This Love

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The longer days of summer seemed to bring a breath of fresh air to the neighborhood, the younger kids playing around the grassy banks well into the evenings while their parents took the time to gossip on street corners, glancing across on the odd occasion when one of the youngsters sounded a little rowdier than usual. It was the time when things looked hopeful, when the bank of flowers that were lovingly tended to by the old man from a few floors above us were in bloom and spirits were high enough in people to believe anything was possible.

It was as though the summer had almost magical qualities, certainly enough so people felt happy to leave the sanctuary of their homes and spend more time outside. The weather was as balmy as it ever got, the scant nature of the clothing worn by women with bodies worth showing was the only thing making the maddening heat worth living in, though it wasn’t always the case when having to work in such conditions.

The walk down one of the grass banks, almost falling over a child that was chasing a ball along the way, was a slightly hurried one, due mainly to my eagerness to get into the shade of the tower block I was heading for. Assuming that, as was usually the case, the elevator wasn’t working, I made my way up the stairs that began right alongside the sidewalk, sharing the same lack of security that the elevator endured, allowing all and sundry access right up to any resident’s front door.

Edging past the people that’d sat chatting on the cool stone that made up the first flight of stairs, recognizable only in that I’d seen them around, as they kept just enough of an eye on their kids, I doubled back on myself as the steps took me higher. I dragged a couple of bags of shopping up to the fifth floor, swinging open the glass door to the central area with my elbow, before wandering through into the vestibule housing the four apartments that made up the floor, just as the elevator stopped a few feet away from me.

I forced a smile, my muscles too tired from the heat to obey freely, as Theresa stepped out from behind the sliding doors, fishing inside her handbag for her keys. Looking as bothered as I felt, her company uniform in a state that defied the reality of it being pristine that morning, she jumped as she looked up, seeing me stood there before her.

“Good god,” She gasped, “you frightened the bloody life out of me!”

“Well, if there’s enough left in you to get this door open, I’ll try not to make a habit of it…” I replied, the smile coming readily now.

“I can just about manage that, though I think the dishes will be enough of a problem later that I should get someone else to do them…”

“If that’s what you want to tell yourself, that’s fine. I hear the reality of old age can be scary…”

Almost breaking into a jog as I shot through the door she’d held open for me, I was just out of range before she could dish out a clip round the ear for being cheeky, something that’d always been the case as she’d never been up to much in the disciplining kids line of things, at least not since I’d known her. I turned back around to see her shaking her head at me, shutting the door behind us with a half smile on her lips.

“What are you saying to my wife?”

I turned to answer the question, knowing instantly where the owner of the voice would be sat, but only guessing at how much whiskey would be left in the bottle in front of him.

“Nothing worth repeating, father.” I replied, feeling the energy drain from my mood.

“Yeah, I’ll bet…” He mumbled, making sure his voice was just loud enough for me to catch both his words and the tone.

Dropping off the bags in the kitchen, telling myself I’d unpack them later, I made my way out onto the balcony, its white stone matching that of the steps that brought me home, taking my tie off completely and shoving it in my pocket as I ducked under the washing that’d been left drying out on the line. I pulled across the plastic garden chair from the corner and sat close enough to the barrier between a painful landing on the street below and myself, to put my feet up as I sank back into the chair.

Right on time, the roar of an aircraft flew high overhead, far enough up that the markings could barely be seen with the naked eye. The early evening take-offs from the airport always fought it out with the sounds of the rush hour, its backlog of traffic slowly worming their way from the city to the smarter suburbs, as I tried to relax the tension in my mind that had appeared almost as soon as I got in.

“Rush hour? Shouldn’t that be rush hours these days?” I thought, watching the jet disappear behind another of the dozen or so tower blocks nearby, streaking away to climes both foreign and exciting.

A third sound joined the melee, interrupting my musing as I listened properly to try and hear the voice and the words it carried. The person down on the street below seemed to be shouting up, either to or for someone, making me guess they didn’t want anyone from the sixteenth antalya escort floor at least. There was something familiar about the way he sounded, in particular the insults he called out, when one distinct comment got me out of the chair to look.

“Quit loungin’ around and say hello, ya bastard!”

“Mickey?” I uttered as I looked over the balcony, seeing the grinning face of Michael Smith staring back at me.

“In the flesh.” He said, answering what I thought was a rhetorical question. “There’s a beer in this bag that’s just dying to meet you…”

Ignoring the whining from the owner of the half-empty bottle, I made my way out and down the stairs to find Mickey stood waiting there at the bottom. After sharing a manly, backslapping hug, we wandered the short trip over to the children’s playground, to where we used to play ourselves, back before it fell into its current, dilapidated, condition.

The months had dragged by since I’d last seen him, the call of further education had beckoned him to pastures new, limiting the times he could return to the old neighborhood, though it was hard to imagine why anyone would want to. For as close to the city as the place may be, the gulf between the two seemed insurmountable to those of us who hadn’t already got out.

He spoke of campus life, trying hard to not paint too rosy a picture of his scholastic adventures as we made headway into the beer he’d brought, the price tags suggesting they were picked up from the store down the road. Despite my best efforts to lead the conversation from that exact topic, the subject eventually came around to my exploits, with him wanting to know how life in “the real world” was treating me.

Not really wanting to see the disappointment on his face as I told him about the bland existence of this working male, the intimacies of retail quite lacking in anecdotal fare, I looked over at the people still out and about in the evening sun. A quick overview of my life soon segued into the details of gossip on the people we used to know, as I passed on each piece of information I’d either heard or been told personally, sparing the blushes of none of them as I dropped the rumors in with the facts.

Brightening up as I spilled the beans on both friend and foe alike in the spirit of helping him get up to speed, it became all the more obvious as I trailed off slightly, a significant part of my attention being grabbed by the figure making its way across the grass, far enough away to be watched without being noticed. Mickey picked up on my perusing, and didn’t hesitate to comment on it as she slipped out of sight into the block as an elevator swept her up inside.

“She still living with her grandma?” He asked.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, she is.”

“I take it from the way you were drooling, that you’ve still got a thing for her?”

“Last I heard, I wasn’t the only one…” I replied, looking at him sidelong.

Shrugging off my comment, he drank slowly from his bottle, staring out above the bottom of it at where she’d made her way into the building. With another swig of beer down his throat, he sighed heavily at what I took to be appreciation of the brew before his tone took on a more serious edge.

“True, but things change.”

“The campus cuties providing enough of a distraction for you?”

“Yeah, but that don’t stop a fantasy losing its shine when it becomes real.”

I paused, the words seeming to demand further inspection before they were replied to.

“For a second there, I thought you were saying you’d slept with her…”

He said nothing further as I turned to face him fully, only for him to open another bottle to stick in my hand. Unafraid to look me in the eye, his features cracked up slightly at the look on my face as I stared agog at him, my jaw dropping open in disbelief. The tiny smile on his lips made me think he wasn’t being the slightest bit serious, a point I was more than willing to challenge him on.

“Bullshit!” I spluttered, forcing an uneasy laugh. “There’s no way I’m having that one!”

“Next time you get a moment alone with her, ask her about her tattoo…”

The way he kept a straight face as he spoke was enough for me to know he was telling the truth, the deadpan way he managed to deliver the line serving only to reinforce the message. As the news left me completely off guard, I stared off into space, trying to shake all the questions I wanted to ask him about her from my head, just knowing that the intimate details would be sullied by the thoughts of his having been there to witness them.

“How comes I’m only just hearing about it?” I asked, keeping my tone as light as possible.

“It was just a one-night thing, just before I went away. Guess I forgot about it, what with all the goings on over there and all.”

With the salacious way in which he’d spoken of previous girls he’d been with, I decided these were things I definitely didn’t want to hear, preferring that they be saved for a time when I was happily married kemer escort a few years down the line, and probably wouldn’t care as much at what was said.

The conversation died for a time, as we steadily consumed his purchases, returning a short while later with no more mention of the subject, instead moving on to plans for the future. As I had none of those either, it became another case of listening until he made some for me and we agreed to meet up again in a day or two and head up into the city to paint the town whatever color was the new black that season.

Parting company well after the sun had finally set and we were illuminated by the street lamps, he made his way to his parents, ready to do the rounds with the family as both mom and dad gushed with pride. Rolling his eyes at the thought, he told me to call and left me to head back indoors. Hoping the place would be in darkness as the other residents would be asleep through both tiredness and alcohol induced unconsciousness; I trudged up the steps to the inevitable bags of shopping.

It was the next evening before we spoke again, the cash-flow situation proving a problem as he explained how he’d spent his last notes on the beers the day before and hadn’t got his hands on any more yet, putting an end to his hopes of us getting out on both that night and any more until further notice. Refusing my suggestion of paying, he said he’d be in touch before the end of the week with some cash so we could party in style.

My cynicism at how good a night it’d be was met with reassurances that it would be the best I’d had in ages, and his asking how many times he’d let me down in the past. Having put the phone down straight after that line, he managed to deny me the chance to remind him of the night we had that began with us being chased by a guy and his mate who didn’t appreciate Mickey’s attempts to woo his girlfriend, and ended with a taxi ride home from the hospital, the two of which being somehow totally unrelated.

His loss was the gain of an all-night Dracula-fest on the television, just Christopher Lee, microwave-able popcorn and me through the early hours. It was Theresa who reminded me as I settled down for the first feature that I still had to take the garbage out. Dashing into the kitchen as she sauntered off to bed, I dived out the front door and into the stairwell, sliding the small bags down the chute provided, to the dumpsters at the bottom of the tower.

I was ready to shoot back inside as I heard a groan from behind that was enough to startle me, in spite of my efforts to be prepared for the feast of horror ahead. I turned to see, stood a few steps down from the landing I was on, and staring out the window where the stairs turned back on themselves, a girl whose mess of blonde hair scattered halfway down her back.

“Donna?” I asked softly, just loud enough for her to hear me.

Half turning to me, I saw the profile of her face through the few strands of hair that usually just framed her features. As she set her red-rimmed eyes on me, a faint smile tugged at the corner of her lips. Making her way up the steps toward me, she span and sat down abruptly on the top stair, once again hiding her face from me as she patted the cool floor tiles beside her.

Taking the proffered place at her side, I sat there silently, waiting for her to say something. My hands fidgeted nervously as the silence seemed to grow between us, almost enough to be considered comfortable, in spite of the strain my agitation was putting on it. The quiet continued until I realized she wasn’t planning on speaking, simply allowing the odd sniffle to punctuate the still air. Feeling a minor panic build inside, I took the initiative and blurted out as she wiped the end of her nose again with a tissue she’d been holding.

“Are you okay?” I asked, the words escaping a little more hurried than I’d have liked.

Another pause descended, making me feel somewhat smaller for asking such a daft question. Donna appeared to be taking the time to mull the question over, or at least whether or not to answer me with more than a one-word reply. A weary sigh passed between her lips as she resigned herself to her situation, her shoulders slumping slightly, clearing her throat of the lump inside it.

“I’ll be fine,” She said, hopefully, “just a little love-life hiccup…”

“I can’t imagine you having trouble in that department.” I stated, looking to the window she had stood at moments earlier.

In a second the air between us hardened as I felt her looking at my face, the silhouette of her in the glass before us hiding her expression, as she seemed to search for signs of the meaning behind my words in my features. The brief instant passed as I turned back to her, her own eyes returning to the tissue in her hands, a little smile playing on her lips as she seemed satisfied at my sincerity

“In that case,” She began, “you’ll be surprised to hear that my boyfriend phoned me yesterday to break konyaaltı escort up with me…”

“Oh… I’m sorry.” I replied.

“I decided to get all pro-active about it and have a night out to forget about him. Didn’t bank on him being out with some new piece on his arm.”

Her words broke down as she started to sob gently, leaving me in two minds whether or not to put my arm around her for comfort, wondering if she’d take the gesture the right way. She’d dried her tears again before I could decide on a move to take, looking up to me for confirmation with her eyes now even more shaded by red.

“What a bastard, huh?”

My mind flashed a word that sprinted to my lips before I could put the thought in check, realizing the second it escaped that I’d got my wires crossed.

“Michael…” I mumbled, thinking out loud when all I needed to do was nod.

The expression on her face turned to stone as she looked at me as if I’d just pushed her head under the sheets after breaking wind. The thunder of her features infected her voice as she spoke, her eyes staring deep into me.

“What’s he got to do with anything?” She asked.

“N-nothing,” I stuttered, “just me getting the wrong end of the stick. Sorry.”

Her head turned from me, breaking a lock with her eyes that I never wanted to experience again. I saw her look up to the heavens through the stairs above us, more than likely wondering how much worse things were going to get. When her eyes came back down to look at me, the ire in them had subsided, albeit only slightly.

“So, he told you about our night together, did he?” She said, sighing. “I can’t say I’m surprised though. Dare I even ask what he said about me?”

“Nothing!” I said, her eyebrows rising in scepticism at my protest. “I-I never gave him the chance as it felt too weird. He just mentioned something about tattoos when I thought he was bullshitting me!”

She stared at me for a moment, and then softened completely as if to accept my statements. A shiver ran through her body, as though her skin had realized the night was scrubbing away the warmth of the day. Crossing her arms and running her palms over the sleeves of her knitted crop top, she rubbed some life back into her upper arms, forcing me to also acknowledge the nip to the air creeping in.

“Listen, do you fancy coming in with me? I’m not getting any warmer and I could use the company.”

Without really waiting for a reply, she got up and headed into the landing between the twin elevators, one servicing odd numbered floors, the other even. I followed behind, checking I’d closed the front door properly before making the short trip to her grandma’s apartment next door, and waited as she fumbled with the keys she’d dug out from her small clutch bag.

Quietly tip-toeing along the carpeted hallway, I noticed Donna stood at the other end looking at me with mild amusement on her face, shaking her head as she held onto a large coat hook and slipped her high heels off her feet, letting each one drop onto the floor.

“You don’t have to sneak around you know.”

“What about your grandma?”

“At my Aunt Margaret’s ‘til Sunday.” She replied, heading into the bedroom.

With her assent, I headed for the bathroom, the reason for the knowing smile on her lips dawning on me as I washed my hands after emptying one too many cans of cheap cola from my system, her stating that the only room I could disturb anyone in was that one. Realizing full well, with the elevator shaft the only thing between our bathrooms, how easily she could’ve heard me jerking myself silly throughout puberty, I saw my cheeks flush red with embarrassment in the mirror at the thought of her listening in.

I had waited for the heat in my face to subside before exiting the room, only to feel it threaten to return as I saw her again. That sight gave as much as it took as she had slipped from out of her party outfit into something that was definitely more comfortable. The green silky kimono swept down to her knees, denying the glimpses of her thighs I’d taken earlier, while the material was tied tightly enough to hide the cleavage she’d been displaying.

The benefits of her change seemed more erotic than I would’ve thought possible, her swept up hair held in a ponytail, exposing the graceful curve of her long neck, while her bare feet revealed long, delicate toes that enjoyed a careful application of purple varnish to the nails that matched those of her fingers as they carried a cup of coffee over to me. Accepting gratefully, I sat down with her on the sofa, as we left enough room between us to turn and face each other, Donna curling her calves up, resting them half under herself in a way that must have been more comfortable than it looked.

“I’d just split up with someone and I’d had a few too many drinks.” She said, blowing on her coffee to cool it slightly before sipping cautiously.

“What… now?” I replied, slow to realize what conversation was being carried on.

“No, on my night with Michael.”

“Oh. Right.” I said, turning my gaze to the bubble floating on the surface of my cup.

“He really didn’t tell you?”

“No.”

“I got the impression that he liked to tell of his conquests…” She said, the bitterness clearer than crystal.

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