of confidence; third, what’s age got to do with it and fifthly… no wait… oh, whatever, lastly… where were we?’

‘Not interested.’

‘Yes you are.’

‘No, I’m not. But my fourth point was neither was he.’

‘Your third, actually. Or, to be exact your “c”. And it’s only the case because, ma chère, you never put in the effort. you have to work it, baby, work it!’ And Mikey did a cat-walk hip-strut for a few paces.

‘Michael, you’re embarrassing.’

‘You love it.’

‘I love you. But a bit less when you are this… annoying.’

He made a moue but walked by her side the rest of the way to the bar.

Lara was considering a third glass of wine when her phone buzzed in her bag. She pulled it out and saw a text from Jake. It was unusual for him to text her. He didn’t like to leave a record. She knew her number wasn’t stored in his contact list and he deleted her from his call list. It was one of the many things she didn’t like to think about.

Michael was talking about a work colleague, coming up with evidence to back up his theory that the man was gay. Lara had been telling him it was just wishful thinking and laughing at his convoluted reasoning and extravagant theories. It took him a while to see that she was distracted.

‘I see I no longer have your full attention, Lar.’

‘Sorry. A text, Jake. He says he needs to see me.’

‘When?’

‘Kind of now.’

‘For real?’ Mikey’s mouth curved into a smile and his expression became salacious. ‘This is movement, angel-cakes: he wants to see you after hours.’

Lara had felt the same – but that hope was overshadowed by fear. She shook her head, ‘Something’s wrong.’

Michael rolled his eyes. ‘You always choose the worst interpretation.’

‘I choose the realistic interpretation.’

‘Where, then? Where does he want you to meet?’

‘I’m waiting for him to reply.’ She looked down at the screen. Saw the three flickering dots that meant he was typing. Waited for the beep. Waterloo Station. By the Café Nero. Can you be there in half an hour? She replied that she’d be there and imagined him deleting the messages.

‘I’ve got to go, Mikey.’

‘I know when I’m no longer needed.’

‘It’s not like that.’

‘I know.’ He kissed her cheek, smiling with a tenderness that was rare but genuine. ‘I hope you’re not right.’ She nodded. ‘Call me if you need to talk, OK? Any time.’

‘Thanks, Mikey. I will.’ She returned the kiss, pulled a twenty pound note out of her purse and into his hand and got up.

‘See you at work tomorrow. 8:30?’

He gave a military salute and she left.

She was at Waterloo in less than twenty minutes, but it took her another five to find the Café Nero in the huge hall of the station. Jake was there, his back to her. She felt the rush of feeling at the sight of him. Tall. Standing so straight. But when he turned her way, the look on his face sent a rush of ice down her spine.

‘Jake?’ she put a hand on his arm, but felt him tense.

***


Ah, maybe I'll continue it one day. I started it in 2016, so there's no real rush. And now, there's just not enough time...

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