You've come this far, so you don't need me blethering about what you already know. Enjoy the read.
Missed the start? Here's the link to that: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
Chapter 1 appeared on 13 January and following chapters appear each Friday. You can find them via the archive.
Read, enjoy, invite your friends.
Leigh stopped in the doorway to the restaurant. ‘A waiter will show us to our table when we go in. Once he’s brought the menus, pop to the ladies’ and get changed whilst I order drinks, okay?’
The ladies’ room was plush and a woman assistant sat in the corner. I changed in a cubicle, folding my skirt and blouse into the carrier bag and following Leigh’s advice about the tights. When I began to tidy my hair in front of the long mirror, the woman came and stood behind me.
‘Mind if I make a suggestion, love?’
I turned to face her, waiting.
‘Most men like a woman’s hair worn loose rather than tied back like that. And, if my glimpse of the man you came in with is any guide, I’d say he’d prefer you as free as possible.’
I had always worn my hair in a ponytail, off my face, for ease and at Father’s insistence. She helped me release it, then brushed it out so it fell in soft waves over my shoulders.
‘That dress is lovely but I reckon it’d be stunning if you loosened the neck and let it fall round your shoulders.’
When I tried it, my bra straps showed. But I liked the effect and I felt glamorous without feeling exposed.
‘You’re young enough not to need support, love.’ She touched a strap.
I thought about Leigh’s face when he saw me. And this was a woman advising, she couldn’t have any sort of sexual motives, after all. I had to do it. He deserved at least that and I wanted his admiration. She helped, and my new bra went into the bag.
The woman urged me to turn on the spot. I slowly rotated and felt the soft floral cotton brush my feet, the caress of fabric against my nipples making them stand proud. I was half anxious that the sensuality was wrong and half delighted at the feeling of pleasure and freedom. The dress, gathered at the waist, fell in soft pleats down the length of my legs. A thin leather lace fixed the width of the neckline and held the top firm against the tops of my arms. It was tied in a bow with the silver-tipped ends resting below the curves of my breasts. I felt free and liberated and just a little afraid.
‘Have him eating out of your hand, love. He’ll not be able to resist you.’
I thanked her and went before I could change my mind. She said something in a cross voice as I left, but I had no idea what might have annoyed her.
Leigh stood up and stared as I crossed the floor to the table. The waiters turned to look at me. All the men in the room followed my progress across the floor with their eyes. I felt both shy and proud. I had never put myself on display like that and those stares were all of appreciation. I was confused: Father said such displays were sinful, but I felt good. I was happy to be the object of their admiration. I was particularly pleased to have Leigh’s undivided attention.
I smiled for him.
‘You look stunning. Wonderful, Faith. Gorgeous. I’m amazed you dared the transformation. But I’m over the Moon that you did.’
I confessed to help from the lady in the toilet.
‘Give her a tip?’
I had no idea what he meant. He pulled out my chair and held it as I sat down and pushed it gently in beneath me. I felt so special.
‘No matter. I’ll get a waitress to take her something’
He signalled one of the young women, spoke to her and passed her something. She nodded and went off toward the toilets.
‘What’s a tip?’
He explained and I understood her complaint.
‘Ready to eat, my beautiful princess?’
The flush that followed suffused me with pure pleasure; so different from the discomfort of my usual blushes.
‘Ready, my handsome prince.’
He gazed at me with shining eyes that were so proud and full of admiration. ‘Faith, you’re a joy to be with. I’ve rarely had such company.’
I wanted to hug and kiss him but I just took his hand and squeezed it gently.
The menu was in French and Leigh translated. The food was fresh, hot and delicious. Leigh ordered wine but then drank only one glass, as he had to drive back. I did not mean to drink the rest of the bottle, but it was so good it was a shame to waste it and by the end of the meal, there was none left.
In the ladies’, after the meal, I apologized to the lady. She waved away my concern. ‘Your young man’s a gem, love. I’m fine. Looking like that, you can’t lose. When he pops the question, don’t turn him down will you? You’ll regret it for the rest of your life.’
I smiled, hoping my incomprehension did not show, and went out to find Leigh waiting to take my hand.
I floated beside him on the short walk to the theatre, through mild evening air and under streetlamps that made everything glow. Men in the street followed me with their eyes and I liked it. In the theatre, the men were all polite and charming, the women distant or pleasant. All my life, men and women had ignored me or had insulted me and treated me like a fool without feelings.
The wine and attention combined to intoxicate me so that I felt alive and joyful. I was a blind person suddenly gifted with sight, a deaf person suddenly hearing music. I was admired and liked and appreciated after so many years of being despised, ignored and shunned. It was the most wonderful evening of my life.
The theatre was full of unexpected delights. The amazing arcs of soft crimson seats, the huge curtained stage, the blue, gold and cream of the decorated ceiling. Leigh advised me how I should behave and I took my lead from him, falling silent as the curtains moved away to reveal the stage. But finding it difficult not to comment on the inaccuracies of the story until I realised this was a story, like a novel, not a truthful depiction of the facts.
The show was amazing. Songs that gave warmth and feeling to the cold familiar words of Father’s teachings. Songs that removed the emphasis on sin and retribution, replacing it with mercy and love. The figure I had worshipped all my life as a cold, hard symbol became a man with a heart and emotions. I saw Him with failings, and feelings and doubts and desires, and I knew without doubt that both Father and his doctrine were wrong, wrong, wrong.
At the interval, when they invited the audience to join them on stage for wine I needed no urging. Leigh kept looking at me with wonder. I think he felt unsure of me, felt as if he was with a different woman from the girl who’d climbed into his car that morning. That was how I felt.
On the way back to the car park, he offered me his jacket because the night had grown chill. But I felt alive and warm. I wanted no encumbrances; nothing to hide the magic of my new attractive looks. I wanted to move and run and dance and sing. I felt so full of wonderful joy and elation, so overflowing with new feelings.
‘Leigh, I’ve had the most wonderful day of my life. I don’t know how to begin to thank you. You’ve brought me life and joy and warmth and admiration and confidence and, oh, Leigh, I’m just bursting with gratitude.’
I pulled him close and reached up and kissed his lips the way I’d seen Abby kiss him. His short beard was soft against my skin, his lips warm and gentle against mine. He held me close so that our bodies were touching and his hands clasped my shoulder and my waist. I felt safe and protected, desired and vaguely at risk in that embrace and I wanted it to go on forever. That contact made my whole body tingle, and deep within that private place where I was everywoman, I felt stirrings of delight that, even through the haze of my intoxication, were disturbing and full of promise.
‘Come on, little princess, let’s get you into the car before I do something we’ll both regret.’ He opened the door and helped me into the seat.
We drove with soft night music flowing in between us and I must have floated into sleep at some time on the journey.
Before I knew it, we were at the bottom of the steep track to Father’s cottage and Leigh was softly waking me. I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to stay with him. ‘Take me back to Longhouse, Leigh. Take me home with you.’
‘There’s a light on in the cottage. Your father’s watching through the window.’
‘Let him. I don’t care.’
‘I think you might, in the morning.’
I’ve no idea what persuaded me to go back to the cottage that night, the way I was feeling. Leigh seemed to think it would be best and I was disposed to please him. He walked beside me, carrying a torch in one hand, my old and new clothes in carrier bags in the other.
Father opened the door as we approached and I stumbled on the rough surface and had to lean against Leigh to avoid falling. He said nothing as we reached the door and Leigh handed him the bags.
‘She’s tired and a little overwhelmed. Nothing a good night’s sleep won’t fix. You have an extraordinary daughter, Mr Heacham; a truly remarkable young woman.’ He turned to me and, in spite of the danger, I wanted him to kiss me there and then in front of Father. ‘Goodnight, Faith. And thank you for a wonderful day. See you in the morning, an hour later than usual, I think, don’t you?’
‘You’re the boss, Leigh. Whatever you say.’
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