فصل 11

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فصل 11

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Chapter eleven

Lunch with Rod

It was a wet morning. The rain poured down. Fanella had cycled to work and had planned to cycle to the restaurant to meet Rod, but now realised she would arrive looking a mess. She decided to get there early, so that she could tidy herself up in the cloakroom before Rod arrived.

By the time he did turn up, ten minutes late, she was feeling calm. She had already had a Martini to calm her nerves and she ordered Rod an orange juice at his request. They then sat and looked at each other across the table for a few seconds before Fanella spoke.

‘I must say that I’m very sorry you’ve not been at school these last few weeks,’ she began, wanting to get the subject out of the way quickly. ‘Ellie has missed you a lot. You really helped her settle in, and she’s been taken back a few steps by the temporary teacher who doesn’t seem to have your patience.’

Rod smiled sadly. ‘It’s been a difficult time for me, too,’ he said. ‘It’s the last thing I wanted for Ellie or for any of the children. But schools are required to follow procedures in cases like this: it’s to protect the children.’

‘Yes, I know,’ said Fanella. ‘But it isn’t protecting them if you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s doing them more harm than good.’

‘Well, hopefully, once there’s been a court hearing, I’ll be back,’ said Rod.

Fanella smiled. ‘I’m sure you will,’ she said. ‘Most of the parents are behind you.’

Rod smiled again, appreciatively. ‘I hope you’re right,’ he said. It was the first contact he’d had with any of the parents since his suspension, and he suddenly realised what an enormous relief it was to be able to mention the subject. In his mind, everyone had turned against him. The reality was clearly quite different.

Fanella, aware of the sensitivity of the issue and anxious to move on from the subject, went on, ‘Now, we need to discuss these stories. I like them very much and believe they could do well. Have you thought about illustrations at all?’

‘I hadn’t got that far,’ said Rod.

‘I think they could work well as picture books,’ went on Fanella, ‘for the slightly older child who’s beginning to read independently. But we’ll need to adjust the length of some of them and one or two other details if they’re to appeal to an international market.’

Rod could hardly believe his ears. International market! Illustrations! It all sounded so much grander than he’d imagined. He felt hugely grateful to Fanella for having so much faith in him, but there was still a worrying doubt at the back of his mind. If he was found guilty of hurting Dan, if the authority went against him, surely Fanella, or her publishers, wouldn’t want to take him on as a children’s author. He would be seen as a corrupting influence. It wouldn’t do their sales any good at all to have their name connected to a child abuser.

At that moment, the waiter arrived with their food. They ate in silence for a few minutes. Fanella looked up at Rod, wondering what was going on in his mind. He suddenly seemed very quiet, and she wondered if she’d said something to upset him. Perhaps he didn’t like the idea of having to change his stories. Some authors never wanted to alter any of their precious work, even if their editors knew it would help to sell the books.

‘Are you all right?’ she said at last, unable to bear the silence any longer.

Rod glanced up at her. He sat back in his chair and took a deep breath. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘All this is very exciting for me - the thought of having my stories published, of becoming a children’s author. To tell you the truth, it’s one of my lifetime ambitions. But I can’t help feeling… perhaps this isn’t a good time to be attempting it. You know, my name could be mud in a few weeks and you might regret taking me on.’

Fanella put her knife and fork down and looked at the handsome sensitive face across the table. Goodness, how he made her heart race! She would like to lean across and kiss him then and there. His deep dark eyes looked into hers, as if desperate for some reassurance, and seemed to hint at an equally deep soul. She couldn’t have felt more certain that this man would be the last man on earth to hurt a little boy, however annoyed he might have been.

‘I… As far as I’m concerned, there’s no question about your innocence,’ she burst out. ‘I trust my feelings about people. It’s how I knew Ellie would be the right child for me. It’s how I knew you’d be the right teacher for her.’

‘It’s how I know you’re the right man for me,’ she continued silently. She looked into his eyes, hoping she hadn’t revealed too much already.

‘That’s really sweet of you,’ said Rod, looking back at Fanella’s intense angry face across the table and feeling, as he had once before, that he’d like to know her better. She must be incredibly strong, he reflected, to have taken on a child on her own. Now she was revealing further strength: strength of belief in him as a teacher and a writer.

Fanella felt herself blush. Perhaps she had sounded too passionate; she didn’t want him to know her true feelings. It would be terrible if he were to think she was only interested in meeting him because she had romantic fantasies about him. He was married, and although she could not hide her desire for him from herself, she must hide it from him. Otherwise he would suspect her of hidden motives, not only for this meeting, but also for believing him to be innocent.

Fanella pulled herself together. ‘Publishing is a long drawn-out business,’ she said, trying to make the meeting more businesslike. ‘By the time we’ve got anywhere with your stories, this whole business at the school will have been long forgotten.’

‘Right,’ said Rod. ‘Well, you know what you’re doing and I trust you to use your own judgement.’

‘Good,’ said Fanella. ‘Now, would you like a dessert?’

It was still raining when, an hour later, they left the restaurant.

‘Do you need a lift somewhere?’ asked Rod. ‘My car’s parked just around the corner.’

‘It’s OK,’ said Fanella, rather regretting that she had her bike, ‘I’m cycling.’

‘Well, don’t get too wet,’ said Rod.

They stood hesitating for a few seconds, not sure how to end the meeting.

‘Will you let me know the outcome of the hearing?’ Fanella said, wanting to know for certain she would have contact with him again before too long. ‘You’ve got my work number, haven’t you?’

‘Yes,’ said Rod. ‘Sure, I’ll let you know. You’ve been very supportive.’

‘And you’ll send me the changes to your stories as soon as possible?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Rod. ‘I’ll get working on them straight away. Hey,’ he added, as she turned to leave. He had grabbed hold of her arm and it sent an electric current flowing through her. ‘Thank you,’ he said, as she turned back to look at him.

Fanella smiled. ‘It’s nothing,’ she said.

‘No, really,’ he said. ‘It means a lot to me to know that some people still have confidence in me!’

Fanella smiled. Then, with a huge effort, she got onto her bike and rode away from him. It was as if a million invisible chains were pulling her towards him and she had to pedal extra hard to get back to work.

What an impossible situation! The more she saw of him, the stronger her feelings became. It would be better for her if she could forget all about him; better for Mark too, who she suddenly remembered had left a message for her to ring him that morning.

So why was she allowing herself to get more involved in Rod’s life? It would all end in tears, she knew that. Yet she couldn’t help herself: already she was plotting new opportunities to meet him, excuses to discuss his stories further with him. It was as if she were caught in a storm at sea and could do nothing to fight the currents that drew her towards him.

She got back to the office to find that Mark had rung her again. She had hardly given him any thought at all lately, poor man, although it seemed he was becoming keener on her by the day. She rang him back.

‘I thought I’d come round this evening, and cook you and Ellie dinner,’ he said.

He was clearly making an effort with Ellie now. He had realised, Fanella supposed, that if he wanted Fanella in his life he had to include Ellie in it too.

‘That’d be lovely,’ said Fanella.

She wanted to want him so much. He was, after all, available, good-looking and attracted to her. It was clear that he was a more suitable companion for her and Ellie than Rod was. Everything would be perfect if only she didn’t feel so much for Rod! She decided she would try her best to turn her feelings in the direction of Mark. It must be possible to be rational about these things.

And, by the time she cycled home with Ellie later that afternoon, she felt quite certain that things with Mark were going to work. From now on, she would think of Rod simply as someone she did business with.

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