Still here? Is that stubbornness or are you actually enjoying this process, this story? I hope so.
I posted Chapter 1 on 13 January. Following chapters appear each Friday. Find them via the archive.
Missed the start? Find it here: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
Read, enjoy, invite friends to join us.
Monday 19th April
She gathered up her letters and put them in the box. With a fingertip, she touched her swollen lips then brushed it lightly against my mouth before going to bed. Her gesture touched me and I wondered where she’d learned it.
Her eye re-opened and her mouth was able to smile properly after a few days. She was almost back to normal by the time they released Heacham on bail. Now convinced she knew nothing of Hope’s rapes, I was surprised when the coppers came to interview her.
She emerged tearful and shamed from those two long hours. I hadn’t been allowed to witness the interview but heard occasional raised voices and, just once, Faith’s loud protestation of her innocence. They preferred no charges. I wanted to tell her it was okay and to comfort her but Paul’s warning held me back. I risked harming her if I allowed us to get too close so soon after her trauma.
Instead, I sent her for a calming coffee with Ma. Ten minutes later, she was in the office, smart, professional and ready for work. Merv came in with an order and leered at her. He took a more carnal interest in Faith now she lived at Longhouse and was fleshing out her bones. He nodded at the disappearing police car. ‘Dunno what all the fuss is about. Old sod onny shagged ‘er. Not like he killed ‘er or beat her up, is it? Onny sex, innit? So what, I say.’
‘Thanks, Merv, for your considered and erudite opinion. Those of us who have a spark of morality think it’s inexcusable for a father to rape his disabled daughter. I do, of course, respect your right to an opinion. Just don’t express it in here! Get out, now!’
Faith struggled hard to contain tears that were close to the surface. She gave me a faint flicker of a smile as Merv went. ‘Thank you, Leigh.’
I gave her what I hoped was a friendly smile without too much encouragement. It was hard to strike a balance between the role of friendly boss and potential lover. My relationships with women had always been straightforward and the questions of sex were only ‘when?’, and ‘how often?’ The new territory was difficult terrain for me but I was determined to travel it if it brought Faith to some sort of normality. On the surface, she seemed much recovered and I had to keep reminding myself of Paul’s injunctions to prevent kidding myself all she wanted was for me to show her I cared and wanted her.
Faith broke into my thoughts. ‘You haven’t forgotten Marilynn’s due this afternoon?’
‘The waitress from York.’
‘Will you need me?’
‘No idea until she arrives. I’d like to continue the series for the book on housework if she’s game. And I’ll probably take her into the studio for a couple of hours. I’ll need your assistance if she feels more comfortable with another woman about. You okay for that?’
‘Why shouldn’t I be? I don’t suppose you’ll be alone in bed tonight.’
‘No idea, Faith. Depends on her. Don’t know why you’re so arch about it when you’re in the best position to ...’ I was growing tired of her digs at my sex life, but this wasn’t the reaction she needed.
‘Will she be staying for the weekend?’
‘No idea. Why?’
‘I just thought I might invite my mother and Charity… Netta over and I was hoping...’
So, perhaps I’d been mistaken. Perhaps it wasn’t jealousy, after all. I felt sorry for my misjudgement and tried to make it up. ‘Invite them. I’ll make sure Marilynn’s not here if they accept.’ To be honest, I was doubtful she’d stay that long anyway.
‘Not expecting her to stay, then.’
I intended a stinging reply because she’d guessed too accurately, and found myself instead attracted by her gently mocking smile, captivated by her growing beauty. Her face was now unmarked and her hair hung loose in soft waves that dropped over her shoulders. It was a pretty face; serious and contemplative much of the time, with a generous mouth and lips that promised much, especially when she smiled. Her eyes had always affected me, right from the first meeting; those deep, dark, sparkling orbs. And such a pretty shape to her face; the small, strong jaw, high cheekbones and slender nose. She hadn’t yet learned to pluck the weight from her dark eyebrows but their natural curves drew attention to those lovely eyes.
Her high forehead spoke of intelligence and, except at times of deep anxiety, was unmarked by furrows. Tiny ears hid amongst the dark tresses, unpierced and undecorated by jewellery. She wore no makeup but her natural colour was soft peach and her lips a healthy, inviting red.
A very attractive woman and one who would be capable, did she but know how, of twisting me round her little finger.
I hadn’t realised I’d been staring at her so obviously. For some extraordinary reason, I blushed like a schoolboy caught at some forbidden act.
She rose quickly and put her arms around my neck, kissed me softly but briefly on my mouth. ‘Leigh, you’re amazing. A really lovely man.’ Then she sat down again and continued with her work.
I felt outsmarted, somehow; outmanoeuvred, as if I’d been playing a game I should win but had been caught out by a change in the rules. Ma called us for lunch, removing my need to find an excuse to leave the office so I could compose myself.
Marilynn arrived almost immediately after the meal and proved willing to do more or less what I wanted and was happy to work without a chaperone.
Afterwards, I watched her saunter to her battered old car and drive off, leaving the gate wide open behind her. Once I’d seen the results, I would decide whether to invite her for a return trip. I wouldn’t be inviting her back for the sex alone; she’d been okay for the night but with a tendency to sexual selfishness I found unattractive. In the meantime, Faith’s mother and sister were due on Saturday and I was looking forward to meeting them almost as much as she was.
Ma was sixty-five the day Marilynn left. She did her own birthday tea, in spite of my protests and Faith’s offer to do it for her.
‘I enjoy cooking. I like preparing food and keeping house for you, Leigh. And now I’ve got Faith here as well, it’s like having a proper family. I’ve got a son and a daughter to care for. No. You get on with your work the pair of you, and let me do mine.’
I never knew what to buy Ma, and Old Hodge was no help, declaring she only ever wanted his body. Faith, however, seemed to know exactly what Ma wished for and delighted her with a gift of Belgian chocolates.
‘When and how did you manage to buy those?’
She just grinned. It must have been the trip into Hawes the previous weekend when I’d taken her to buy some new clothes, but I didn’t recall seeing them myself. For someone as inexperienced at shopping as she was, Faith had developed a remarkable nose for finding the right gift.
We opened a couple of good bottles, Ma’s choice, and had a quiet but enjoyable family birthday. I did insist that she and Old Hodge leave earlier than usual and promised to load the dishwasher myself for a change.
On Thursday night, I stayed with Abdullah after one of my regular sessions at his factory. His attitude to women appalled me but I couldn’t help liking the bugger.
He rarely left me alone to do a job, but hovered in the background. I’d made the mistake of allowing him to remain on site when I did my first job for him. That had been an advertising shot combining a glamorous model with the heavy machinery he manufactured. With no changing facilities, the girl had reluctantly changed on the set. Abdullah had been so entranced by the sight of her naked that he’d doubled her fee on the spot and in cash.
I had to make it very clear that her body was not for sale for sex. She was a professional model; not at all like many of the amateurs I used for my own work. But Abdullah, in common with so many who don’t know the game, automatically equated her willingness to shed her clothes with a wish to engage in sex. It was a willingness she didn’t possess.
I was half way through Thursday’s shoot, this one without the added glamour since the shot was for the Islamic market, when he asked me to take a few shots of his latest woman. I didn’t welcome the prospect as Abdullah had a penchant for women with ugly faces.
‘For me? Yah, you do it for me, Leigh? Please, yah?’
I nodded. The machinery was going nowhere. A half hour break for his girl would keep him sweet as a client with plenty of spending power.
He brought her in. Tall, willowy with large firm breasts that seemed too big for her slender frame to support. She was slim hipped and walked elegantly on slender shapely legs that went up to her armpits. The face, however, belonged to a donkey and was a cruel jest played by a Creator who I had long judged uninterested in what was created. She was holding something in her hand and, once she’d shed her clothes, she slipped a brown paper bag over her head.
I could have wept for her but the pathos was lost on Abdullah who saw this as a huge joke and urged me to picture her as she was. She went along with his wishes, weaving her sensual body into erotic and pornographic poses. I colluded, shooting the variations on this sick sideshow. When I’d done, she removed the bag and curtseyed with extraordinary dignity. I caught the deep sadness in those grey hooded eyes and, for a brief moment, communed my sympathy in silence. She nodded just once, dressed quickly and walked from the room with her paper bag in one hand.
‘Don’t dust the mantelpiece as you stoke the fire, eh, Leigh?’
It was all I could do to nod briefly before returning to the machinery. I wondered at the hypocrisy that allowed him to view such pictures whilst insisting on everything being correct for the advertising in his homeland. Money, of course, was what drove his public adherence to cultural and religious rules he ignored in private.
That evening, she was in his home in diaphanous gold over skin and playing the perfect hostess, without the bag. The woman he’d obtained for me wore a red microskirt and transparent white blouse. She had an adequate body and a face to match and did her best to provide the service she thought I desired. It was professional, enthusiastic even, but without warmth and left me feeling unclean. I was happy to escape the house early next morning to return to Longhouse.
I walked into the office to discover Faith on her feet, red in the face, shouting at Merv who was lurking in the doorway from the studio. He was too slow to cover the object that had caused Faith’s anger and I knew I had stormy waters to calm.
I clouted his ear. ‘Idiot!’ And pushed him out of earshot. ‘You know how easily offended she is. What are you trying to prove?’
‘Asked for it. Called me a pervert, it did. Said I was no use for nowt. I were just offerin’ to show it what I could do if it liked.’
I shook my head. He would never accept that women found him repulsive and his behaviour made them loathe him.
‘Why’s it think it’s for if it ain’t for fuckin’? It’s got that; I got this to stick up it. Why’s it think it’s any different from the rest?’
It was pointless even attempting to argue. If he hadn’t been so good in the darkroom, I would have ditched him the day I took him on. ‘Just don’t do it, Merv. Whatever your reasons, don’t do it. Okay?’
‘Yeah. Don’t know why it’s so up-fuckin-tight, though.’
‘No, I don’t suppose you do, Merv.’
Faith had calmed by the time I returned. Keen to get past the incident with Merv, I told her I’d given him a rocket and moved swiftly to a topic I knew would engage her. ‘Ready for this evening?’
I hugged her and she fell willingly enough into my arms. The difference between that warm, chaste embrace and the professional efficiency of the previous night was astounding. I wondered, again, what the key might be to freeing her up enough to take her that one step further. And then remembered I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about her in that way just yet. I went to change. Her mother and sister should be women I could enjoy straight away and I wanted to meet them at my best.
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11 May 1997 - Gary Kasparov, World Chess Champion, was beaten by an IBM computer. Was this the first stirring or artificial intelligence?