At First Sight – Part 8

Jon and Vikki fell in love the day before Vikki returned permanently to Australia, leaving Jon in London. He books a flight to visit her. Meanwhile, Vikki’s abusive former partner, Guy, has tracked her down. Vikki disappears. Jon, and her childhood sweetheart, Dan, pursue Guy. There is a showdown, in which Vikki is rescued, Guy is killed, and Jon and Dan both critically injured

At first sight 8 - Manor on High 170715

Jon’s head was aching. He couldn’t remember a worse pain, except for…his mind shied away from an explosion of agony that he couldn’t quite recall. Instead, he opened his eyes. The ceiling was white. The light hurt his eyes.

“Jonathan?”

“Dad?”

“Thank God. You’re back with us. Praise the Lord!”

“Where am I?”

“Hospital. The Royal Melbourne Hospital, to be precise.”

Jonathan closed his eyes again.

“Where’s Vikki? Is she…is she alright?”

“Yes, she’s fine. She just popped out for a bite of breakfast. She’ll be back.”

“Breakfast. I’ve been out overnight, then?”

“A bit longer than that, I’m afraid.”

Jon’s eyes opened abruptly.

“Dad! What the hell are you doing here?”

“I flew out last week when the hospital told us you might not pull through.”

Jon said nothing.

“I’ll be able to help you travel home, too.”

“I have something to do before coming home. In fact, I may not come back to the UK at all.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. There’s your PhD to finish…” James Hall’s voice faded as he looked at his son’s pale face and the turban of dressings round his head. The doctors had warned him of possible brain damage; maybe Jon wouldn’t be capable of completing his studies.

The door opened quietly. Jon looked and smiled.

“Vikki!”

“Oh, Jon, I’m so glad!” Her tears welled up, and poured down her cheeks, even as she beamed with joy. She swabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “Drat this crying. Anybody would think I was sad!”

Jonathan stretched out his arms towards her. As she moved into his embrace, the door opened.

“Now then, Mr Hall. Lie still and don’t get excited. You’re still a very sick man.” But the nurse’s face was cheerful, and her manner light.

“I’ll… er… go and phone your mother, tell her that you’re back in the land of the living.”

“Yeah.”

Little fragments of memory were flashing before Jon. He held onto Vikki’s hands.

“You’re safe!” he said. “I was so afraid of what Guy might do to you.”

Vikki frowned. “Best leave that for the moment. Some other time?”

Jon went to nod, and realised that his head was restrained. Instead, he made a circle with his thumb and forefinger, and smiled. His eyes closed, and he drifted off to sleep. He looked happy, Vikki thought.

The nurse spoke quietly to Vikki. “I know I told him to keep still, but it’s an excellent sign that he was able to move his arms. There didn’t look to be any weakness. We have to wait for the consultant’s say-so, but it looks good. You’re a lucky girl, I think.”

Vikki coloured. She gazed at Jon. What was it about him that made her desire him so much? She stroked his arm with her fingertips. The muscles were relaxed in sleep, but she could feel their tight definition. The hair on his skin was downy and fair, hardly more than a fuzz.

She looked at his face and remembered the last ten days, and the tears came again. At first the doctors had thought he would die; you could tell from their faces, and from the nurses’ refrain, “He’s receiving the best possible care,” which so often becomes, “We did all we could.”

But now he was out of danger.

The door clicked as James Hall came back into the room.

“Ah, good. He’s asleep. That’s what he needs.” He looked at Vikki, who half-nodded. “I wonder if we could talk together for a few minutes?” he asked. He held open the door. Vikki stared at him, set her lips and walked into the corridor.

“Well?”

“I wanted to talk about Jon, and his future.”

“I didn’t think you wanted to talk about the weather.”

“Vikki. Please don’t be hostile. There’s no need. We’ve both got Jon’s best interests at heart.”

“Say what you want to say.”

“Jon’s a very bright young man, you know. He has a great future. He could become a professor.”

“Your point being?”

“He needs to come back to the UK to finish his PhD. His academic network is centred in the UK. It will set back his career unless he returns and stays in England.”

“Do you suppose he doesn’t know that?”

“I’m sure he does. But I want to be confident that you understand. I’m sure you want to act in his best interests.”

“Of course I do. But I think that Jon can perfectly well decide his best interests for himself. Don’t you?”

“I’m concerned that he may not see them clearly while he’s infatuated.”

“I’d prefer to say that he’s in love. Look, Mr Hall, Jon’s big enough to make his own decisions. If he asks me to marry him, I shall say yes like a shot. And – I’ll be blunt – that is none of your business. It’s about time you recognised that he’s a man, now, not a little boy.”

“I see. Thank you for making your feelings so clear. Perhaps you’d like to rejoin him? I shall go and find something to eat. Good day to you.”

Cheeks flaming, Vikki went back into Jon. She moved quietly across to the bed, and slipped her hand into his. He didn’t wake, but his fingers closed gently around hers. She sighed, and the hostility she’d felt for Jon’s father melted away. Sitting here, with Jon safe, was all she wanted. It was a moment of perfect calm and happiness.

*       *       *       *

It had been the first day Jon had tried walking since his injury. He’d been okay; the doctors were pleased, but he was exhausted. The door clicked. He looked up, hoping the nurse had come to adjust the bed so that he could sleep, but it was Dan. Jon sat up a little straighter and greeted him cheerfully.

Dan dropped into the chair by the bed.

“Glad we did it, eh?”

Jon nodded.

“Your doing mostly, Dan. I didn’t stop him; you did.”

“Team effort, mate”

“You’re too generous.”

Dan gave him a sideways look. “Only a Pom would say that!”

Jon grinned.

“Look, I’ve got something serious to say,” went on Dan. “It’s about Vikki. I’ve seen how she’s been with you the last couple weeks.”

He paused and thought a little.

“If you ask her to marry you, she’ll say ‘Yes’, you know. I just wanted to say there’ll be no hard feelings on my part. I love her, yeah, I have done as long as I can remember, but, well, she loves you and I want her to be happy. That’s what matters. I’m a big boy. I guess I’ll get over it.”

Jon was briefly silent, then he held out his hand. Dan grasped it.

“Thank you,” said Jon.

They sat like that for several minutes, then Jon said, “I shall ask Vikki this evening. If she says yes, would you be my best man at the wedding?”

“I’d be honoured. Provided I’m not in gaol on the day.”

“Gaol?”

“Yeah. They’ve charged me with manslaughter for killing Guy. My brief reckons with the extenuating circumstances I’ll probably get a couple years.”

“But – you saved my life!”

“Yeah. That’s the extenuating bit.”

“Dan, I’m so sorry.”

“The law’s the law, I guess. I tell you what, though. I’d do it again tomorrow. We got Vikki out. You’re still alive. And Guy’s dead. Good riddance. Vikki’s told me some of what he did. He was a piece of shit. I’m bloody glad I shot the bastard.”

He looked at Jon.

“Here, you’re looking a bit peaky, mate. Do you want me to call the nurse?”

“I’m OK. First day out of bed today, that’s all.”

The door clicked open.

“Out you go now!” The nurse was brisk. Dan winked at Jon, and loped out. Jon fell asleep even before the nurse had finished reclining the head of the bed.

*       *       *       *

Jonathan Hall, newly minted PhD, sat next to Dan in the Regency Room of the Manor on High in Melbourne. In his room in Vikki’s mum’s house was the letter offering him a post at Melbourne University, together with confirmation from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that he qualified for permanent residency.

Dan was quiet, self-controlled; calmly cheerful; on parole.

Carolyn Hall sat behind her son, but her husband, James, was absent, unable to reconcile himself to Jon wedding an atheist.

The string quartet drew their music to a close at the registrar’s signal, and then struck up Pachelbel’s Canon.

Vikki entered, on her mother Margaret’s arm. She was heartbreakingly beautiful. Her honey-coloured hair was put up in a French Pleat, emphasizing her classic features. Her amber eyes seemed to glow.

Jon and Vikki exchanged vows, and rings; the registrar pronounced them man and wife.

The reception afterwards was joyful and lively, but Margaret made a moment of seclusion to speak quietly to Jon. “Do you remember what I said at the yard gate? ‘Find my girl, Jon. Bring her back to me.’ You did that, Jon, and I am eternally grateful to you and Dan”. She hugged him close for several minutes, and then added, “She’s told me things, Jon, things she’ll probably never tell you. Be gentle with her, won’t you?”

And that is where this serial stops. It would be nice to say that ‘they all lived happily ever after’, but that never happens to real people, and it doesn’t in my tale either. But whether you ever hear of what happened later will depend entirely upon the caprice of the author!

 

 

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At First Sight – Part 6

This month I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, which requires me to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. I’m afraid that leaves no time for writing original material for my blog, so I’m republishing my serial “At First Sight” one episode per day. I hope you enjoy it!

Jon and Vikki fell in love the day before Vikki returned to her home in Australia – leaving Jon in London. Her former abusive partner, Guy, is tracking her. Her childhood sweetheart, Dan, has proposed marriage to her. Jon must move fast. He has scraped together the air fare and flown to Melbourne. Dan meets him at the airport and tells him Vikki has disappeared…

At first sight - Great Ocean Road 170701

“Missing!”

“Yeah. She set off to the bakery this morning early and never came home. Here, do you need to sit down? You don’t look too good.”

Jon shook his head.

“Did she leave a note?” he asked

Dan took the handle of Jon’s luggage.

“Here, let me. Car’s this way.” He gestured. “Note? No, she didn’t. Margaret – that’s her mum – told me to bring you straight to the house.”

“You’ve told the police?”

“Yeah. They can’t list someone as missing until they’ve been gone twenty-four hours.”

“Where might she have gone? You know her well, don’t you?”

“The only place I would expect her to go would be home. I’ve never known her go walkabout, and I’ve known her since we were both little kids.”

Dan dropped the luggage into the boot of the car.

They sat in silence as he drove, slickly, as though he thought of himself as a racing driver.

“Here we are.”

A short woman, with dark, curly hair, burst out of the front door, and ran down the path. She was at the yard gate even before Dan had applied the handbrake.

“You must be Jon!” She grabbed him, as he climbed out of the car and hugged him fiercely. “I’m so glad you’re here. Did Dan tell you about…?” She looked up at him.

“About Vikki going missing? Yes.”

“Come in, come in! I’ll make you a cup of tea – that’s what you English drink, isn’t it? Dan, be a love and bring his case would you? No, Jon, you’re staying with us. I insist.” Her voice was unemphatic but decisive.

“I’ve been through Vikki’s stuff with a comb,” she announced, as they sat in the kitchen, Margaret at one end of the long table, Dan and Jon on her right and left. “There’s absolutely nothing to suggest she was going to run off. All her clothes are there.” Her voice quavered; her lip trembled. Dan put his arm round her shoulders.

“Keep your spirits up, Ma,” he said quietly. “We’ll get this sorted.”

“Did she tell either of you about the man she used to be with?” asked Jon

“You mean Guy? Yes, she did.” Margaret’s face became pinched and hard.

Jon moistened his lips.

“Did she tell you that he had taken a flight for Melbourne? He would have been here a few days ago.”

Dan and Margaret glanced at each other.

“She didn’t tell me. Did she tell you, Dan?” Dan shook his head. “How do you know, Jon?”

“The police told me. I was burgled and they thought it might have had something to do with Guy. When they checked, they found he had flown to Melbourne. I wrote and told Vikki.”

“If that bastard does anything to Vikki, I’ll kill him.” The words were a shocking contrast to the quiet voice in which they were uttered. Both Jon and Margaret stared at Dan.

“Now, Dan, there’s no need for threats. Our job is to get my girl back.” Margaret put an arm around both young men.

“Jon. You say the English police are investigating Guy? That gives us enough to go back to the police here and insist they take Vikki’s disappearance seriously. Will you two boys do that for me?”

At the station, the desk sergeant was anodyne.

“Do you fellows know how many people officially go missing in Australia every year? Thirty-eight thousand. That’s more than one every fifteen minutes, every day of the year.”

Jon leaned forwards.

“Look, sergeant. One,” he raised a finger, “Vikki has been the subject of threats from a man in the UK. Two,” he raised a second finger, “He has a record of violence. Three, he made it plain he was determined to obtain her address in Australia. Four, he’s flown to Melbourne, and five, Vikki’s disappeared. How much more do you need? With every moment that passes it will be more difficult to trace and catch him, and rescue her.”

“We’ve heard nothing from the English police. If she’s still missing tomorrow morning, you know what to do.”

As they trailed home, a fine rain started. The droplets made halos around the streetlights. Jon walked with his fists clenched in his jacket pockets.

Dan strode freely.

“Looks like we’ll have to go unofficial then.”

“What do you mean?”

“Better you don’t know the detail. Like I said, unofficial. Do you know Guy’s surname, and roughly where he lives?”

“He’s Guy Northcott. I think Vikki said he had a house in Luton.”

“Okay. Might be enough. You see, if I were going to kidnap someone and I didn’t live here, I’d rent a camper van. We might find him that way.”

Dan stopped, and Jon realised that they were back in front of the house where Vikki lived.

“I’ll be round in the morning, about eight,” said Dan. “We’ll go and see if we can stir up some action from the police.” He drove away. His car was dirty, and one of the rear lights had failed, Jon noticed.

Margaret welcomed him warmly, fed him, chatted to him about Vikki, but it was a melancholy evening. She was troubled at what Dan might be planning.

“He’s very fond of Vikki, Jon. He always was, even when he was an age when boys don’t like girls. I’d always thought Vikki would probably marry him. So did he, I think. This is hitting him very hard. I’ve never heard him threaten anybody like that. I hope he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

Jon excused himself early, and went to the bedroom Margaret had prepared for him. It wasn’t large. There was a single bed and a bookcase filled with novels, all well-worn. He sat on the bed and phoned home.

“I’ll see if I can help,” offered his father. “I have one or two senior contacts in the police. They might be able to encourage liaison with the Australian force. Call me in eleven hours and I’ll let you know if there’s anything useful.”

“Thanks, Dad. I appreciate that. I’ll put a reminder in my mobile.”

“Yes. Yes, I suppose you would. Okay. Chin up, Jonathan. Chances are that everything will work out. Till this evening, then.”

Dad always knew someone. And never knew how people felt inside. “Irritating old bastard,” Jon said to himself.

Despite the fatigue of the journey, and the comfortable bedroom he slept badly.

Dan was early next morning, and Jon was still on the phone to his father.

“So I need to email Bedfordshire police, and complete a witness statement for them, and then they will contact Melbourne with a formal request for help with tracking Guy?”

“That’s it. I should give the locals twenty-four hours after you submit the witness statement before you contact them.”

“Thanks, Dad. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

Dan greeted him with a wolfish grin. “Maybe we won’t need the jacks after all. I found something last night. Come on; I’ll tell you about it in the car.”

“Hang on while I grab my tablet. I can do the witness statement on that while we drive. Are we going far?”

“Couple hundred miles maybe.”

“We’d better tell Margaret.”

“All done, mate, while you were chatting to your dad.”

And even as he spoke, Margaret entered the room with a large bag.

“Breakfast, lunch and probably dinner too if you’ve not been able to stop.”

She hugged them, first Dan, then Jon. As she held Jon close she whispered, “Find my girl, Jon. Bring her back to me.”

Dan had been driving for about ten minutes, and Jon had been typing on his tablet. He pressed send.

“Okay. I have to wait for a reply before I can do anything more. So. What did you find out last night, and where are we going?”

“Guy Northcott rented a camper van in Melbourne. He picked it up two days ago. Last night he was booked into a site about a hundred miles up the Great Ocean Road. And that’s where we’re going.”

He paused, and added, “We’re going ready for trouble. Look in the glove pocket, but don’t touch anything.”

Jon opened the glove pocket. Lying on an oily cloth was an automatic pistol. It had a long barrel, and a large magazine. It looked, to Jon’s inexperienced eye, to be very deadly.

At first sight - pistol 170701

“Is that legal?”

Dan laughed.

“No, of course not. Do you have a problem with that? Because if you do, now’s the time to say so. I’ll drop you off, and you can take a taxi back to Margaret. I’m sure she’d understand.” His scorn was obvious.

“Don’t be stupid. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

The two of them drove on in silence.

 

 

 

At first sight – Part 5

As I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year I have no time to write original material for my blog. Instead, I’m reblogging a serial that I first published in 2017. I hope you enjoy it!

If you’ve missed the earlier chapters,  you can read them here

At first sight

At first sight – part 2

Short Story – At first sight – part III

At first sight – part IV

 Jon and Vikki fell for each other at a party in London – the day before Vikki returned home to Australia. They have been writing to each other, and Jon has arranged to visit Vikki in Melbourne within the next few months. But Vikki is settling back into her familiar life, and renewing old friendships. Meanwhile, her abusive ex-partner, Guy, is trying to trace her…

At first sight - Qantas plane 170624

It was the second morning in a row that the postie had let her down. There was no letter from Jon. It was windy, cold and raining. She shook herself. “Come on, woman! Pull yourself together!”

“Hi, Vikki! Fancy a movie this evening?”

“Dan! I didn’t hear you come in.”

Dan grinned. He and Vikki had been in and out of each other’s houses all the time as kids.

“Sorry! I should have knocked. Anyway, what about this movie? La La Land!”

“Sure, yeah, I’d like that.”

On the way home from the cinema, Dan stopped his car at the kerbside a few streets short of Vikki’s home. She turned to him, ready to tease him, ready to defuse any threat of intimacy with humour. His face, though, was too serious.

“What is it, Dan? What’s the matter?”

“Can we talk, Vikki? I mean talk properly, not joking.”

“Go ahead.” She still sounded flippant.

She saw the fine lines deepen on his forehead. There was pain in his grey-blue eyes. She had always liked his eyes. As a teenager she used to imagine him as a Viking, facing the terrors of land and sea without fear.

“I’ve got to say this, Vikki, or I won’t be able to live with myself. I love you. Will you…will you marry me?”

Marry you, Dan?” There was a little quiver in her voice.

“Don’t bloody make fun of me, Vikki. You don’t owe me much, but you owe me the respect of taking me seriously.”

“I am taking you seriously, Dan. I’m just flabbergasted, I guess. I hadn’t expected this.”

They sat together in silence for a few minutes.

“You haven’t said no, at least.”

Vikki turned to him. She put one hand on his shoulder, and with the other, stroked his blond hair across his forehead.

“No, I haven’t. And I haven’t said yes either. Oh, Dan, this is just so difficult. Because I’ve loved you as a friend for years, and I find you sexy as hell, but…well, there’s somebody in England who’s special to me.”

“Not that Guy fellow, I hope?”

“As if!” Vikki stopped stroking Dan’s hair. She took hold of his right hand with both of hers, and squeezed it, as though to convince him of her earnestness. “He’s called Jon. I can’t explain it, Dan. It’s a mystery, but it’s very wonderful. I’m so sorry.”

Gently, Dan removed his hand from hers.

“I don’t want your pity, Vikki. If you won’t have me, I reckon I’ll have to go away.”

“I haven’t said no, Dan. But I’m not saying yes either, not yet.”

“So, what the hell are you saying then?”

“Don’t be angry, Dan. I know it must look like I want to have my cake and eat it, but it really isn’t that. Can you give me a minute just to think how to help you understand?”

Dan nodded.

Vikki gestured at the two of them sitting in the car.

“This is kind of reality, Dan. The two of us sitting here; you loving me; you asking me to marry you; and me sitting here wanting to say yes, because I love you too, Dan, I do truly. But then there’s this thing like magic that happened the day before I set off home; this – connection I suppose you’d call it – between me and Jon.

Look, he’s coming out here soon. Next letter I get, I’m expecting him to say when he’s coming. Suppose I said yes to you tonight? And then saw him, and this thing between us boils up and I change my mind about what I said? That wouldn’t be fair for either of us, would it?”

“I don’t think you’re being honest, Vikki, not with me, not with yourself.” There was an angry edge to Dan’s voice. “You want to keep me in reserve in case it falls through with this – Jon. Well, that’s not going to happen. What kind of basis would that be for a marriage?”

Vikki took both Dan’s hands in hers, and looked him full in the face. In the moonlight, her amber eyes were dark, almost black, and luminous with unshed tears.

“Dan. If you want me to – if you want me to – I’ll say yes to you now. I’ll say yes, and I’ll stick to it. I’m sure we could make it work, be happy together. I’ll write to Jon and tell him –  it was just – it was just a… beautiful dream. And not to come.” A single tear escaped, glinting and leaving a silvery track as it trickled down her cheek.

Dan shook his head gently.

“No, not now, not tonight, Vikki. But I will ask again, and then I’ll insist on an answer.”

He turned away from her, and started the engine. Neither of them spoke for the remainder of the short journey home.

*       *       *       *

“Dear Jon,

I’m thrilled that you’re going to be here next week! I can’t wait! I’d thought it wasn’t going to be until September!

I know we’ve written before about this in our letters, but you’d be more than welcome to come and stay with us. My mum thinks you must be “A real, old-fashioned English gentleman” because you’re planning to stay in a hotel for at least the first few days!

Now, there’s something I must tell you.

When I was little, I was a bit of a tomboy, and my best friend was a boy called Dan. He’s still my best friend now, Jon, and he’s very dear to me. You’re the person I cleave to, but Dan is close too.

The problem is, he proposed marriage to me this evening. I didn’t say yes, but I couldn’t make myself say no.

I must be completely honest with you, Jonathan. It feels to me that the bond between you and me is so special that it demands honesty, perfect honesty, or at least as close to it as I can manage. So – if I hadn’t met you, Jon, I would have accepted Dan’s proposal, and been very happy.

There. I’ve said it. If that changes your mind about coming, then I accept that. Oh, but I so hope it doesn’t! I just want to be close to you!

With much love

Vikki xxx”

Jon read the letter, frowned, and read it again. Then he picked up his pen and wrote.

“Dear Vikki,

Thank you for your honesty in telling me about Dan. I shall see you at Melbourne Airport at about 5 p.m. on July 10th. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. I love you more than I can say.

With my whole heart.

Jon

xxx”

He took the letter to the post straightaway. It would, with luck, arrive before he did.

*       *       *       *

Jon was smiling as he tugged his suitcase into the Arrivals area. Where was she? He scanned the waiting faces, the family groups, husbands, wives; the people greeting men in suits who’d flown from England with only a briefcase and laptop; the taxi drivers displaying handwritten signs. There was no Vikki.

Jon frowned. Surely Vikki hadn’t stood him up? She must have been delayed. Perhaps her car had broken down?

He noticed a tall fair-haired man, who appeared to be waving to him. When Jon acknowledged the wave, the man beckoned to him. Stiff-legged, frozen-faced, Jon complied.

“Jonathan Hall?”

Jon nodded, curtly.

The tall man stuck out a hand.

“I’m Dan,” he said. “We have an emergency. Vikki’s disappeared.”

What Pegman Saw – West Gate Bridge

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Melbourne, Australia.

WPS - West Gate Bridge 180722

St. Kilda Pier, Melbourne, Australia | ©  Paul Huang Google Maps

West Gate Bridge

Victor shook his head as he listened to the Resident Engineer.

“Listen, mates. After what happened to the bridge in Wales, you’re worried whether it could happen to our West Gate Bridge. Well, it can’t. Our best people say so.”

The Engineer glared at the assembled workmen, daring them to challenge him.

Victor spoke to his mates. Old Jack expressed their opinion best.

“Mate, if yer a pansy, don’t work on bridges.”

But the bridge was speaking. In quiet places away from the growl of motors and the clatter of jack-hammers, failing metal first whispered, then spoke, then shouted.

Before work on 15th October, Victor woke his wife Doris early to reassure her. “I was wrong yesterday,” he said. “We’ll be okay. Tell the kids I’ll be home early.”

He marched onto the bridge, straight-backed.

At 11:50 that morning, fifty metres above the ground, the bridge crashed from under his feet.

Author’s Note

This is a true story that happened in 1970. West Gate bridge was under construction and collapsed, killing 35 workers, among them Victor Gerada. It was Australia’s worst industrial accident.

At first sight – Part 8

Jon and Vikki fell in love the day before Vikki returned permanently to Australia, leaving Jon in London. He books a flight to visit her. Meanwhile, Vikki’s abusive former partner, Guy, has tracked her down. Vikki disappears. Jon, and her childhood sweetheart, Dan, pursue Guy. There is a showdown, in which Vikki is rescued, Guy is killed, and Jon and Dan both critically injured.

At first sight 8 - Manor on High 170715

Jon’s head was aching. He couldn’t remember a worse pain, except for…his mind shied away from an explosion of agony that he couldn’t quite recall. Instead, he opened his eyes. The ceiling was white. The light hurt his eyes.

“Jonathan?”

“Dad?”

“Thank God. You’re back with us. Praise the Lord!”

“Where am I?”

“Hospital. The Royal Melbourne Hospital, to be precise.”

Jonathan closed his eyes again.

“Where’s Vikki? Is she…is she alright?”

“Yes, she’s fine. She just popped out for a bite of breakfast. She’ll be back.”

“Breakfast. I’ve been out overnight, then?”

“A bit longer than that, I’m afraid.”

Jon’s eyes opened abruptly.

“Dad! What the hell are you doing here?”

“I flew out last week when the hospital told us you might not pull through.”

Jon said nothing.

“I’ll be able to help you travel home, too.”

“I have something to do before coming home. In fact, I may not come back to the UK at all.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. There’s your PhD to finish…” James Hall’s voice faded as he looked at his son’s pale face and the turban of dressings round his head. The doctors had warned him of possible brain damage; maybe Jon wouldn’t be capable of completing his studies.

The door opened quietly. Jon looked and smiled.

“Vikki!”

“Oh, Jon, I’m so glad!” Her tears welled up, and poured down her cheeks, even as she beamed with joy. She swabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “Drat this crying. Anybody would think I was sad!”

Jonathan stretched out his arms towards her. As she moved into his embrace, the door opened.

“Now then, Mr Hall. Lie still and don’t get excited. You’re still a very sick man.” But the nurse’s face was cheerful, and her manner light.

“I’ll… er… go and phone your mother, tell her that you’re back in the land of the living.”

“Yeah.”

Little fragments of memory were flashing before Jon. He held onto Vikki’s hands.

“You’re safe!” he said. “I was so afraid of what Guy might do to you.”

Vikki frowned. “Best leave that for the moment. Some other time?”

Jon went to nod, and realised that his head was restrained. Instead, he made a circle with his thumb and forefinger, and smiled. His eyes closed, and he drifted off to sleep. He looked happy, Vikki thought.

The nurse spoke quietly to Vikki. “I know I told him to keep still, but it’s an excellent sign that he was able to move his arms. There didn’t look to be any weakness. We have to wait for the consultant’s say-so, but it looks good. You’re a lucky girl, I think.”

Vikki coloured. She gazed at Jon. What was it about him that made her desire him so much? She stroked his arm with her fingertips. The muscles were relaxed in sleep, but she could feel their tight definition. The hair on his skin was downy and fair, hardly more than a fuzz.

She looked at his face and remembered the last ten days, and the tears came again. At first the doctors had thought he would die; you could tell from their faces, and from the nurses’ refrain, “He’s receiving the best possible care,” which so often becomes, “We did all we could.”

But now he was out of danger.

The door clicked as James Hall came back into the room.

“Ah, good. He’s asleep. That’s what he needs.” He looked at Vikki, who half-nodded. “I wonder if we could talk together for a few minutes?” he asked. He held open the door. Vikki stared at him, set her lips and walked into the corridor.

“Well?”

“I wanted to talk about Jon, and his future.”

“I didn’t think you wanted to talk about the weather.”

“Vikki. Please don’t be hostile. There’s no need. We’ve both got Jon’s best interests at heart.”

“Say what you want to say.”

“Jon’s a very bright young man, you know. He has a great future. He could become a professor.”

“Your point being?”

“He needs to come back to the UK to finish his PhD. His academic network is centred in the UK. It will set back his career unless he returns and stays in England.”

“Do you suppose he doesn’t know that?”

“I’m sure he does. But I want to be confident that you understand. I’m sure you want to act in his best interests.”

“Of course I do. But I think that Jon can perfectly well decide his best interests for himself. Don’t you?”

“I’m concerned that he may not see them clearly while he’s infatuated.”

“I’d prefer to say that he’s in love. Look, Mr Hall, Jon’s big enough to make his own decisions. If he asks me to marry him, I shall say yes like a shot. And – I’ll be blunt – that is none of your business. It’s about time you recognised that he’s a man, now, not a little boy.”

“I see. Thank you for making your feelings so clear. Perhaps you’d like to rejoin him? I shall go and find something to eat. Good day to you.”

Cheeks flaming, Vikki went back into Jon. She moved quietly across to the bed, and slipped her hand into his. He didn’t wake, but his fingers closed gently around hers. She sighed, and the hostility she’d felt for Jon’s father melted away. Sitting here, with Jon safe, was all she wanted. It was a moment of perfect calm and happiness.

*       *       *       *

It had been the first day Jon had tried walking since his injury. He’d been okay; the doctors were pleased, but he was exhausted. The door clicked. He looked up, hoping the nurse had come to adjust the bed so that he could sleep, but it was Dan. Jon sat up a little straighter and greeted him cheerfully.

Dan dropped into the chair by the bed.

“Glad we did it, eh?”

Jon nodded.

“Your doing mostly, Dan. I didn’t stop him; you did.”

“Team effort, mate”

“You’re too generous.”

Dan gave him a sideways look. “Only a Pom would say that!”

Jon grinned.

“Look, I’ve got something serious to say,” went on Dan. “It’s about Vikki. I’ve seen how she’s been with you the last couple weeks.”

He paused and thought a little.

“If you ask her to marry you, she’ll say ‘Yes’, you know. I just wanted to say there’ll be no hard feelings on my part. I love her, yeah, I have done as long as I can remember, but, well, she loves you and I want her to be happy. That’s what matters. I’m a big boy. I guess I’ll get over it.”

Jon was briefly silent, then he held out his hand. Dan grasped it.

“Thank you,” said Jon.

They sat like that for several minutes, then Jon said, “I shall ask Vikki this evening. If she says yes, would you be my best man at the wedding?”

“I’d be honoured. Provided I’m not in gaol on the day.”

“Gaol?”

“Yeah. They’ve charged me with manslaughter for killing Guy. My brief reckons with the extenuating circumstances I’ll probably get a couple years.”

“But – you saved my life!”

“Yeah. That’s the extenuating bit.”

“Dan, I’m so sorry.”

“The law’s the law, I guess. I tell you what, though. I’d do it again tomorrow. We got Vikki out. You’re still alive. And Guy’s dead. Good riddance. Vikki’s told me some of what he did. He was a piece of shit. I’m bloody glad I shot the bastard.”

He looked at Jon.

“Here, you’re looking a bit peaky, mate. Do you want me to call the nurse?”

“I’m OK. First day out of bed today, that’s all.”

The door clicked open.

“Out you go now!” The nurse was brisk. Dan winked at Jon, and loped out. Jon fell asleep even before the nurse had finished reclining the head of the bed.

*       *       *       *

Jonathan Hall, newly minted PhD, sat next to Dan in the Regency Room of the Manor on High in Melbourne. In his room in Vikki’s mum’s house was the letter offering him a post at Melbourne University, together with confirmation from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that he qualified for permanent residency.

Dan was quiet, self-controlled; calmly cheerful; on parole.

Carolyn Hall sat behind her son, but her husband, James, was absent, unable to reconcile himself to Jon wedding an atheist.

The string quartet drew their music to a close at the registrar’s signal, and then struck up Pachelbel’s Canon.

Vikki entered, on her mother Margaret’s arm. She was heartbreakingly beautiful. Her honey-coloured hair was put up in a French Pleat, emphasizing her classic features. Her amber eyes seemed to glow.

Jon and Vikki exchanged vows, and rings; the registrar pronounced them man and wife.

The reception afterwards was joyful and lively, but Margaret made a moment of seclusion to speak quietly to Jon. “Do you remember what I said at the yard gate? ‘Find my girl, Jon. Bring her back to me.’ You did that, Jon, and I am eternally grateful to you and Dan”. She hugged him close for several minutes, and then added, “She’s told me things, Jon, things she’ll probably never tell you. Be gentle with her, won’t you?”

And that is where this serial stops. It would be nice to say that ‘they all lived happily ever after’, but that never happens to real people, and it doesn’t in my tale either. But whether you ever hear of what happened later will depend entirely upon the caprice of the author!

 

 

At first sight – part V

Jon and Vikki fell for each other at a party in London – the day before Vikki returned home to Australia. They have been writing to each other, and Jon has arranged to visit Vikki in Melbourne within the next few months. But Vikki is settling back into her familiar life, and renewing old friendships. Meanwhile, her abusive ex-partner, Guy, is trying to trace her…

At first sight - Qantas plane 170624

If you’ve missed the earlier chapters,  you can read them here

At first sight

At first sight – part 2

Short Story – At first sight – part III

At first sight – part IV

It was the second morning in a row that the postie had let her down. There was no letter from Jon. It was windy, cold and raining. She shook herself. “Come on, woman! Pull yourself together!”

“Hi, Vikki! Fancy a movie this evening?”

“Dan! I didn’t hear you come in.”

Dan grinned. He and Vikki had been in and out of each other’s houses all the time as kids.

“Sorry! I should have knocked. Anyway, what about this movie? La La Land!”

“Sure, yeah, I’d like that.”

On the way home from the cinema, Dan stopped his car at the kerbside a few streets short of Vikki’s home. She turned to him, ready to tease him, ready to defuse any threat of intimacy with humour. His face, though, was too serious.

“What is it, Dan? What’s the matter?”

“Can we talk, Vikki? I mean talk properly, not joking.”

“Go ahead.” She still sounded flippant.

She saw the fine lines deepen on his forehead. There was pain in his grey-blue eyes. She had always liked his eyes. As a teenager she used to imagine him as a Viking, facing the terrors of land and sea without fear.

“I’ve got to say this, Vikki, or I won’t be able to live with myself. I love you. Will you…will you marry me?”

Marry you, Dan?” There was a little quiver in her voice.

“Don’t bloody make fun of me, Vikki. You don’t owe me much, but you owe me the respect of taking me seriously.”

“I am taking you seriously, Dan. I’m just flabbergasted, I guess. I hadn’t expected this.”

They sat together in silence for a few minutes.

“You haven’t said no, at least.”

Vikki turned to him. She put one hand on his shoulder, and with the other, stroked his blond hair across his forehead.

“No, I haven’t. And I haven’t said yes either. Oh, Dan, this is just so difficult. Because I’ve loved you as a friend for years, and I find you sexy as hell, but…well, there’s somebody in England who’s special to me.”

“Not that Guy fellow, I hope?”

“As if!” Vikki stopped stroking Dan’s hair. She took hold of his right hand with both of hers, and squeezed it, as though to convince him of her earnestness. “He’s called Jon. I can’t explain it, Dan. It’s a mystery, but it’s very wonderful. I’m so sorry.”

Gently, Dan removed his hand from hers.

“I don’t want your pity, Vikki. If you won’t have me, I reckon I’ll have to go away.”

“I haven’t said no, Dan. But I’m not saying yes either, not yet.”

“So, what the hell are you saying then?”

“Don’t be angry, Dan. I know it must look like I want to have my cake and eat it, but it really isn’t that. Can you give me a minute just to think how to help you understand?”

Dan nodded.

Vikki gestured at the two of them sitting in the car.

“This is kind of reality, Dan. The two of us sitting here; you loving me; you asking me to marry you; and me sitting here wanting to say yes, because I love you too, Dan, I do truly. But then there’s this thing like magic that happened the day before I set off home; this – connection I suppose you’d call it – between me and Jon.

Look, he’s coming out here soon. Next letter I get, I’m expecting him to say when he’s coming. Suppose I said yes to you tonight? And then saw him, and this thing between us boils up and I change my mind about what I said? That wouldn’t be fair for either of us, would it?”

“I don’t think you’re being honest, Vikki, not with me, not with yourself.” There was an angry edge to Dan’s voice. “You want to keep me in reserve in case it falls through with this – Jon. Well, that’s not going to happen. What kind of basis would that be for a marriage?”

Vikki took both Dan’s hands in hers, and looked him full in the face. In the moonlight, her amber eyes were dark, almost black, and luminous with unshed tears.

“Dan. If you want me to – if you want me to – I’ll say yes to you now. I’ll say yes, and I’ll stick to it. I’m sure we could make it work, be happy together. I’ll write to Jon and tell him –  it was just – it was just a… beautiful dream. And not to come.” A single tear escaped, glinting, and leaving a silvery track as it trickled down her cheek.

Dan shook his head gently.

“No, not now, not tonight, Vikki. But I will ask again, and then I’ll insist on an answer.”

He turned away from her, and started the engine. Neither of them spoke for the remainder of the short journey home.


“Dear Jon,

I’m thrilled that you’re going to be here next week! I can’t wait! I’d thought it wasn’t going to be until September!

I know we’ve written before about this in our letters, but you’d be more than welcome to come and stay with us. My mum thinks you must be “A real, old-fashioned English gentleman” because you’re planning to stay in a hotel for at least the first few days!

Now, there’s something I must tell you.

When I was little, I was a bit of a tomboy, and my best friend was a boy called Dan. He’s still my best friend now, Jon, and he’s very dear to me. You’re the person I cleave to, but Dan is close too.

The problem is, he proposed marriage to me this evening. I didn’t say yes, but I couldn’t make myself say no.

I must be completely honest with you, Jonathan. It feels to me that the bond between you and me is so special that it demands honesty, perfect honesty, or at least as close to it as I can manage. So – if I hadn’t met you, Jon, I would have accepted Dan’s proposal, and been very happy.

There. I’ve said it. If that changes your mind about coming, then I accept that. Oh, but I so hope it doesn’t! I just want to be close to you!

With much love

Vikki xxx”

Jon read the letter, frowned, and read it again. Then he picked up his pen and wrote.

“Dear Vikki,

Thank you for your honesty in telling me about Dan. I shall see you at Melbourne Airport at about 5 p.m. on July 10th. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. I love you more than I can say.

With my whole heart.

Jon

xxx”

He took the letter to the post straightaway. It would, with luck, arrive before he did.


Jon was smiling as he tugged his suitcase into the Arrivals area. Where was she? He scanned the waiting faces, the family groups, husbands, wives; the people greeting men in suits who’d flown from England with only a briefcase and laptop; the taxi drivers displaying handwritten signs. There was no Vikki.

Jon frowned. Surely Vikki hadn’t stood him up? She must have been delayed. Perhaps her car had broken down?

He noticed a tall fair-haired man, who appeared to be waving to him. When Jon acknowledged the wave, the man beckoned to him. Stiff-legged, frozen-faced, Jon complied.

“Jonathan Hall?”

Jon nodded, curtly.

The tall man stuck out a hand.

“I’m Dan,” he said. “We have an emergency. Vikki’s disappeared.”