By Mandy Gray
In a quaint country pub called the "Black Swan", Josie sat, looking down into the glass of mineral water in front of her. She couldn't keep herself from wondering if she looked just as stupid as she felt at this particular moment. Once again, she had put herself in the awkward position of sitting alone, in a bar, waiting to talk to a man she didn't love any more. She was in a village located in the middle of nowhere, with a population of no more than ten. There were no other buildings other than the Swan, a few stone cottages, a small shop, and a post office. In short, the place was so remote it couldn't be on any map.
But, she was here never-the-less. "Just to talk," Kirk had said, oblivious to how she was feeling. Josie wondered if he had realised that there was something wrong with the relationship and that Josie wanted to end it. Maybe he wanted to talk her out of it. There was nothing left to talk about as far as she was concerned; it was over.
In the past, Josie had turned a blind eye to Kirk's many infidelities. Oh, she had loved him once. After they had moved in together three months previous, the problems really started to chip away at the relationship. He always had some high profile party to attend. She had accompanied on a few occasions, but between working full time as a fashion consultant and keeping house, she was too tired to do anything. Josie had long since tired of being his doormat.
Josie looked around at the other patrons. They kept steeling glances her way, at her dishevelled hair and rumpled sweatshirt. She automatically reached up to smooth down her tangled curls, only to get her fingers caught in the knots at the ends. She looked at the helmet that lay on the seat beside her. Why hadn't she insisted on meeting him in her own car? Instead, she had agreed to riding on the back of his new Harley Davidson. She caught her reflection in the mirror opposite her table and grimaced. No wonder people were looking at her, she mused. She looked as if she had been dragged through a hedge backwards.
Josie watched as Kirk took another call on his mobile phone. He was hunched over, in the seating area opposite her. 'Just business,' he had said for the second time since their arrival. He'd excused himself with a kiss to her temple and a pat on the cheek. Josie watched as he laughed at something the caller had said on the other line. He caught Josie's eye and wiggled his fingers at her. Oh, how she would love to break those perfect little fingers. Smiling at her own wickedness she waved back at him.
Did he really think her to be such a complete idiot? She knew it wasn't a business call. When the call had come through Josie had seen the name Maria displayed on his mobile for a split second, before he had snatched it off the table to answer it. Sure that Kirk would return to the table insisting the caller had been his agent, Anna, Josie felt a wave of regret for having met him. She considered leaving him here and going home. They had passed a bus stop a mile down the road on the way in to the village, but then she remembered it had looked as though it had been built long before the second World War. It was now likely to be just a place of interest to the passing tourists. Even if it wasn't, she had no idea of the bus timetable.
Taking another sip of her mineral water, she watched as he studied his nails while deep in conversation. He looked like an ancient god; all solid muscle and tan. Josie had to admit he looked wonderful in bike leathers-- leathers that he'd no doubt modelled. Kirk was a model, king of the catwalk, famous throughout the world. She should have known better than to let herself get tangled with him. He was a charmer, plain and simple, and Josie had fallen for his smooth talk hook, line and sinker. Ladies fawned over him, men envied him. You couldn't open the newspaper without seeing pictures of him at a party with some beautiful woman draped over his arm like some expensive accessory. How many times during the course of their relationship had she heard one excuse after another?
"Just for the publicity, darling, would I do anything to hurt you? If it makes you feel better, I can tell you I didn't know the woman. She was just there for the photo."
God, how gullible she had been swallowing every excuse, every apology-but not anymore. She just couldn't do it.
Kirk put his phone back into his pocket and walked over to the table, and sat opposite Josie.
"Sorry about that," he said, pouring another glass of wine. "But, you know what Anna is like. She doesn't know when to stop talking."
"You shouldn't drink any more wine. You're driving," Josie said, as she watched him quickly drink and pour himself another.
"I hope you are not going to start nagging again," he answered, taking another sip. "Really, Josie. It's like being with my mother."
"Look, Kirk. There's something I need to say to you." She looked around the room and at the couple sat at the table next to theirs. She didn't want an audience when she broke up with him, so she picked up her jacket and the dreaded helmet. "Let's go home, we can talk better there." She said in a whisper.
"Oh, this is really boring," he said, picking up his own jacket and finishing the rest of his wine. Gone was the playful look on his face that he'd had whilst talking on the phone. It was replaced with a look of boredom and irritation. "What's wrong with you tonight? Is it because I went without you to the charity ball last night? It was pretty dull; you wouldn't have enjoyed it."
"If it was so dull and boring why didn't you get home until four o'clock this morning?" She wasn't going to fight here, not in public. "Let's just go home." She said wearily
They stepped out into the car park and the night had become dark and chilly and Josie felt the first signs of rain on her face.
"Perfect," she said, angrily looking over at the Harley. They were at least an hour away from their home town of Stratford.
"Don't worry, we'll be home in no time. Then, you can tell me what is on your mind," he said icily. "Or, if you want, we can stay at that hotel we passed on the way into the village."
"Okay," she answered and looked up at the gathering rain clouds in the sky. "I think we are going to get wet." She climbed on to the back of the motorbike. His reply was muffled by his helmet.
The rain fall harder as they pulled out of the car park. Water soaked through Josie's jeans and instantly chilling her to the bone. She dreaded having to endure this weather until they arrived at the hotel.
Her thoughts turned to her brother Mike. He would love this, she thought, he wouldn't have minded the rain and would love the thrill of the ride. He had always been a rebel. They had been close as children, a bond that had been strengthened by the death of their parents in a car accident two years before. Mike had always looked out for her, in school, and more so when she was at the age to bring home the odd boyfriend. Mike had relentlessly interrogated them, much to Josie's chagrin, but he had always been on hand to protect her from harm.
Josie remembered the last time she had seen her brother. Mike had told her how much he mistrusted Kirk. He hadn't hidden the fact that he disliked him and they had quarrelled over it. She told him to stay out of her business; she was an adult, grown up enough to make her own decisions about who she would date. The fight had upset Josie. It was the first time since childhood that they had raised their voices in anger at one another.
Josie remembered how, in a desperate attempt to break her relationship with Kirk up, Mike had lied, and said that his friend Jake had feeling for her. Whilst wishing it were true, Josie had snorted in disbelief at her brother's words. Jake had been her first crush, a crush that had developed into her first love. But, he didn't even know she existed. Even when she'd followed Jake and Mike around for years when they were younger, he never noticed. Once, he had called her "a silly little girl" for following them everywhere and getting in the way and at thirteen year old she had been heartbroken. Jake had been seventeen at the time.
That had been ten years ago. She remembered seeing Jake at her parent's funeral. He had offered his condolences, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. Even in her grief, the touch had sent her pulse into overdrive. But, the grief for her parents had over-ridden the feelings of desire and she had shrugged his hand away. Josie had ignored the look of hurt on his face as she walked away, feeling like an idiot. She couldn't love someone, who couldn't love her back. She had tried to forget about Jake as he had forgotten her. She knew that he was now a police officer, her brother had told her that after the funeral.
Then she met Kirk, and had thrown herself into the relationship. No, Mike had been wrong about Jake. To him, she would always be a silly little girl and had told her brother as much. After the argument, Mike had left her flat and she hadn't seen him in four months. She missed him. Maybe when she finished things with Kirk she could finally swallow her pride and ring him.
Josie shivered. She felt very cold and stiff from sitting locked in an upright position. The rain was teeming down now, and she wondered how Kirk could see where he was going. He seemed to be going awfully fast. She thought of the wine he had drunk. 'Maybe he's over the alcohol limit', she thought. She was sure that he was well over the speed limit. 'I should have insisted that he had a few coffees before leaving, but I had been too eager to get home.'
Despite the confines of the helmet, Josie thought that she could hear the shrill of a police siren. Kirk must have heard it too, but he wasn't slowing down. If anything, he seemed to be going even faster. Josie felt the cold metal of the backrest pressing into her back and was thankful for small mercies. Had it not been in place she was sure she would have tumbled right off the back. She clung on tightly to Kirk, willing him mentally to slow down as the siren grew more loud. The Harley wasn't made for speed, and the police were gaining on them quickly.
'Kirk's not going to like being booked for speeding, it would be bad for his image,' she mused inwardly. 'But, if he doesn't slow down soon, he will kill us both.'
The rain still poured down and the roads were slick with water, making them treacherous. Kirk took a bend in the road too sharply and lost control of the bike. Josie felt herself falling with the weight of the Harley and then she hit the road with a thud. Josie screamed as she was dragged behind the bike, the pain becoming unbearable. She felt helpless; the motion of the machine was beyond her control. She finally came to rest at the side of the road. Josie hurt everywhere, and she tried to sit up, but a hand pressed into her shoulder, pushing her back down.
"Stay there. Don't try to move." A deep voice shouted at her. "An ambulance will be here shortly. God Josie, you could have been killed."
Josie tried to focus on the man bending over her, but her vision was blurred. She knew it wasn't Kirk, the tone of voice was wrong; but whoever it was knew her name. Josie didn't have time to dwell on it as she slipped into the blessed blackness of unconsciousness.
Josie's head felt as if it were stuffed with cotton wool. She attempted to open her eyes, but her eyelids felt too heavy. After waiting a moment, she tried again, blinking twice so that her eyes could adjust to the harsh lighting in the room. She turned her head to the side, wincing at the dull ache behind her eyes as she attempted to focus. Her vision cleared enough for her to see the profile of a man asleep in the chair at the side of the bed. Josie recognised him as her brother, Mike.
Then, she remembered the accident. The terror of falling with the motorbike as it hit the road and the terrible images rushed back to her. Josie squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block them out. She opened them again and looked around her. The white walls and the harsh lights screamed at her overly sensitive eyes.
"Mike!" She croaked.
Mike jumped and was out of the chair in a heartbeat. He settled on the side of the bed.
"Hey," he said, stroking her cheek. "Glad to have you back."
Josie looked up at his concerned face, noticing that he looked pale and drawn and slightly afraid.
"Are you okay?" She whispered, reaching up to touch his face.
"'Am I okay?' She says," Mike answered shakily. He looked up at the ceiling and then back at her. "Jesus, Josie, you're lying in the hospital with a broken leg and a concussion! And then you ask me if I'm okay?"
"How long have I been here," she asked, clearing her throat.
"You were brought in last night," he replied, pushing a hand through his already messy hair, making it stand in spikes. "I just thank god Jake was there when it happened."
Josie remembered the man who had known her name after the accident. That had been Jake? Then, she felt puzzled. How had he known it was her under the helmet? She was just about to ask Mike when she remembered Kirk.
"Oh my god, Kirk. How is he? Is he?"
"Kirk will livefor now," Mike answered through gritted teeth.
"Mike." But, what she was about to say was cut off when he got up from the bed and started to pace the room.
"Don't you try and defend him! He could have killed you!" He stopped pacing and sat down again, but Josie could see the anger lingering in his eyes. "All he had was a few cuts and bruises. He nearly kills my sister and he gets up and walks around."
"I wasn't about to defend him. I just wanted to apologise for before." Josie closed her eyes as pain rode over her like a wave. The pain-killers must have begun to wear off. "You were right about Kirk. I should have listened to you. I planned to finish things with him last night, but I didn't get the chance." She said, indicating the bed she was laying in with a quick wave of her hand.
"Oh, I think he's got the message now."
"Mike, what did you do?" She asked, starting to worry.
"Let's just say that before he was dragged away to the police station he acquired a couple more bruises."
"Oh, Mike," was all she said. Josie looked over his shoulder and saw Jake standing in the doorway.
"Hi, may I come in?"
Jake moved into the room and Mike stood to greet him.
"She's awake now," Mike said, stating the obvious.
"I can see that," Jake replied, never taking his eyes off Josie's face. "How do you feel?"
He stood over her, brooding, and he never took his eyes away from her.
"Oh, you know, like I've been run over by a steam-roller," Josie answered. She was trying to make light of the situation. Her nerves were on edge at seeing him there at the end of the bed. He was tall: head and shoulders above her brother, Mike. He had the face of an angel, eyes the colour of dark chocolate, which were framed with thick lashes. His dark hair badly needed a trim and fell in a slight wave that brushed the collar of his shirt. She wondered how he had gotten away with that being on the police force.
Mike looked from Josie to Jake and cleared his throat.
"I'll, erm, go and chase up some more pain killers for Josie from that nice nurse who was giving me the eye last night." Mike said nervously.
Jake blinked and looked at Mike. "Yeah, okay."
Mike made a long exhalation before walking out of the room.
Josie watched her brother leave before turning to Jake.
"Why were you there last night? And, how did you know it was me?" She asked, watching his face change from broody to sheepishness. He walked to the chair at the side of the bed and sat.
"I followed you," he mumbled.
"You what? You followed us to the Black Swan?" Josie's voice rose and sent a shooting pain up the side of her head. She reached up and rubbed her temple, squeezing her eyes shut.
"Are you okay?"
Josie opened her eyes to find him barely an inch away from her face. She inhaled his male scent, a mixture of soap and a hint of coffee. It had her senses jumping over each other and she groaned. Just one slight movement and their lips would meet. Josie could see the fire in his eyes as he quickly sat back in the chair at the side of the bed.
"I didn't follow you to the Black Swan. I was on a call in the village, an attempted break-in," he explained. "I saw you leave the pub with that man."
"Oh, so then you followed us?"
"Josie, the man has more traffic violations tucked under his belt, than I've had hot dinners. I needed to see that you were safe."
Kirk had never told her about any traffic violations. She knew he drove like a maniac, but she didn't know he had a record.
"Then, when it started raining heavily and it didn't look like he was going to slow down, I decided to bring him in." He laid a hand over Josie's. "My heart was in my mouth, knowing you were on the back of the motorbike. When he lost control, I thought that I had lost you."
Josie blinked at his words. What did this mean?
Jake continued. "When I pulled my car alongside you, lying in the road, I nearly died myself. That idiot Kirk just picked himself up and was strutting around, whining over his scraped Harley. If I wasn't an officer of the law, I'm pretty sure I would have killed him on the spot."
"What's going to happen to him?"
Misunderstanding the meaning of her words, Jake looked hurt. He obviously thought she was protecting Kirk.
"I mean, did you arrest him?" She asked.
"He's going down, Josie," he said angrily. "Almost causing a death by dangerous driving."
"Good. Then he will get what he deserves." Josie said. She smiled as the look of anger on Jake's face and was replaced with one of uncertainty. She hoped she wasn't reading him wrong. He took her hand in his and spoke softly, so softly that she had to strain to hear him.
"Josie, I have to tell you. I can't keep it to myself any longer. If you don't feel the same way, then I will have to live with it. But, at least then I'll finally know."
Josie held her breath, and then let it out slowly. "What are you saying, Jake?"
"I love you," he paused, watching her reaction and he shifted uneasily in his chair as Josie felt tears form in her eyes. "There, I've said it. I'm sorry," he said.
"Oh, Jake," she sniffed. "I've waited forever to hear those words from you. But, I thought you would always think of me as that silly little girl."
"What? God no. I've always loved you, but you were thirteen and much too young. Your brother would have broken both of my legs if I'd have followed through with my feelings back then." Then, he leaned in close to her. "Do you love me too?" He whispered.
"Always," she answered simply. Her heart felt as though it would burst as his mouth dropped to hers in a kiss that made her toes curl.
Mike stood in the doorway and watched the scene in front of him. "It's about time," he whispered, backing out and closing the door.