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       Tempests, p.2

           Michael Carter
 
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oncoming rain, then looked at her watch.

  “Listen,” she said, “I’ve gotta go, I have to look after my sister.”

  Bradley pulled a face. “You mean Louisa? But she’s, what, two years younger than you, about eighteen. She can look after herself, can’t she?”

  “It was while we were in Richmond.” She bit her lip, tenderly. “There was...there was an accident. We don’t know what happened really. The police thought it was a hit and run, you know, but...well, no-one really knows. She’s physically disabled, almost completely paralysed from the neck down. That’s sort of why we moved again.”

  Bradley was dumbfounded. He remembered Louisa in the first year. She was small for her age and could never reach the pegs in the porch to hang her coat up. She was always bright and chirpy and sang ‘Away In A Manger’ too loud in the nativity play. Paralysed from the neck down? No, it couldn’t be. Bradley considered his life to be a bit crap, but this just wasn’t fair.

  “I’m sorry.” said Bradley, feeling that it was worthless, just two empty words that couldn’t change anything.

  “Thanks” said Sarah with a smile, betrayed by the sudden sadness and- was that worry Bradley could see in her eyes?

  “Anyway, yeah, I’ve gotta be back by ten so mum can get to work. But, er, I think we should meet up some time. Tonight, in fact.” She said that last part with great conviction as if it was of vital importance to her needs. “Is that okay with you?”

  “Sounds great. Where?”

  “I don’t much care for pubs. How about just outside Thorleys, about seven o’clock.” Thorleys was the only cinema in the town, although it had closed down when Bradley was twelve, just a few years between his interest in film had blossomed.

  “Okay. Great.” A short pause followed while they both looked at each other. Bradley shook his head.

  “You know, I still can’t believe it’s you.” He said. “ It’s actually you. After all this time.” Sarah’s expression reciprocated the statement better than any words could. Then she swallowed, rubbed her left eye a little, and said;

  “Right, I’ve really got to go. You won’t forget about tonight, will you? It’s important to me.”

  “Impossible.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Thank you, Sarah. I didn’t think I’d see you again. Like ever.”

  “I sort of came looking. It was me who suggested we move back here.”

  She’d begun to walk away now, backwards, slowly,. “You, Bradley, were pretty much the reason for that.” She was further away now, and she half-turned to see where she was going. “Is it true that you’ve never had any other girlfriends?”

  “Absolutely.” said Bradley. He saw little point in trying to conceal the truth now, especially when he’d already bungled it up earlier. Anyway, this was Sarah-Jane. No need for lies.

  “I’ve missed you.” she said, just before turning around completely and disappearing round a corner.

  Bradley was still standing by the fence, getting wetter by the second as the veracity of the rain increased. He watched the corner where she had disappeared and scratched his head.

  “Likewise,” he said quietly to himself. “I just didn’t know it.”

  >

  The building was all boarded up now, had been for years, and no-one else had purchased or leased the property for development. The electrical neon sign still hung on the banner, its flashing days long gone, and underneath, on the white ‘Now Showing’ board, the last films that had ran were still captured, minus a few letters that time had deleted:

  ‘B RN ON HE OURTH OF J Y - - - - - MY L FT FOO ’

  Bradley got to the rendezvous ten minutes early. This was his first ‘date’ since he was 15 years old, and that one had led to nothing. Her name was Emma and she was two years’ Bradleys junior. They had met in the dark and walked around the town for two hours talking and laughing until she had gone home at ten o’clock, giving him a hug for his troubles and leaving him getting wet in the light rain. From that day forward she had shown little interest in Bradley, despite his attempts (Pathetic attempts, he thought) to encourage her.

  After that debacle Bradley had been pretty much free from girls and the harsh emotional baggage they bring with them. He’d been attracted to several females, certainly, quite strongly in certain instances, but he had never acted upon those feelings and thus nothing had ensued.

  But, he thought, as he watched the buses and the cars and the wanderers go by, Sarah-Jane was different to all the other girls he’d known; she had a certain indefinable quality about her, something akin to friendship and caring, but with a hint of passion and genuine feeling for him. He was almost certain that no other females, apart from his own family, had actually cared for him or thought about his feelings. That’s why Sarah was special; he’d seen in her eyes this morning that she’d lost none of her childhood charm, and, now in adulthood, there was a glint of ambition in them too; something that told Bradley that if she wanted something really badly, she would do her damndest to get it. He hoped that, somewhere, he was involved in her intents.

  The sky had cleared a little as the afternoon had progressed and, as is its wont during English summers, the only sunshine of the day had been reserved for the evening, when any day-trippers to the seaside were on their way home. The rain had gone with the heavy clouds and had been replaced with a slight breeze from the South, light and refreshing.

  Bradley was looking up at the sky when Sarah emerged from around the corner. She was dressed as she had been that morning, but none of that natural beauty had dissipated.

  “You made it.” she said, sounding uncertain as to whether he’d have turned up.

  “’Course I did. You didn’t think I wouldn’t come, did you?”

  “I wasn’t sure.” said Sarah, “I thought you might think it was rushing things.” Bradley’s eyes widened.

  “Rushing things? Hell, no; its eleven years since I last saw you. D’you think that’s rushing things?” They both laughed a little, although Sarah’s was riddled with unease.

  Bradley offered his palm – invoking comment – and said “Do I look okay? Am I presentable enough for you?” He’d taken care with his appearance tonight; this morning he had been a bit too casual; jeans with faded knees, old shirt untucked and flapping, not exactly the height of attraction. This afternoon he’d had a bath and a rigorous body-scrubbing, doshed on the Old Spice [or his cheap equivalent], and ironed his best ‘social’ shirt, cream and expensive, and his never-before-worn black jeans, following it up with another shave to boot.

  “You look fine, Brad.” She said with a smile.

  Bradley wondered what to say. “You look great.” he settled on. “You’ve grown up so much.”

  “You’re not so stumpy yourself anymore.” There were more smiles, on both sides, and in the short silence that followed Bradley wondered what came next; what was he supposed to say now.

  “So, what d’you want to do, then?” Sarah didn’t answer, but just looked at him, admiring his ineptitude. “We could maybe catch a bus to Durham. Go to the pictures? There’s a Stallone film on. I mean... there’s probably a.. a nice film, a romance, or-“ He waved his hands around the air a bit, hoping it would help him, but he knew he was just babbling. “Ice skating, maybe?”

  “Actually,” she said, “can we save the socializing for later. I’d love to go,” she giggled, “ice skating with you and go to the pictures and do what other young people do, but...not yet, yeah? A few things have happened to me since the juniors. I need to tell you about them.”

  “Okay.” he said quickly, a bit relieved he wouldn’t have to sit through a hideous romantic comedy film. “Erm, how’s the park suit you?” Sarah smiled lightly and nodded her head.

  “Yeah.” she said.

  >

  “You won’t laugh, will you?” she pledged, looking into Bradleys eyes for insurance. “Please say you won’t laugh at me.”

  “No,” he said, with feeling. “’Course I won
t. You know I won’t.” She broke off the eye contact and they carried on walking, side by side, glancing uninterestedly at the pensioners bowling on the green.

  “When I was twelve I disappeared.” Sarah said, and Bradley’s eyebrows lowered and united in the middle. “I didn’t come home from school one day. See, my mum was working at the junior school, just a couple of days a week, ‘cause she had to look after Louisa the other time.”

  “So this was after the accident?”

  “Yeah, about six months after. It was November and I’d only been at my new school for two months. And cos my mum was at home or at the other school I always had to walk home by myself, only about half a mile or so. But one day, Friday tea-time, I didn’t come home.”

  “So what happened?”

  “Mum says she ‘phoned the school and got the numbers of my few friends and then ‘phoned them, but I wasn’t there. Then she started worrying, I think she thought that I’d been in an accident like Louisa, and she phoned the police. Mum says that they put my description out to all their cars and that they were looking out for me all evening. She even rang a local radio station up and they put my details out. The police couldn’t really do a lot ‘till I’d been gone a whole day, you know, but mum was sick worrying about me.”

  “So...what? Were you hiding somewhere?”

  Sarah swallowed, quite audibly. “I don’t know. Well, I didn’t know till
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