Admitting to himself he was lost, Cameron rounded yet another bend in the narrow country lane. Knowing he was less than five miles from Trentbrough, the sleepy market town where he had lived for the last six years in a bachelor apartment from which he made a living selling investment plans, he was furious.
"I don't believe it," he murmured, as the engine of his almost unaffordable Porsche suddenly died. He twisted the key in the ignition, there was no response. "Great!" He fished in his pocket for his mobile intending to ring his last client to ask for directions. On flipping open his phone he stared in amazement. It too was dead. "But I only charged you last night!" he shouted at the phone.
Replacing the unresponsive mobile back in his pocket he tried restarting the car, without success. Wondering what to do, he gazed through the moonless pitch-black night at the distant horizon where the sky glowed orange from Trentbrough's streetlights. A long walk; he thought, one that he dare not risk in the dark.
"I'm not afraid of the dark," he assured himself, but out here, on the far edge of nowhere, well you don't know who's about. He eyed the back seat that he could not even recall sitting on, never mind sleeping on, then through a wealth of trees he spied a lighted window. "Civilisation!" he laughed, wondering why he had not seen the light before. He left his beloved car and was soon knocking on the cottage door.
"It's open," came the immediate reply.
Cameron hesitated, but the door suddenly swung inward. "Hello," he ventured, rather more jauntily than he actually felt as he stepped into the dimly lit room to find an elderly lady seated by a crackling log fire.
"Hello Mr. Deakin," said the woman getting to her feet. "I've been expecting you."
Puzzlement creased Cameron's brow. "You have? Er' how did you know my name?"
"Don't look so surprised Cameron," said the woman. "Everyone roundabout has heard of you, the 'Financial-Wizard-Newby' and it was only a matter of time afore you got lost."
"Hardly a Newby Mrs . . . I've lived here for six years," laughed Cameron, feeling strangely at ease.
"Aye, I know, like I said, a Newby. Now let's have you upstairs to bed. Oh, how rude of me! I'm Dolores, but you can call me Nandolls. Our Em' always calls me Nandolls. When she was little she couldn't say Dolores and the name sort of stuck," said Dolores slowly shuffling toward Cameron.
Cameron found himself facing a set of stairs that twisted out of sight up into darkness. "Wait a minute, what's happening, what exactly are you saying?" he turned to face Dolores. "I'm not staying; I only want to use your phone! My car's broken down, my mobile is dead and when I saw your light-"
"Yes, yes, shush now. I already know this," Dolores assured him. "We don't have a phone, Emma relies on her mobile and your car will be there in the morning: won't it?"
"Well, yes, but I'm lost," protested Cameron, backing away, finding his foot on the first step of the stairs. "Look, I don't want to be any trouble and it's kind of you to offer me a bed, but I have no intention of sleeping here."
"Yes I know," said Dolores, "you were going to sleep in your car, on a backseat that you've never even sat on. Mind the turn in the stairs Cameron," said Dolores flicking on the landing light. "Don't want any accidents now do we."
Cameron protested all the way up the stairs, to no avail.
"Oh our Em' will be pleased," said Dolores, her wrinkled little face practically beaming with an unnatural looking smile."
Cameron's legs failed to obey him and he found himself uncertain and disorientated on the top step. "Em'? Who is Em' and why will she be pleased?" he muttered.
"Oh do be quiet," said Dolores, seeming to lose patience. She pointed to a door. "You can have my room, I won't be using it and Em' is my granddaughter, I've looked after her since her mother died. A lovely girl: you'll like her."
"But I . . . I'm not staying, I need a phone . . . don't I?" He stifled an unexpected yawn. "I'm not tired," he declared, allowing Dolores to guide him into the sparsely furnished bedroom with only a rocking chair and a bed with a turned down quilt. Cameron gazed around at the violet wallpaper and bare floorboards while Dolores seated herself on the rocker, a large ginger cat appearing on her lap. The cat meowed rather fiercely, startling Cameron from the daze into which he appeared to have drifted.
"Don't mind Mr. Trible," said Dolores stroking the ginger cat. "He looks ferocious; a terror in his day; but like you Mr. Deakin: quite harmless. Now, I've no Jimjams for you so you'll have to make do, let's have you into bed, it's getting late."
"I'm not sleeping here," said Cameron, shrugging off his jacket and unbuttoning his shirt, puzzling over the luminous dial of his watch that reliably informed him it was past two in the morning. "How can that be?" he asked, undoing his shirt-cuffs.
Mr. Trible hissed, very loudly. "Stop that you naughty pussycat," commanded Dolores, "you're frightening Mr. Deakin."
"Oh I'm not afraid," said Cameron, unable to help himself as his trousers dropped to the floor. "I'm not even scared of the dark!"
"Good for you," said Dolores reassuringly. "What a brave boy you are," she sighed. "Nice physique too."
"I swim twice a week and row at the weekends volunteered Cameron," his mouth seemingly beyond his control as he got into bed, self-consciously pulling the quilt up to his chin.
"Do you indeed," smiled Dolores. "Em' will be delighted; she can manage both those sports. Now come on, eyes tight shut, there's a good boy."
"I'm not really tired," said Cameron, snuggling down, rolling onto his side before drifting off into a deep sleep.
* * * *
It had been a hard nightshift at the nursing home but Emma was surprised at how quickly it had passed. Although not as surprised as she was when she arrived at her isolated cottage to see the morning sun glinting off a black Porsche. She stared in disbelief and her ex-boyfriend Rick, immediately sprang to mind. Admittedly, it appeared he had gone up in the world, a Porsche was definitely out of his league last year when she was seeing him, but why was he here and whereabouts was he, exactly?
Pulling on the handbrake she grabbed her crutches from the passenger seat and expertly manoeuvred herself from her car. Easing beside the Porsche she checked to see if it was locked. The door opened with an expensive sounding clunk.
"Typical," she mumbled, "still as careless as ever."
Rick's careless mouth was responsible for splitting them. While in a cubicle at the Wheat Sheaf Emma just happened to overhear two girls from Rick's so-called circle of friends, discussing how Rick only went out with her for the sympathy vote. How he gained people's respect by lowering himself to going out with a pointless cripple when he could obviously do so much better. Gaining Brownie points for his convincing impression of a caring-loving-humanitarian and how he must be emotionally deep and a true Mr. Wonderful. After all, look at the pathetic bleached-out blonde with stagnant-urine-eyes that calls herself his girlfriend! The silly bitch wobbling around on crutches like a grinning imbecile thinking everyone adores her inner strength. Apparently, other women, those without crutches, the ones' who never have to rely upon a wheelchair for long distances, find such sensitivity very appealing. 'And we should know!' they had giggled in unison.
After she had finished crying, wiped away all traces of tears from her penetrating emerald eyes, fixed her face and smoothed down her naturally blonde, short, stylised hair, she had returned to the crowded bar, noticing how odd it was that people never blocked her path. Was this just pity too? After smiling, playfully pinching Rick's boyish cheek, she picked up his almost full pint and poured it over his perfectly groomed head. Announcing very loudly, 'Actually, I'm classed as disabled, a genetic disorder, not crippled you pampered, bloody do-gooder . . . arsehole!' His two girl companions just stared, slack-jawed. Rightly so, thought Emma, crutches or not, she felt like wiping the floor with the coiffured cows. People actually applauded as she walked proudly on her crutches out of the pub, the crowd now parting with respect rather than pity.
She closed the car door, now it looked as if he was back. She made her way to the cottage and was unsurprised to find it unlocked. Even though he had returned the key she had given him by post, he had obviously had a copy made.
"Should have changed the damn locks Em'," she cursed, angrily berating herself. Downstairs was empty and it appeared nothing had been touched; then she heard a creak from upstairs. Emma had lived in the cottage long enough to know that old buildings made peculiar noises of their own accord. However, in the back of her mind she always imagined Nana Dolores old rocking chair made the creaking. Rocking away all by itself: how absurd was that, she thought! This time though, she knew it was Rick, had to be Rick. Perhaps the idiot thought he could scare her witless, something he could share with his cronies over a few beers until they pissed themselves laughing. Well Rick, the big horse's arse, was in for a shock!
Gripping the rope banister, fitted especially as she found it easy to hold until she could afford a stair-lift, with her crutches held in her free hand, she made her way upstairs.
Her own bedroom door was closed but there was definitely someone in Nan's room: she could hear snoring. How can that be? Surely Rick wasn't - then it occurred to her that it might not be Rick and cold fear twisted in her guts, giving her goose-bumps as she tentatively prodded open the bedroom door to see a stranger asleep in Nan's old bed. Bizarre imaginings of a macabre version of Little Red Riding Hood tripped through her thoughts.
"Who's sleeping in Grandma's bed?" she whispered under her breath, certainly not beach-boy Rick, but some dark haired, well tanned fit looking stranger. She began fumbling with the catch on her shoulder bag, intending to find her mobile and phone the police. Then the stranger opened one eye and the words 'too late' screamed inside her mind. Escape down the stairs was impossible so Emma rushed forward and rammed the base of her crutch beneath the stranger's chin, smacking his head against the headboard where he remained pinned. "One bloody move buster and I'll brain you: got it!" she yelled, filling her voice with conviction. The man grunted, his eyes rolling wildly, his arms flailing free of the quilt. Emma applied more pressure. "Don't think I won't crack open your skull, I've been on these crutches years and I know how to use them. Now who the hell are you and why are you here, in Nan's bed?"
The man jabbed his forefinger at the crutch then at his tightly closed mouth.
Emma got the message and eased off the pressure. "Okay, but one move I don't like and you'll be seeing stars for a week. I was taught self-defence with crutches by a Kendo master," she lied.
The man swallowed hard, coughed a little and rubbed at his throat, closing and opening his mouth. "My name is Cameron Deakin," he croaked. "I broke down, my car's outside, I saw a light on and your Nan' let me in."
"Liar!" wailed Emma, ramming the crutch at his face, but Cameron twisted away, grabbed the crutch almost pulling Emma off-balance, forcing her to release her grip. She gasped at her unexpected predicament, uncertainty opening her eyes wide as she wavered with indecision.
Cameron coughed again and put the crutch on the floor. "Don't be frightened, I'm not lying. You're Emma, aren't you, Dolores granddaughter? When you were little you called her Nandolls because you couldn't pronounce Dolores. I don't know how or why, but she insisted I stayed, ask her if you don't believe me!"
Emma was dumbfounded and began nodding. Her mind tumbled with confusion; he had put down the crutch: so was he a dangerous nutter? Unsteadily, she stumped over to the rocking chair and sat down before she fell down. "I . . . I can't ask Nandolls," she murmured. "I would like to, but . . . she died last October."
The two of them sat in silence for what seemed the longest time, occasionally glancing at each other, trying to comprehend what had happened. There are no lessons in life to prepare someone for such a situation. While dressing, Cameron explained the previous night's events in more detail. Emma then wept unashamedly, unburdening the emotion she had bottled up since her Nan's funeral. Cameron comforted her as best he could; going downstairs to make them both a cup of tea, the English solution to all crisis, large or small.
* * * *
Weeks passed and they became firm friends, soon embarking upon the natural transition to lovers. Emma's self-conscious attitude towards her crutches was easily disarmed when Cameron told her he would never have noticed the crutches if she had not threatened to brain him with them and his first impression, he assured her, would have been her firm Nordic good looks framing her beautiful jade eyes.
They often discussed the 'event' as they now referred to their first meeting, but drew no firm conclusions, never sharing the experience with anyone lest people thought they were both cuckoo.
Emma moved in with Cameron and on leaving the cottage for the last time, she felt certain there was a smiling face peering at her from Nan's bedroom window. She reasoned it could be a trick of the light, but still waved goodbye. Nandolls always promised she would look after her and she had kept her promise, perhaps from beyond the grave.