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I know that some of these stories are a little long and I thank you for your patience if you take the time to read them, but I am reluctant to edit too heavily because I feel I would sacrifice some of the essential pace that makes a story live. Please feel free to censure me if I am wrong… couple-294284_640 “I think you’re very beautiful.” Martin said.

Alana felt the hot scarlet of a blush as it crept up her graceful neck, the way it always did whenever she was surprised by a compliment, no matter how clumsily it was delivered or by whom. “Thank you. I wish I deserved that.” She said with a shy smile.

“I saw you and I thought…” Martin hesitated, gathering his strength; “I thought I must speak. I simply had to speak. I often walk Rufus in this park, but I don’t remember seeing you here before.”

“No. I don’t suppose you do. I’m new here, you see. We just moved in to the new apartments over there. Your dog is very clever.”

“Yes. You can pet him if you like. He’s extremely gentle.”

Alana crouched in front of the fair-haired Labrador, offering her delicate long fingers for Rufus to get her scent before she gently scratched his ear. “You’re a clever boy!” She praised him. “Without you I would have lost my diary. Thank you.” And Rufus pressed his head against her hand, wagging his tail furiously. She looked up at the young man. “I wish I had a treat for him.”

“Oh please don’t worry. He’s a natural retriever, you see. It isn’t a trick to Rufus; he just can’t help himself. He saw you’d left your book on the bench when you walked away and he went straight to it. It’s what he does.”

“Well, I’m very grateful.”

“I wonder…” the young man was tongue-tied again. “I wonder if someone as lovely as you would ever consider going out to dinner with someone like me?”

Alana smiled her demurest smile. He was very uncertain of himself, this young man, and some might have thought him a little creepy, but she recognized the loneliness in him and understood. He was good-looking, if you took away those heavy-rimmed glasses, made him trim those lank strands of black hair.

“I would love to.” She said.

They met at Sardi’s on the Quayside, where they feasted on lobster that had been landed that morning and drank white wine from Bourgogne. He learned that Alana lived with her mother and an elder brother and they had arrived in town only a week ago. She learned what she had first suspected: that Martin lived alone in a small bedsit overlooking the park.

He was lonely, she decided. “You don’t have any relatives?”

“Not here. They live up-country.”

“You don’t get to see them very often?”

“Scarcely at all. My father and I, we argue every time we meet.”

“So when did you last see him?”

“Oh – years.” Martin was a software engineer. “I’m sort of freelance. I don’t get much work these days…”

“I bet you’re very good…”

“Things move so fast – I don’t keep up so well.”

Alana smiled consolingly, placing her hand on his. “Martin, I can help you.”

Martin walked her home, and by the time they reached her door he was clinging to her hand as though his life depended upon it. He looked up to her windows to see there was a light shining there. “Your mum and your brother – I expect they’re home.” He said wistfully.

“I think they are.” She said.

“Will I see you again?”

“What about tomorrow evening, when you’re walking Rufus in the park? I’d love to join you then.”

He smiled, comforted by the knowledge she had not been bored by him, that his conversations surrounding the swift evolution of software had somehow entertained her. As if she were reading his mind, she said: “Thank you for a lovely dinner and your company Martin. It’s been fun.”

He waited, expecting her to turn, disappear through the door. She waited, filling his eyes with hers. Impulsive? No, he was never that. So she leaned towards him, and kissed him, almost chastely: almost, but not quite. He walked away before he had to admit he was crying.

The hours to the following evening passed very slowly for Martin. They were punctuated by impossible hopes and dreams which floated around the ethereal image of Alana. Alana in the blue dress she had worn last night, Alana in white wedding weeds, Alana in – he could only dare himself to peep – nothing at all. Guilt consumed him, anxiety possessed him, and fear (that she would not keep their assignation in the park) almost drove him to distraction.

He reached his habitual walk early, with Rufus in enthusiastic tow, but lingered. He positioned himself upon a bench with a view of the park gates while Rufus fidgeted at his feet, eager to be walked. From where he sat he could see Alana approach, watching her even, faun-like stride through the railings. The evening was warm enough for the short green skirt she wore and the street quiet enough for the click of her heels to be audible.

Martin spotted the man in the red bomber jacket almost before Alana did. The man was young, well built with a strong face and a bold, confident stride – everything Martin was not. He was walking towards Alana, he knew her. A thousand tiny needles of apprehension pricked at the back of Martin’s eyes as he watched them meet, as they performed a ritual of hand gestures in pursuit of their hum of conversation. HE was someone she would want to be with; the kind of man a girl like that deserved. HE would have a decent income, a regular job, property, a fast car…

Alana saw Martin as soon as she turned away from the man. She gave a quick glance over her shoulder to see if the man was watching before she waved cheerfully. “You’re early!” She said as she hurried towards him. “Come on, Martin, let’s walk!” He gave her one of his bleakest, most defeated smiles. But he did not ask her about the man. He dared not. Alana did not volunteer any information; instead she snuggled cozily into his side, her arm through his as though they were already lovers, while Rufus trotted faithfully behind.

For what seemed an hour neither would break the silence, each just happy to bathe in the other’s company as a red sun set slowly over the distant hill. At last, resting on the memorial benches by the lake, Martin summoned up all his courage. With shaking fingers he took her chin as gently as he could and turned her to him. Then, trying not to breathe, he kissed Alana on the lips.

She sighed, saying softly: “Not bad. Now let’s try that again.” And she returned his kiss. And she taught him how mouths could explore, and hands excite.

After a while, when his first lessons had been learned, Martin’s disbelief would no longer let him remain silent. He asked: “What is it?”

Alana rested her head upon his shoulder contentedly: “What is what?”

He hesitated because he knew it was a question he should not ask: “You know what I see in you. What is it – what can you possibly – see in me?

She turned her head to his, so close he could feel the warm waft of her breath on his cheek, hear the tremulous edge in her voice. “Perhaps I see much more than you do. There’s something about you – and Rufus. Don’t forget Rufus. Perhaps vulnerability turns me on.” She squeezed his hand. “Come on, my little man, I want to take you home.”

So they walked again, retracing the steps that had directed them to their tryst, consumed with laughter and promise. At the park gates, Martin found himself pausing to look up at Alana’s apartment windows. “They’re not in tonight.” She whispered. “It’s just you and me, Martin. Come on, let’s hurry!”

Rufus caught his human companions’ mood and pulled them heartily on his leash across the road and along the pavement on the further side, To his own amazement, Martin was no longer afraid of himself. He matched Alana’s pace as they hurried to her door, and almost skipped beside her on the wide stone stairs. Inside the lobby of her apartment he took her in his arms and made her laugh at his ineptitude as he rained kisses on her cheeks, her neck, her arms…

Rufus snuffled, Rufus whimpered, Rufus growled.

The room was dark inside – dark and warm. A faint, sweet scent filled the air.

“Don’t.” She whispered, very close. “Don’t turn on the lights.” It was Alana who shook now, whose hands were quaking in the grip of her desire, the certain knowledge of his need.

“You can touch me, Martin. Touch me darling – I won’t break. Come on now, don’t wait….don’t, don’t wait.”

It was surprising, in no subtle way, the lance of warmth that pierced his heart. It found its path with so little pain, so little resistance he scarcely knew it had happened. Alana was trembling in his arms and crying out her ecstasy. He was shaking in hers; but it was not joy that made him so. Making his final, desperate clutch at life his eyes took in the room, now lit; the table he was being thrust back upon, the long, thin knife in Alana’s hand. And he clattered down beside the saw, and died.

#

“Hi!” Alana said, pleased despite herself. “Isn’t it a little early to come calling?”

“You settling in OK?” Asked the young man in the red bomber jacket. “I’m kind of interested, being your upstairs neighbor and all.”

“Yes.” Alana leant against her doorpost. “I’m fine.”

“Got yourself a dog.” Rufus, a little scared of the young man, was hiding behind Alana’s legs. She felt, rather than saw or heard, his presence.

“Yes, got him yesterday. Nice dog. Listen, I don’t mean to be rude, but…”

“I’m from Glasgow.” Said the young man. “You can probably tell from my accent. Forgive me stopping you in the street like last night, but I couldn’t help thinking I knew you from somewhere. Then I remembered: you used to have red hair, right?”

“No, I think you have me mixed up with….”

“No, I don’t. I worked in Glasgow CID, you see, before I transferred down here, and we had a lot of photographs of you. Never did find your mother or your brother, never could hang anything on you. Always squeaky clean, always tidy. There was a lot of washing and tidying going on down here last night, wasn’t there?”

Alana was becoming annoyed: “Look, I don’t know who you have got me mixed up with, but you’re wrong. Now will you go away – please?”

“Fine dog, isn’t he? Good retriever.”

“They always are, this breed.” Rufus had come to sit at her heel. She reached down to pet his shoulder. “So what?”

“So he’s brought you a shoe.”

“Oh Rufus!” Alana scolded. “Whatever am I going to do with you?” She looked down. And she added in quite a different voice: “Put it back, Rufus.”

But Rufus trusted the young man and he wanted to give him the shoe as a gift. First, though, he had to adjust his grip, so he put the shoe down and, to achieve better balance, he picked it up again, holding it by the leg that was still wearing it…

© Frederick Anderson 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.