The clock radio slices through Naomi's restless sleep like a scalpel and she groans loudly as another day of work beckons. Rolling over, she springs out of bed and almost mechanically makes a move towards the bathroom, her sub-conscious aching for the wake-up call needed.
The shower hums to life at the touch of a switch and she steps into the slowly warming spray. The water cascades down her hour glass, lightly muscled body as she rubs the soap into her skin, her mind wandering to the comment from the night before and trying to picture him, well; she assumes it is a man - hopes, really. The insight shown astounds her still and Naomi can't help her curiosity. I hope he responds in some way, she thinks; biting her lip at the risk she has taken with her response.
Sighing, she switches the shower off and steps out. Rubbing the soft towel over her skin she slows her movement as she imagines strong arms surrounding her; for a moment she feels safe, like nothing can touch her, but her daydream turns to ash as the man slowly develops Connor's features. Her eyes snap open and in a panic, she finishes drying herself and all but runs from the encroaching atmosphere of the bathroom.
She rushes through getting dressed and lets Loopy out into the yard.
"Go potty," she tells the dog, who just looks up at her.
"Go, I'm going to work baby, so be quick 'cause if you pee in my house, I'm getting a fricking gerbil."
Loopy barks, then growls but takes the hint and trots outside. Naomi quickly sets out some kibble and places the bowl on the floor before using a glass to refill Loopy's water. Grabbing a banana, she lightly steps her way through the house and slips on her shoes. A crescendo of taps and clunks announces Loopy's return, so Naomi walks back to the kitchen, closes and locks the door before grabbing her keys and bag on the way out of the front door.
In the car she sighs; the morning heat indicates another uncomfortably hot day as she peels and eats the small, sweet banana in a few bites. Starting the engine she pulls away from the drive and makes her way to work.
"Hi," Jack says awkwardly as Naomi climbs out of her car. "How are you?"
"Good, thanks, you?" she replies, busily pulling her bag out of the car before slamming it shut, a little harder than necessary and cringing at the noise.
"Ummm yeah, fine thanks."
They stand in and he draws out his self-conscious self-imposed silence as Naomi begins to become annoyed. His puppy-dog expression burning into her, making her resent his presence more and more as the seconds tick by unbearably slowly.
"Jack," she says softly. "Is there something I can help with?"
He shakes his head and seems to snap out of his strange mood. Naomi watches him carefully; her "fight or flight" mechanism kicking in as she registers a slight hint of fear. The look in his eyes changes from hope to hurt as he recognises that look of fear.
"I would never, ever harm you," he says quietly but the words cut through Naomi as she feels the guilt of having hurt him.
She nods and walks past him into the building, trying to put the guilt out of her mind as she prepares for another day of tedious boredom. Jogging upstairs she nods to one of her colleagues and - at the top of the stairs - she brushes the creases out of her skirt and blouse and pulls on the door to enter the second floor.
Checking the clock on the computer, Naomi exhales heavily, the morning has dragged by and still has fifteen minutes until lunch. Luckily, none of her co-workers had disturbed her and this allowed her to finish the bulk of her work, but also had the drawback of causing time to go backwards. She logs into her personal email to have a look through some things.
Her eyes scan over the list of unread messages and they stall on one name in particular, Craig Wallace, Naomi has no idea who it is but opens the email.
I'm the guy who left the comment on your story. My name is Craig and I'm Scottish. Where you from? Do you have a name? (lol) Your story gave me some food for thought and actually helped me to grieve for my brother who we lost. Thank you, although it probably wasn't your intention, you helped me a lot.
OK, so I think I've annoyed you enough for now, I hope to hear from you soon.
Naomi isn't sure why but reading the message gives her an epic case of the butterflies. Her heart is pounding in her chest and she has to take a few deep breaths to calm herself as she hits reply. She stares at the screen trying to figure out how to respond and after a few minutes of chewing the inside of her cheek, Naomi laughs out loudly at herself. How the hell can someone so far away make me feel like a schoolgirl? Shaking her head she begins to write her reply.
All too soon it is time for lunch and she adds her name to the end and sends the email before grabbing her bag on the way out of the door. Already wondering what he is going to say next, and for the first time in months, Naomi feels a warmth inside her and she smiles in genuine happiness.
The door swings in and she lightly steps out of its way as Jack barges through and his eyes widen as he stammers an apology. Naomi smiles and lets him pass without a word in reply. Stepping through the door, Naomi exits the building heading for her car.
An hour later finds her returning to the office from the lunch date with a friend and still thinking about her new friend. Sitting at her desk she notices no additional work has come in so she opens up the internet browser and without thinking about it, types Craig's name into a search engine. Thousands of results pop up.
"Well done dumbass, try narrowing it..." she grumbles under her breath.
Next she adds Scotland to the end and scans the results. A newspaper archive from a small area in the Scottish Central belt catches her eye. She opens it up and is the headline makes her gasp in shock.
Former Soldier found Hanging from Tree by Brother.
Somehow she knows this is him and continues to read, horrified by first the injuries the brother had received and then by the manner of his death. Suicide, she struggles to hold in her tears as she reads on.
… found his brother dangling from a length of electrical cord. The decorated soldier - cited for disarming multiple I.E.Ds in Afghanistan - Colin Wallace (pictured) became an amputee after rushing into a minefield to lay down covering fire for an injured comrade. Despite having his leg blown off below the knee he was able to facilitate the rescue of the other soldier by driving the enemy back.
It is believed that the soldier took his life during an episode of severe depression over the loss of his career, his younger brother, Craig, gave a brief statement in which he stated his brother will be missed and "...he is my hero, my big brother and he has given me a long-lasting example of how to be a real man." The family have thanked the local community for their support and asked for some time to grieve over their lost son and brother...
Naomi bursts into tears at the thoughts of the loss of such a well-loved brave man and the anguish it must have caused when his brother found him like that. Guilt slams into her, Oh my God, I've made him relive all of that with my stupid story. Her tears intensify and she sobs loudly, devastated that she could have harmed someone in such a way. A knock on the door of her office causes her to sit bolt-upright and she rubs the tears away quickly, thank goodness I avoided mascara today.
The door opens. "Hi Naomi, the director asks politely if you can send over your monthly reports," one of her colleagues says as she peeks around the door.
"Politely?" she snorts and then nods to show she'll be right on it.
"Thank you," the girl replies cheerily.
Naomi sets to work, proof reading and preparing the reports to be sent across.
"Finally," she sighs as she sends off the last of the mountain of monthly paperwork and prepares to leave for the day.
She closes down the computer and packs away her belongings and stationary then all but runs from the office in an attempt to escape the suffocatingly dull atmosphere of the building. On a whim she decides to call Nicola and see if she wants to go to the bar that night.
"Hiiiii!" Nicola answers on the second ring.
"Hi, are you busy tonight? I feel like going to the bar."
"uhhh, sorry, I'm busy with Mark tonight," Naomi's friend replies.
"OK," Naomi adds feeling more deflated than she expected.
"Hmmmm, wait, I'll cancel, it has been too long and you sound like you need it, I'll come to your house in an hour?"
"Are you sure? I don't want to ruin your plans," Naomi asks while chewing her lip.
"We were going to the shooting range, I can do that any time I want."
"OK, see you soon."
Naomi hangs up and jumps in her car, starting the engine and drives off with a smile on her face, butterflies in her stomach and without a clue that she is being watched as a black sedan pulls out silently a few dozen yards behind her and proceeds to follow her car.