فصل 14

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فصل 14

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Chapter fourteen

The kiss

On Monday morning Fanella was busy in the office when the telephone rang.

‘Could I speak to Fanella Browning?’

Fanella felt a shiver run down her back. It was Rod, but she didn’t want him to know that she recognised his voice. ‘Speaking. Who is it?’ she asked.

‘Rod… I’ve made some corrections to my stories,’ he said. ‘Shall I send them to you?’

‘Perhaps it’s better if we meet again,’ Fanella found herself saying, ‘so that we can discuss the changes. When could you make it?’

‘You say,’ said Rod. ‘I’m a man of leisure, remember?’ Fanella thought she noticed a bitterness in his voice she had never heard before, but chose to ignore it.

‘Well, as soon as possible, I suppose,’ she said. ‘How about tomorrow? Could you come to my office?’

‘OK. What time?’

‘Say… eleven?’

‘OK, I’ll see you then.’ And before she had time to say any more, he had put the phone down.

Fanella found that she was shaking. Something about Rod’s manner had upset her. It was as if he was revealing a side of himself she hadn’t seen before - a rather sharp angry side - and she wondered what had happened to him. He must be finding it very hard being at home all day.

Perhaps she was making a mistake accepting his stories at the moment. Perhaps she should wait until after his disciplinary hearing - it couldn’t be that long now. She had no doubt about his innocence, but it might be better to let the air clear before she took him on as an author.

Still, she reminded herself, she was not agreeing to anything by meeting him tomorrow. She would remain cool and professional. For this reason, it was better to meet in the office than in a restaurant.

The next day, Rod arrived looking more untidy than usual. He hadn’t shaved and his clothes looked as if he hadn’t bothered to iron them. Fanella indicated a chair beside her and he threw the stories onto her desk rather carelessly.

‘Are you OK?’ she asked, looking at him questioningly.

He sat down and said, ‘So-so. How about you? And Ellie? I do think about Ellie.’

‘We’re fine,’ said Fanella. ‘Waiting for the legalisation of the adoption which is a bit worrying, but otherwise we’re OK. She’ll be glad when you’re back at school.’

‘If,’ said Rod, looking down at his hands.

They spent an hour going through his stories and Fanella approved the changes he’d made to them. He had listened well to her views, and the stories were greatly improved.

‘So,’ said Rod, ‘what happens next?’

‘I’ll take them to an editorial meeting,’ said Fanella. ‘Then, if they are approved, they’ll have to go to the sales people. That’ll be the hard bit, because unless we get support there, I’m afraid we won’t be able to publish them. It’s a long time until then, though.’

She looked at him, waiting for him to stand up and say it was time for him to go. Their meeting had finished.

Rod glanced at her nervously. ‘Do you fancy a quick walk along the river?’ he asked. ‘I could do with a bit of fresh air. Can you take some time off?’

Fanella hesitated. ‘Well, it is my lunch hour now, so I guess I could go out for a bit. Yes, OK,’ she said.

Despite his quiet mood, she still felt that invisible force which pulled her towards him. She was no more able to refuse an invitation for a walk with him than she would have been able to turn down the offer of a cold drink on a hot day.

She took her coat and followed him down the stairs and out into the windy May morning. They walked across Coe Fen, past the cows and on towards the river and the Anchor pub.

‘I hope you don’t mind,’ Rod said, stopping suddenly and turning to face her. ‘I wanted to talk to you. I can’t keep everything inside any longer. It’s so awful being at home every day and not seeing anyone.’

Fanella looked at him and wondered what on earth he was going to say. Was he about to confess that he had actually hit Dan, that he was not safe to work with children, that he had misled her?

She looked into his eyes and felt again the attraction she had felt so often before. She wondered if she would continue to feel like this, if she knew he had hit the little boy.

‘I’ve been going through a bit of a rough time,’ he said, beginning to walk again, looking at the footpath and kicking stones aside as he went. ‘My marriage is in pieces, as well as my career, and I feel I’m losing my selfconfidence. It’s as if I’m on a slippery slope sliding faster and faster towards a muddy pool at the bottom.’

Fanella’s stomach turned: since when had his marriage been in trouble? She knew this shouldn’t make her feel happy, but suddenly it seemed like there might be some hope. ‘But this is selfish of me,’ she thought, looking at Rod’s tired face. She tried to push away these feelings and instead give him the sympathy of a true friend.

‘I know how you feel,’ she said at last. ‘I was going through a very similar crisis this time last year.’

‘Really?’ Rod was looking at her with desperation in his eyes, as if seeking a reassurance he could find nowhere else. ‘Yes,’ said Fanella.

‘But look at you,’ said Rod. ‘You have a successful career; you’re a strong independent woman; you’re the last person I can imagine with low self-confidence.’

Fanella laughed, remembering the night Steven left her and the awful months when she felt a failure because she couldn’t hold onto a relationship or have a child. She had believed she was the lowest of the low.

‘This time last year,’ she said, ‘my boyfriend left me. We were trying to adopt a child together. He left me for a younger woman. I thought it was the end: the end of my relationship, the end of any hope of having a child, the end of any other potential relationships. But things have changed such a lot since then. You have to remember nothing lasts forever, not the good or the bad, and you have to hold onto yourself. You mustn’t let other people’s opinions affect you.’

‘That’s easy enough with people you don’t respect,’ said Rod, ‘but when your own wife seems to lose faith in you, you wonder whether she’s right.’

‘I haven’t lost faith in you,’ said Fanella at once, realising too late that it sounded as if she was competing with his wife for his affections.

He looked at her. ‘That’s why I feel I can talk to you,’ he said. ‘You always seem so calm, so sure about me. I really appreciate it.’

‘Well,’ said Fanella, suddenly not knowing where to look, ‘it’s because I… I…’ Suddenly she felt as if she had gone so far already, there was no point in holding back any more. ‘I find you so… You were so sensitive with Ellie, and your stories are so good, and I know you’d never hurt any child, and I think you’re beautiful, and clever and I…’ But before she could go any further, she felt his arms go around her and suddenly they were kissing.

She could feel the roughness of his chin against her cheek and the softness of his lips on hers. She smelt the warm male smell of his skin and she never wanted him to let her go.

After a few minutes he stood back and looked at her. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.’

Then he took her in his arms once more and they kissed again. The sun came out and warmed their backs. For a short time, it was as if they were in another world where there was nothing but sunshine and blue sky and the warmth of one body against another.

But after a while, Rod stood back. ‘I’d be in even more trouble if any of the parents at school saw me do this,’ he said. ‘We should be careful.’

‘You’re probably right,’ said Fanella. ‘But it’s a shame. It’s what I meant earlier when I said you mustn’t let other people’s opinions affect you.’

Rod looked at her and smiled. ‘I’ve let your opinion affect me,’ he said. ‘It made me kiss you.’

‘Well, good opinions are fine,’ laughed Fanella, ‘but not destructive ones. You have to reject them completely.’

She was burning from the feeling of his kiss and nothing could reduce the feeling of joy that had flooded through her the moment she felt his arms around her. She was lost in the moment and not thinking about realities - like the fact that she was seeing Mark, and the fact that Rod had only just been rejected by his wife and was no doubt looking for reassurance elsewhere.

When they parted, she to go back to the office, he to go home to his failed marriage, Fanella was still feeling as if she was walking on air. Reality would have to be faced but not now. It was not worth spoiling this wonderful moment so soon after experiencing it.

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