So, this is the third and final part of the story. It’s not perfect, I know this. I’ve a lot to learn. It’s been a fun process and I hope you enjoyed it despite some of the literary clumsiness. The full story is now on its own page under the ‘my stories’ tab on the homepage main menu.
Jake noticed Faye’s knuckles tap the table. So subtle he doubted himself. He’d noticed it so easily because she had barely moved for most of their encounter. She sat, stock still, with the posture of a dancer. She was beautiful, no doubt about that. Everything about her portrayed confidence and control. But what lurked behind that exterior?
He had noticed her start to relax; her elbows resting on the table and she had leant towards him smiling easily. But all of a sudden she went rigid again and seemed edgy.
For a moment he wondered if he’d made a mistake. After all, he didn’t know anything about her. She could have serious problems and latch onto him.
He studied her as she gazed around the room. He was drawn to her. He couldn’t shake the feeling from when she first looked at him by the vending machine. Warmth had flooded her cheeks and her true vulnerability struck him in the gut. Her sharp expression, confidence and tidy appearance wasn’t all there was. Besides, he’d always been a sucker for a challenge.
“Do you have a big family?” He ventured.
Faye shook her head.
“I have one brother, younger. He’s not married.” She knocked at the wood again barely perceptible but he was sure that time. He looked at her and realised he must have been staring at her hand. Anxiety swept across her tidy features before she fixed a steely expression and looked him in the eyes.
“You worry about him?” Jake asked. He wanted her to know he’d noticed.
She took a deep breath and looked out at the courtyard below. There were large metal sculptures of penguins that had bright woolly hats on that had been knitted by a local charity. It struck him how bizarre a scene that truly was but it felt like a suitable backdrop to this unexpected lunch break.
“I just visited him. He’s not well. But, I don’t worry about him any more than I worry about anything else.” She took another breath and closed her eyes. “Everything else.”
“You think you can ward off… bad luck? Bad things happening?” He was aware this was delicate. She looked straight at him again, as if to make a show of strength. He could almost see the internal battle that was occurring between her desire to maintain her strong demeanour and the temptation to be real.
“You’re not afraid of anything, are you?” She said. He was startled by the question, then smiled and blew out a breath.
“Why? I mean… How?” She couldn’t help but gape at him. He looked out of the window and seemed to be trying to figure it out himself.
“Well, whilst working here I’ve seen a lot of people pass away. It’s partly to do with the cliché that life is short, but not just that. All people want at the end is those they love around them.” He paused and watched a member of the canteen staff clear a table nearby.
The thing is, I do feel fear but I don’t want to let it stop me put myself out there. Having real relationships means being real. And you know, the ones who don’t die get better. They come out the other side more appreciative and ready to live life to the full. I don’t want to be afraid of pain because it will hold me back but also because if it passes, and even if it doesn’t, good can come from it.” He looked back to her and said gently.
There’s a purpose to everything Faye. I’ve seen it.”
Faye looked down at her half-eaten scone with tears pooling in her eyes. He made it all sound simple. Too simple.
“Takes practise, Faye. I didn’t just wake up one day completely unafraid to be myself.” When she didn’t look up he added:
Cheese.” As he knew it would, her head snapped up.
“I’m afraid of cheese.” She rolled her eyes and a smile crept its way across her mouth.
“No you’re not.”
“Ok, I’m not. But I heard someone say it over the radio the other day. I couldn’t believe it! Do people actually have nightmares about stilton?” She laughed freely and he waited and hoped she wouldn’t take the diversion he’d offered.
“I never used to be superstitious or, if you want the diagnosis, I’ve not always had OCD.” She continued quickly as if giving her confession.
I picked up the touch-wood thing from my Mum who used to say it. My Dad died when I was a teenager, an accident.” She cast her eyes back to the penguins.
It was just a habit I think when Mum said it. I never felt aware of it being truly meaningful to her. But I started to say it myself. After Dad’s death fear and anxiety dominated my life. I don’t think I worked through my grief properly. I started to link my OCD habits to leaps ahead in my career and the ongoing well-being of my Mum and brother. So it stuck. But now he’s not well.”
She frowned and looked utterly confused. The nurse in Jake wanted to get her a cup of tea and say something soothing but he didn’t think she was the type to appreciate that. So he said nothing.
“Well, that’s that.” She suddenly looked up and smiled. She looked straight at him and he knew the moment of vulnerability was over.
“Look at the time! I need to go. You need to get back. It was nice to meet you, Jake.” She said, throwing him a polite smile and before Jake could respond she stood up briskly. She’d put her guard back up so swiftly. For a moment he was too stunned by her abrupt departure that he just stared after her.
She was walking away and in that instant he experienced a jolt of fear that surged through his belly. If he let her go he wouldn’t see her again. But if he went after her she might push him away.
“Faye!” He tried not to shout but she had already reached the double doors in what felt like a couple of seconds. Jake received a stern glance as he half-walked half-ran past an elderly lady, brushing her shoulder as he twisted to avoid mowing her down.
Out in the corridor, Jake caught up with Faye and placed a hand on her shoulder. She turned. Her features were weary and sad.
“Faye, I want to see you again. Don’t disappear on me.” He didn’t intend to sound desperate. He wasn’t sure how to recover so said nothing and confidently looked into her green eyes.
Faye looked down to the floor with fear etched across her pretty face.
“I’m not sure why I told you all that and then I panicked. I’m sorry. I must seem even more crazy now.” Faye said, utterly dejected.
“I’m not afraid of your problems. I’m not afraid of fear. Life is scary and somehow we have to survive it.” Jake halted and waited for her response. He saw her eyes glisten and she smiled, hesitantly.
“Let’s get together again, get to know each other. I haven’t enjoyed spending time with anyone as much as I did with you, in a long time. Also, you’re probably the only woman who thinks I look good in pink.” Pure intrigue flashed in her eyes. He knew his bravery inexplicably dissolved her lack thereof and she wanted more.
On impulse Jake leaned in and pressed his lips to her cheek. He lingered, stalling, so he could plan an explanation. He was just inwardly cursing himself for going too far when he felt her head turn as if to offer an alternative destination. He responded, softly kissing her lips.
Jake’s chest felt like it would erupt and even his toes were tingling. The kiss depicted everything he knew of her; confident, yet gentle and vulnerable. He trailed his fingers down her cheek as the kiss deepened.
He felt like he was observing someone else’s wild story. He was fearless but not reckless and this was intensely unexpected. She was still so strange, so unknown. Jake drew back and looked into her face. She stared back but this time, he felt as if he could see into her soul. There was warmth and longing.
Awareness returned as he noted people passing them, staring. It felt real again. His story. Outside all rational explanation it felt right, how he wanted it to be; with her there.
Jake wanted to walk Faye to her car, which was parked across the main road that passed the hospital front.
“Meet me after work?” He asked, as they crossed the car park.
“Okay.” She felt shy all of a sudden, aware of her child-like glee that she couldn’t contain and barely recognised. He ran his fingers through his dark hair and also couldn’t seem to reign in his delighted smile.
Jake stepped into the road. The lights were blazing and siren sounding. They had been deaf to it but now it filled her ears as he turned towards it.
Faye screamed; Jake’s body hit the road.
“Four minutes.” She calls.
“One more time.”
They shock him again. I look out into the corridor. Faye looks calm though tears leave a shiny trail down her cheeks. Her hands rest on the window; open, waiting. She feels no fear and I wonder why. I expect she is wondering that too.
I want to tell her it’s okay, it will all be okay. I remember the vending machine, the canteen, our intention to meet again. That kiss. It feels like a dream I long to relive. I remember I was walking her to her car and we were walking towards a future, maybe. Then I stepped into the road…
Darkness; peaceful and still.
Then the ward, the nurses, the patient…
“We have a pulse.” A machine beeps. Steady and sure.
My eyes are closed but it’s light and I hear her voice. My head feels as though it’s in a vice. A sharp pain pulses on one side. I begin to locate other points of pain and a deep, intense ache in my thigh and I wince. I recognise the sterile smell of the ward and the sounds of trolley wheels on laminate floors.
“Jake, Jake, can you hear me? Oh thank God.” Faye’s voice cracks with emotion. I am lying down and the glaring lights of the ward cause my eyelids to flutter. When they finally open I see Faye and the young nurse, smiling at the side of the bed.
“You gave us a fright, Jake. We almost lost you.” The gravelly voice of the senior nurse rings out from across the ward.