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New Fair Lady

By Mica Le Fox



Copyright 2018 Mica Le Fox

Published by Mica Le Fox at Smashwords

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.









Chapter 1



Elise pulled into the drive, tyres announcing her van’s arrival on the gravel in front of the strikingly modern, single storey house, its white plastered walls bright in the afternoon sunlight.

She rang the doorbell, then walked back to the van, opening the back door to slide out a crate from the middle rack and carried it to the front door.

No answer.

Propping the crate against the wall to free a hand, she rang again, standing on tiptoes to peer through the glass porthole in the door.

After a few seconds, Elise walked back to the van, then changed her mind and with just a moment’s hesitation, made her way around to the side of the house where a pathway led along the side wall to the back. At the rear of the property, she found a large and beautiful garden with an expansive lawned area surrounded by trees and shrubs. Overlooking a swimming pool set into a step-down level, the french windows were wide open to the kitchen inside.

"Hello.”

She stood in the doorway, reluctant to cross the threshold of a stranger’s property. However, the heaviness of the crate full of groceries decided the matter and she stepped inside, taking three more paces to lay the box on the counter top whilst looking around at the empty kitchen. At some point it might have merited a home fashion magazine shoot. Now it was edging shabby - real shabby rather than chic shabby and Elise wrinkled her nose at the stale, musty smell in the air despite the open doors. It was the type of house that would normally have a cleaner coming in regularly - this one clearly did not... or they were shirking their work and getting away with it.

From where she stood, she could see through an arch into an adjoining room in which there was a sofa facing her. On the sofa she could see the form of a woman lying full length on her side, her cheek resting on the edge of the seat cushion and an arm dangled over the side with her fingers touching a glass on the floor.

“Ms Redding.” Elise called through the archway, but there was no response from the figure on the couch.

She considered putting the groceries away and leaving, but something told her that it would be a shock to someone who may be awoken - she assumed the woman was asleep - by the clatter of a strange girl rummaging around her kitchen like she owned the place. And there was something about the position of the woman’s body that made her feel uneasy. What if she were sick? She summoned up her courage and walked into the adjoining room. When she got to the couch, she could see the half empty bottle of Tequila and an open can of Coca Cola on the low table, and Elise looked down at a face she knew well.

. . .

“Come on Marc, do this just for me.” Elise had wheedled with her fellow delivery driver to swop his route with her after discovering it included the home of Chloe Redding. “I would make it worth your while.”

Marc’s eyes widened. “You mean with, like, a date followed by us making out in my car?”

Elise put her head on one side in and glared in mock disgust. “Not quite that much worth your while, Marc. I was thinking more like a Hershey bar - a big one, you choose the flavour.”

“Disappointing Elise. Anyway, who the fuck is she? What makes her worth a large Hershey bar?”

“Marc, it’s Chloe Redding.”

Marc’s expression remained fixed in an unblinking stare.

“She’s a novelist. A famous one. Well, not famous like Hemingway,” she qualified. “But she’s good.”

Marc raised his eyebrows and shook his head slowly.

“She wrote ‘A Rage of Solitude’.” Elise gave him the information with now dimming enthusiasm.

Marc continued to look at her unspeaking for a second or two more, then he said, “Cookies ‘n’ Crème six-and-a-half-ounce-pack.”

Elise rolled her eyes. “OK.”

She had read all five of Redding’s novels in high school, the debut and follow-up making a real impression on her with their well-crafted, spare but elegantly moving prose. The three subsequent books she found disappointingly average, but for a girl whose heart could be made to race by words strung together beautifully, Redding was guaranteed a position of reverence simply on the basis of a world class debut and sophomore.

“Anyway, I’m a Harlan Coben sort of guy.”

. . .

“Ms Redding.” She said the name again, more quietly this time. “Are you OK?”

The woman stirred at the voice and opened her eyes, her first very static line of vision at Elise’s legs. She moved her head slightly to look up at the girl standing on the other side of the coffee table and took a few moments to focus.

“Who are you?”

“It’s your grocery delivery from Machin’s... my name’s Elise Fernández.”

Chloe Redding sat up. Her head swam and she wanted to slide back down as flat as she could on the couch, but lowered her head onto the back rest instead.

“Delivery?” Her brain was processing very slowly through a thick fog.

“Yes. Your groceries order.” Elise indicated the kitchen. “It’s on the counter, but I can put it away for you.”

“Groceries...” An alien concept to Redding, it seemed. “Yes, of course. I’ll come through.”

The writer attempted to stand, but the action was ambitious and she stumbled forward slightly, bumping into the low table and clattering the bottle and can. Elise stepped quickly around the table and took Chloe’s arm to steady her.

“I’m OK. I’ve just... woken up. Need a moment.”

“That’s OK, Ms Redding. Take your time. I can do it all for you if you want.”

“Yes, please. Would you do that.”

“Of course. Leave it to me.” Still holding her arm, Elise examined Chloe’s face close up for the first time. She thought she might be in her early thirties, clearly pretty although devoid of make-up and her skin was drawn a little too tightly over her cheekbones, giving her a slightly skeletal look. Her eyes were a pale brown, almost amber and very clear although, again, sunken just a bit too deeply into her a skull for healthy beauty.

“Are you alright, now?” Elise was slightly reluctant to let her go.

Chloe Redding nodded, her mind and body appearing to gather themselves reluctantly into some kind of unity, so Elise let her go and after a moment’s pause walked out to the kitchen, followed more slowly by the novelist. As the delivery girl began unpacking the plastic crate, Chloe stood leaning on the work surface watching her. Elise opened the fridge and, noticing that it was almost empty, put away the chilled items and vegetables.

“Looks like I’m just in time,” Elise joked.

Chloe gave a weak smile. “Mmm. I’ve been out a lot recently... I’ve just been bringing in what I need.”

Elise smiled back and started on the cupboard-stored items thinking, yeah, but you haven’t even got the basics. No milk, no eggs, no bread, no nothing. She finished, leaving a pack of coffee on the work surface.

“Ms Redding...” Elise hesitated. "Would you like me to make some coffee for you? I mean... as you’ve got a pack here and I’ve got ten minutes to spare.”

Chloe looked at the girl standing at the table and smiled. Elise now perceived much more focus and knowingness in Chloe’s face and her smile was warm.

“Now that’s a good delivery service.”

Laughing, Elise said, “I don’t think Billy Machin quite had this in mind for his customer service principles, but let’s not quibble.” She paused and glanced at Chloe quickly, sudden doubt clouding over her face. “I hope you don’t think I was inviting myself for coffee. I only meant coffee for you.”

“Yes, I know what you meant and I would love some coffee... Elise... did you say your name was?” The girl nodded as Chloe continued, “it’s a pretty name.”

“Thanks. My Mom’s a bit of a Francophile. My brother’s name’s Sacha... you know, after...”

“Sacha Distel.” Chloe completed her sentence. “Well that makes the three of us with a bit of France in us.”

“But you’re English, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but I think my name was taken from a cheese brand we used to have at home - you know, one of those round Camembert-type of cheeses wrapped in waxy paper... nice with a baguette but smelly in the fridge.”

Elise looked up from rinsing the filter pot and grinned. “Not so romantic as Sacha Distel, I guess.”

She had to wash everything out from the crusted coffee grouts in the filter machine to the mugs. Chloe watched her and wrinkled her nose, a pinprick of embarrassment finding its way through her protective alcoholic fog. “Uhm, sorry, I’ve been, well, kind of busy.”

Eventually the machine was loaded, and in a few minutes sputtered to a finish. Elise poured a single mug of coffee.

“Elise, it’s OK, you can have some too.”

The delivery girl poured half a mug of coffee and sipped. “Well, now I’m happy. I can tell my friends I’ve had coffee with Chloe Redding.”

Chloe looked at her. “Will they know who that is? You know who I am?”

Elise laughed. “Delivery girl has read ‘A Rage of Solitude’. Shock, horror.”

“I didn’t mean that.” Chloe’s sentiments lay somewhere in the middle of embarrassment that she’d apparently denigrated the reading level of supermarket employees, irritation that she’d been challenged by Elise who was, after all, just delivering her groceries... and exhaustion at having to think about the issue at all in her current state. “I was actually thinking that I can hide away up here without anyone knowing who the hell I am.”

“Yeah. Of course. Sorry.” Elise gave a remorseful face. “I have read all your books, though.”

Chloe looked up. “Any good?”

“Well, at the risk of sounding like a fangirl, you wrote two of my favourite ever books.”

“Ever? Well thanks, that is praise. I think I can guess which ones.” Chloe was beginning to wish this conversation hadn’t started. She was feeling increasingly hungover and sick and thought another large tequila with a coca cola top might have been wiser than coffee. A book club discussion with the Machin’s van driver was the last thing she wanted right now.

Elise was watching her. “You look a bit pale. Maybe you should lie down.”

“I think I will. Look... Elise, thanks for dropping this off... and for the coffee. It was very kind of you.”

Elise walked to the door. “No problem. If there’s anything else you need, you can call.”

Chloe nodded and, as Elise disappeared, she dropped her head onto her arms which were crossed on the table, and closed her eyes.



Chapter two



“So, did you get to meet your hero?”

Marc placed four fresh bottles of beer on the table and sat down.

Elise pulled one of them towards her and looked back at Marc. “Uh-huh. We discussed ideas for a new book and I gave her advice on how to get the best deal per ounce on Cheerios.” He smiled, well used to her dry humour.

“What hero?” Lynda, sitting next to Marc, joined in.

The four of them were seated at a booth in a bar close to the Machin’s store where they all worked and as Marc explained his route-swop deal with Elise, he knew he had gained the full attention of everyone.

Finn looked sideways at Elise. “You mean that writer that lives on Duardine?”

“Hey, you have your finger on the pulse, don’t you Finn. I mean, she’s not a rapper is she, so I’m impressed you know her.”

“Well I don’t. But I know she’s a pisshead. Miguel did her drops until he left and said she was wasted almost every time.” Finn smiled at Elise. “So, you went up there. No... I’ll amend that. You paid to go up there. Elise you know that’s fuckin’ weird. I mean, it’s not like it’s some stone-cold-fox actor, is it.”

Elise nodded and smiled. “I guess not. But she is cool. In her own way she’s cool... you just have to trust me... I know.”

“Was she tanked?” asked Lynda.

Elise drank some beer to gain time. For some reason she was reluctant to bad mouth the writer. It was as if, having engineered a visit to her home, she owed her some confidentiality... some privacy.

“No. She was fine. We talked for a few minutes and then I left.”

Elise’s lie had successfully taken the interest out of the conversation and it moved on.

. . .

“Elise, I am beginning to be worried for you.” Marc regarded her with interest. “Why would you want to deliver food to an alcoholic writer again? OK, you like her books and you wanted to meet her. I get that. But hey Elise, you did it. Job done. The ‘I dropped groceries for a famous writer’ story is in the bag.”

Over the week following her first visit, she had regularly checked the store’s computer ordering system for Chloe Redding’s address to come up and sure enough, on Thursday an order came in - allotted to one of Marc’s routes for Friday. Elise had waited for Marc to come in for his break and as he sat down opposite, without speaking, she had slid a second jumbo candy pack across to him.

“I want to get a book signed by her, that’s all.” Elise had her excuse ready.

She did actually want to get a book signed, but there was more to her second visit. She wasn’t sure herself if it was some crazy literary fangirling thing or that she wanted to help what was clearly someone having a bad time. Possibly a mixture of the two, she thought.

“I mean, I couldn’t take in a book first time could I. It would be pathetic... like I looked her up and went in saying, here’s your food, please sign my book and stand right there for a selfie.”

“Hmm.” Marc put the chocolate in his backpack and stood up to go. “Look, this is the last candy bar swop. If you want to get this on a more permanent footing, let’s talk money.” Marc gave her a slight smile.

. . .

This time the front door opened when she pressed the bell and there stood Chloe Redding. She stared, seeming to half remember the girl who now stood on the step with a box of groceries.

“I’m Elise. Elise Fernández. I came last week.”

“Yes. You did. You made coffee.” She smiled and stepped back to allow Elise to carry the plastic crate in.

“Shall I put it away again?” said Elise walking through to the kitchen.

“Oh! Yes, that’s kind of you.” Chloe followed her in.

Elise parked the crate, opened the fridge and stopped. "Ms Redding, it’s still full of the food I brought last week.”

She studied Chloe. Although she still looked gaunt and a little unkempt, she was not as drunk as previously. Her dark blonde hair was gathered into a bun on top with bangs down to her eyebrows.

“Is it?” She moved to her left to see inside the fridge. “Yes, it is, isn’t it. Sorry.”

“No need to be sorry Ms Redding. You paid. But I’ll need to clear some of this to get the fresh stuff in.”

Chloe watched as she replaced the out of date food with the fresh. When she had finished, she stood up and looked at Chloe. “You should eat more.”

“I know. I always forget... with writing... you know.”

Elise nodded. “OK, well I should go.”

“Look, why don’t I make us coffee this time... if you have time.”

The delivery girl smiled. “OK, if you’re sure, that would be nice. You are my last call, so I have time.”

While Chloe made coffee, Elise sat on a stool and they chatted.

“Do you like working at Machin’s?”

“Yeah, it’s OK. The staff are pretty cool and Machin’s are not the toughest employers around.” She made a moue face. “But when they asked us at school what career we would like to pursue, I don’t remember saying delivering groceries.”

“What did you say?”

Elise hesitated. “Uhm, if I told you what I really said, you’ll think I’m pathetic.”

Chloe put a mug in front of her, looked into her face for a moment and smiled. “Most of the time I hate it.”

Elise looked puzzled. “Hate what?”

“Being a writer. That’s what you wanted to be, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Elise watched as Chloe sat on the stool next to her. “Why do you hate it?”

“Because I’m actually not very good at it.”

“Oh! sure.” Elise couldn’t help the sarcastic tone of her voice.

“OK, OK. I suppose that sounded glib. Well-off novelist moans to her readers about how bad her job is, huh?”

"Does it make you drink?

Chloe didn’t reply, caught between giving a sharp rebuke for her cheek or asking her to leave... coffee time over. But looking at the girl’s face she saw not rudeness, but concern. Yes, it was blunt and way too personal for only their second shared coffee break, but something made her feel that Elise was being honest and genuinely wanted to know.

“Yes. It gives me a reason not to do my job.” Chloe found herself giving an equally honest answer.

Elise returned her gaze and nodded. “Look, would you like me to cook you something?”

Chloe was taken aback for the second time. “What, now?”

“Yes. I’m finished for today and I can take the van home when I’m done here, so... if you want, I could make you some food.”

"Well, I... I mean I don’t usually...” Chloe found herself again flustered by this girl who had divulged herself to be a fan, but was also displaying rather un-fangirly confidence.

“I can cook, you know. I know exactly what you’ve got in the larder and... I think you should eat more.”

"I might not be able to eat very much... I never seem to get hungry.”

Elise smiled and stood up. “That’s OK, eat what you can. It’ll be better than none and you never know, you might like my cooking.”

Chloe thought about how difficult she made it sometimes for journalists who wanted to interview her. She knew she could be publicity-shy and maintained a stout defence of her privacy unless pressed into service by her publisher. So the sudden realisation that the supermarket van driver was pottering about her kitchen, drinking coffee and offering to cook for her seemed, well, bizarre, but paradoxically not an intrusion.

“OK, yes, that would be nice... as long as you have some too.”

“You mean like one of those Roman food-tasting slaves... just in case supper contains belladonna.”

Chloe laughed. “Rat poison would be more dramatic.”

While Elise prepared the food, they talked about her mother and father who came to San Diego from Puerto Rico twenty-five years before with her older sister. Elise had been born in this city two years later and her brother three years after that.

Chloe watched her as she moved around the kitchen confidently, finding most things she needed without having to ask. The writer noticed how graceful she was.

Elise was not slim, or overweight, but had a solid, athletic frame and Chloe was strangely fascinated and even drawn to her. She had dark eyes surrounded by long curling lashes, long black hair and was, even without much make up, naturally beautiful with clear olive skin. Uncomfortably, she found herself adjusting position slightly to gain a better view of Elise’s movements. Part of her fascination, she decided, was professional. She made her living from describing her characters and often quietly observed people to 'take notes’. But there was no doubt she also found Elise appealing, her confidence and beauty giving the writer a jolt of unexpected attraction.

It took Elise about half an hour to prepare food, giving the novelist the job of chopping vegetables which she expertly incorporated with saffron and spices to make a simple Puerto Rican rice dish.

“It’s delicious.” Chloe took a second mouthful. “What is it?”

“Thank you. It’s kind of arroz con gandules, but in the old country they put pork in it... you didn’t have any so you got vegetables instead.

“It’s very good.”

Elise watched her for a moment, trying to gauge how she really felt about it. “You don’t have to eat all of it, you know.”

Chloe managed half. “I’m sorry, my appetite isn’t good at the moment.”

“At least you did eat something,” said Elise. “By the look of your refrigerator, you didn’t eat much last week.”

“Do you think I’m skinny?” asked Chloe. Elise didn’t answer straight away so Chloe prompted her. “It’s OK, you can say what you think.”

“Well, I think you have a nice figure... but you could use a few more pounds.”

Chloe laughed. “Nicely put. You should be a writer.”

Elise finished her meal. “Well, I don’t need a few more pounds. A girl I was playing soccer against last week said I was built to take a tackle.” She laughed. “She didn’t take the tackle I gave her in the second half too well.”

The writer laughed. “There’s something else I didn’t know.”

“What?”

“You play soccer.”

“Ah, well, you shouldn’t take a shop girl at face value, Mrs Writer.”

“Well, I think you have a beautiful figure, too.”

Elise grinned broadly and raised her eyebrows. “Is that because you like me or because you don’t want me to slide-tackle you?”

After Elise had gone, Chloe went to the cupboard and, taking out a bottle, filled a glass and drank it down. Then she filled and drank it again. After the third, she walked unsteadily to the couch and sat down... then slid sideways down so that her cheek was against the seat.

. . .

"Hey Elise.”

“Hi Marc. What’s up?”

Marc stood at the back of Machin’s, killing time while his delivery orders were being boxed up. The woman pushing her trolley along the household goods aisle was attractive enough to draw his attention, but it wasn’t until Lynda followed his line of vision and said, “hey Marc, that woman you are so interested in is Elise’s writer hero,” that Marc recognised her and phoned Elise.

“You know how Machin’s attracts a superior class of customer?”

Elise was trying to concentrate on finding her way out of the housing development where she had just made a delivery.

“Marc, what the fuck are you talking about?”

Her friend was delightedly enigmatic. “Oh! nothing really. Just thought you might want a little heads-up.”

“Heads-up? Oh! shit! I should have turned left there. Marc, do you have something useful to tell me?”

“I’m just saying, you could have some celebrity-time with no payments to yours truly... if you step on it.” Marc was enjoying his ‘I know something you don’t’ game.

Elise was quiet on the line, at last deciphering his obliqueness.

“She’s there now?”

“I’m looking right at her. But if you want to get another book signed... or something, you need to step on the gas because she’s headed for the checkouts.”

“Oh!”

“I could hold her up for you if you’re close. That might be fun, she’s pretty hot in an... undernourished... kinda way.”

“I’ll be ten minutes.”

Marc approached the novelist with a casual air. “Anything I can help you with, ma’am?”

Chloe turned and gave Marc a quizzical stare. “I think I’m OK, thank you.”

“Well, I’m here to help, if you need, well, something off the high shelves... or six packs of soda... they’re heavy."

“Actually, I’m just finishing up, so it’s alright.”

“Wait a minute...” Marc exclaimed, as though he’d just remembered something important. “Can I just show you a great offer we have.”

Chloe exhaled slightly, now wanting to get home, but following the young assistant she stepped over to the stack of celebration boxes of all-butter shortbreads.

“Only eight fifty and I thought, well, you’re British, aren’t you?”

The writer had a just perceptible look of puzzlement on her face, then looked at the tins of cookies again and smiled.

“Scottish shortbread?”

Marc nodded. “Maybe you could dip them in your tea and it’ll remind you of home.”

Chloe shook her head. “I lived about four hundred miles from Scotland and this is home now.” She paused to look at Marc again. “And you know what... I’ve sort of come to like Oreos.”

“OK, well, if you’re sure.”

“You know, I have to say Machin’s win gold medal for attentive staff.” She smiled. Chloe had lived in San Diego for about five years since marrying an American and although the customer service could be on a higher plane this side of the Atlantic, she was just a little puzzled, first at Elise’s and now this assistant’s special attention.

"Hi, Ms Redding.” Elise had approached while they discussed shortbread.

Chloe looked around and grinned. “Elise. Hello.”

“I would have brought this over for you rather than you come all the way here.” Elise indicated her trolley.

“It’s OK, I was passing.”

Marc turned to go. “Well if I can’t persuade you to take our cookies offer, I’ll get back to work.”

They watched him walk back to the staff area door and disappear.

“He was very keen to sell me some shortbread,” said Chloe, looking apologetic. She now wished she had simply taken a box from the young man rather than what she now felt was an unneccesarily negative attitude. “I hope he wasn’t too upset. Perhaps he’s on commission... to move a lot of shortbread?”

Elise grinned at her. “No, I think he thought you were hot.”

“Oh! God. No. Well, I’m not sure about his approach... the delights of Scottish shortbread is maybe not the most romantic chat up line I’ve ever heard.”

“Ha... this is Marc Geller we’re talking about. Let’s not expect the best ever chat up lines.”

Chloe looked at her and paused before asking, “would you like to go for coffee? I mean if you have a break.”

“That's a better one.” Elise laughed.

“A better..?” Chloe stopped and thought for a moment. “Oh! I see. I’m not gay, if that’s what you mean.”

Elise gave her a ‘well, never mind’ sort of face-shrug. “Come on, let’s get your groceries in your car... then we can have coffee.”

. . .

Over espressos and pastries, Elise asked if she was married and the novelist told her about the break-up of her marriage to Darius. They had only been married for two years before the novelist discovered he had been having an affair with his fitness trainer.

“Oh! I’m sorry. What did you do?”

Chloe smiled ruefully. “I paid him to go away.”

“And did he?”

“Yes, but I had to pay him a lot more when we divorced.” Chloe pulled her pastry apart but didn’t eat it.

“The thing is, he loved the lifestyle a lot more than he loved me. There was plenty of money coming in from my books and we were having a great time.” Then she reconsidered. “Well, I suppose we weren’t really, were we.”

“So you drink, you don’t write and you choose the wrong people.”

“Well, Elise Fernández, you’ve got me well summed up there, haven’t you. I suppose I sound pathetic to you.”

“No. I admire you as a writer and... I like you. But it sounds like you let Darius fuck up your life, Ms Redding.”

Chloe was again taken by surprise at Elise’s directness, which in other circumstances she might have thought rude and way too personal. But she sensed again that the supermarket girl opposite was interested and concerned and was simply saying what she thought without meaning to be hurtful. After the initial sting of her bluntness, she actually found her no-nonsense candour oddly refreshing.

There was something else. Chloe was used to sycophancy from some quarters - it went with the job and her celebrity. But she knew that, although the store girl had owned up to being a fan of her books, she was not being sycophantic. At times Chloe thought the opposite... she verged on rudeness, but for the first time in a long while, she thought someone was genuinely interested in her.

“Well, if you’re going to tell me I’m a drunk and a failed writer... it’s time you called me Chloe.”



Chapter three



Elise parked the van on the gravel and rang the bell. After a minute, Chloe answered the door.

"You didn’t order anything for nearly two weeks.” On the doorstep, without a hello, Elise was typically to the point, but this time her face was a frown and her concern palpable.

“Good evening to you too, Elise. I don’t order anything, but you still make a delivery. I’m impressed.” She slurred her words slightly.

Elise looked annoyed. “I’m not making deliveries, I was worried.”

As the lack of activity on Chloe’s online ordering account had lengthened, the delivery girl wished she had swopped phone numbers with her at the café. After the second weekend she began to be concerned and imagine scenes of Chloe collapsed in a stupor or drowned in the pool. She had driven to the author’s house after work.

“I’m absolutely fine. I’ve been writing.”

Elise observed Chloe leaning on the edge of the door and her slurring, quipping irritably, “well I hope you had the grammar checker on - you might need it at the minute.”

“You are probably the rudest bloody person I’ve met in bloody days... years... ever... whatever.”

The supermarket employee was silent. Then she said, "well we can’t have you getting upset by the delivery girl, can we Ms Redding. Good night... ma’am.”

She turned and marched across the gravel, got in the van and drove off, leaving Chloe holding onto the door.

. . .

Sitting in her car on the following day, she watched Elise’s van drive into Machin’s service yard. Chloe got out, walked through the gates and across the yard, catching up as Elise walked to the staff entrance door. Elise saw her, stopped and watched Chloe catch up to her.

“Did you want something Ms Redding?”

“Yes.”

“Put it on the system and I’ll bring it right up for you.” Elise prickled with irritation.

“Not food.”

“What do you want, then?”

“To say sorry.”

Elise put her head on one side to study the writer. After a few seconds she said, “I’m not going to inveigle myself into your life if that’s what you think.”

Chloe looked shocked. “Why did you say that?”

“Because you’ve been taken to the cleaners once and maybe you think I keep turning up to get a piece of that for myself.”

“Do you always say exactly what you’re thinking?”

“Do you think I’m trying to shake you down?” Elise watched Chloe’s eyes carefully.

“No, I...”

“Has it never crossed your mind?”

The writer looked away across the yard, as if trying to see the right words form in the distance.

“Yes. At first perhaps.”

“Hmm.”

“What do you want, Elise?”

Elise’s eyes became sad. “Nada, Mrs Writer. Go back to your Tequila and type your words that are not quite so beautiful these days.” She turned and walked on to the staff door.

“I have a presentation to do at the university on Tuesday.” Chloe abruptly called after her.

Elise stopped at the door and turned to face her again. “Well enjoy your fan club.”

“That’s just it. I won’t. I’m... petrified.” She looked down at her feet. “If I have a drink, I’ll say stupid things, but if I don’t, I’ll shake... and say stupid things.”

“Sounds like ‘have a drink’ wins... you’ll look stupid but you won’t shake.”

“Come with me?”

It was Elise’s turn to be wrong-footed. She took her hand off the handle of the door and stood thinking. “Uhm, I have soccer practice on Tuesday.” When Chloe continued to look at her expectantly, Elise said, “what do you want me to do, Chloe. Hold your hand?”

“Yes. Please.”

Elise thought about it. “You really want me to come?”

“I can take a partner... or guest. I want you to come.”

“I hope you know it will reduce my match fitness on Saturday, Ms Redding.”


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(Pages 1-19 show above.)