You Don't Choose Lovebydemure101©
(With many thanks to Stroker_347 who graciously took the time and effort to edit all this and to Northlander for preventing me from making another gaffe. Any mistakes, especially in the car ride which was not edited are all mine.)
Harold Danvers, who preferred to go by Hal, had taken a week off from work. He'd had a rotten time; his father, his one remaining parent, had died and he'd had to see to all the formalities alone; his sister had gone five years earlier, one year after his mother, of lung cancer. She'd always been a heavy smoker, so it didn't completely come as a surprise; still, it had rattled him considerably, the more so since his wife had succumbed to the same disease, only three years into their marriage. That was sixteen years ago now.
After his father's burial he'd spent a few months getting his house into shape. He found a couple of somewhat disturbing things, some of them quite painful, and got rid of them fast. His father had been an inveterate collector, and it had been hard to sift the valuable things from those that were merely nice and the complete junk. He didn't always know and had to consult the Internet quite frequently.
When everything had been sifted, sold, stowed away at his own place and the rest taken to a nearby charity he felt how tired he was, and how fed up with everything, so he allowed himself some time off. He booked a B&B in Wales for the first couple of days, to see what he'd wanted from there. The B&B was alright, and the scenery breath-taking and he had his first good night's sleep in weeks.
He'd brought a pair of walking shoes, and bought a good map at a local bookshop and that first day he wanted to climb the middle mountain top from his place. It was a lovely autumn morning and he thought he'd probably have a wonderful view from up there. The climb was not too strenuous, and he enjoyed the sounds of the birds, the occasional sheep in the distance, a dog barking abuse somewhere... When he'd done one third of the ascent and felt a bit famished, he sat down on a rock appreciating the view and enjoyed a sandwich.
Finished with his frugal lunch he went on - but the weather seemed to be turning a little. He could not see the top clearly any more, and the sky was slowly clouding over. It wasn't long before he realised he couldn't make it to the top; it would be no fun in the mist anyway, and it was obviously dangerous. He consulted his map. There was a horseshoe bend he could walk - it would keep him at the same level for a couple of miles and then go down another slope and lead him back to the main road that he'd travelled the day before, quite close to where he was staying.
The weather kept deteriorating fast. It grew cold and there was a thin rain that slowly seeped through his trousers. He almost lost all feeling in his fingers, and when he had to stop for a wee he could hardly manage the buttons of his fly. But the colours were wonderful, and he walked on feeling rather in two minds about the whole experience. When at last the path started to descend he saw someone approach. He was completely enveloped in plastic and the rain was dripping from his beard. When he was within reach he grinned at Hal. "Isn't this a bracing day?" the other man said.
Hal nodded and they passed the time of day. The encounter somehow lifted his spirits and he finished his walk whistling softly to himself. He went back to his place for a hot shower and a dry set of clothes and then he put a book in his pocket, took his umbrella and went to the George for the rest of the day. The pub was warm and cosy and there was a fire burning in the grate. He was early enough to find a place to sit close to it and he ordered a meal and a drink and opened his book.
The pub was slowly filling up. There was the usual drone of voices, and Hal thought it was really a pleasant place to be in. He had a nice meal, and then settled down to do some serious reading now, pausing to look at the other guests. Outside the thin rain had changed its mind; it was now really doing the works. The door opened and a woman came in. She was wet through and stood shivering at the bar to order. It reminded him of how he looked and felt earlier on his walk up the hill and sent a little shiver through his body. After ordering she walked up to the centre of the room looking at the fire burning and then looking for a seat.
Hal looked at her and said, "Excuse me, but would you like to sit here?"
She glared at him and said, "Yes, please!"
When Hal vacated his place and went over to an empty seat near the window, the woman sat down to warm herself and get dry. Huh, she thought to herself, he'll probably expect me to be grateful or something. She looked at Hal from the corner of her eyes but to her relief he didn't even look at her. He just sat reading some old book or something.
Karen Wade was in a foul mood. She'd forgotten to bring some papers to work, so she'd had to use her lunch break to collect them, and she had not brought an umbrella, and she was tired, and generally, she thought, life was wholly ill-favoured. She ate her food without doing it justice. Then she had a pint of lager and sat brooding, looking into the fire. She glanced again once or twice at the fellow who had relinquished his seat, but he stolidly kept on reading. When she left, the rain had cleared and grumbling a little she walked home.
The next day Hal took the car to drive to Hay-on-Wye. He spent a pleasant day visiting the bookshops; most of them were a little expensive, he thought, but still he bought quite a number of books. In the evening he had a quiet dinner at Roberto's, an Italian restaurant, and then he called it a day and drove back to the B&B.
Karen had looked around that evening to see if that reader was there, but he wasn't. Good. It meant she didn't have to talk to him to redo the fact that she had not even said thank you when he'd offered her his place. Contentedly she'd sat down to her drink.
Hal woke up to another brilliant morning. The weather forecast had promised a clear day, and he decided to give his mountain another try. This time the day stayed warm and pleasant; he managed the top easily as there was no scree, nor did the walk get very steep at any time. The view was wonderful indeed, he thought, and he spent quite some time looking at the distant slopes and the way the colours changed in the distance. "This is just great," he thought.
He returned rather late and he was only just in time to have another meal at the George. He saw the same woman from the other day, sitting at the bar and nodded to her. Then he took his drink to a table and sat down. He took another book from his pocket and opened it.
Karen looked at him read for some time. She thought he looked friendly. He had a crooked nose, and he looked a little scruffy - he could do with a haircut, she thought. He didn't look too dangerous. He made faces at the book, or probably at what he read - it really looked funny. She decided to go and talk to him.
"Hello," she said.
"Hello," Hal replied as he stood up.
"I would like to say thank you for Saturday."
"Oh, not at all. I was happy to. I hope it helped you get dry a little."
"It did, thank you. Mind if I sit down?"
"Please do. I'm Hal Danvers."
As they shook hands, Hal noticed she had a firm but gentle grip, and her skin was soft and her nails were neatly manicured.
"I'm Karen Wade. Er, I sat looking at you read for a moment. Is it a funny book?"
"I think so," Hal replied. "I've really only just started. I went to Hay yesterday, and brought back a couple of things to read." He showed her the book, an old Penguin called Poet's Pub.
"You don't live here, do you?" she asked.
Hal told her he was on holiday, and explained why it had been necessary for him to have some fresh air.
Karen commiserated with him, and decided she liked the sound of his voice. They talked about the environs for some time; Hal bought her another drink and let her talk about her job, her family and her likes and dislikes. He thought she was rather attractive, now that her shoulder length hair was dry, and he quite enjoyed listening to her. He didn't like his own looks; the only time he consulted a mirror was in the early mornings while shaving and after showering. He had a shock of unruly hair, grey, deep-set eyes and he was rather myopic. Anything up to two feet was alright...
He looked at her a little better. She had hazel eyes, dark blonde hair and a wide, mobile mouth that he found very attractive. She seemed to have a good figure but he couldn't really tell because of the cardigan she wore. She talked with her hands, like he did, he thought. She told him that she lived in an old house in town that could do with a thorough overhaul - she was saving up to have it done; she couldn't afford a car because of it. But it was a nice place, she said.
They were surprised by the bell for the last orders.
"Gosh," Karen said, "I've completely forgotten the time. I must rush. Will you be here tomorrow?"
Hal had planned to go on to North Wales, but then - "Yes, I will," he answered with a slight grin.
"OK, See you then," she replied with a smile.
Karen walked home deep in thought. She didn't really know what to think of him, nor of herself for that matter. Why did she have that smile on her face when he said he would be back tomorrow? She had had a couple of short-lived relationships, she liked male contacts, both physically and emotionally, but she had grown rather wary of men. No boyfriends had stayed for more than a month; they'd all proved unsatisfactory in some way or other, and the last one - she still felt a red blush creep up her neck when she thought about him. The bastard. He'd called her slut, and whore, and expected her to like it actually. "Take me in your slut mouth..." Though the others had eventually left her on some pretext or other they'd at least kept up proprieties. There had been no others. Oh well, she thought, talking won't do anybody any harm.
Hal stayed at his B&B for the remainder of his holidays. On Saturday they left early for a ramble in the mountains together. They climbed the highest of the tops, and had a picnic there, and then returned to the B&B to get Hal's car. Karen had agreed to let him take her for an evening meal in a restaurant in the country. Because Karen didn't want to go in her outdoor clothes they first drove to her place.
She had discussed the dinner invitation with Lisa, her one true friend.
"You sure?" she'd asked. "Men always want something out of it..."
"Well," Karen had answered, "if he should attempt anything I'm woman enough to stop him." But she thought it would be alright.
"This is where I live," she said with some pride, as she opened the door of a Georgian house that, though a little in disrepair was essentially beautiful.
"I can see why you like it," Hal replied as he took in its craftsmanship. "It's a beautiful house."
"Yes, I think so. Come in for a moment won't you? I won't be a minute."
Hal was shown into the living room. He looked at her books, saw her passport on the table and surreptitiously opened it to find her birthday was on November 26, and looked with interest at the photographs on a chest of drawers. Most of them seemed to be old, her parents, and perhaps Karen herself as a little girl; one of them seemed clearly out of place. It was a rather worn picture of a small, cone shaped doll with a round head, all covered in beads. He smiled at it; he had a similar doll at home.
When Karen entered the room he looked at her, and asked, "Why is the photograph of that doll on your family altar? Or is that an impertinent question?"
Karen thought a moment and replied, "My parents lived in South Africa for a few years; I was actually born there. They left before I was four years old because they could not stand the system there. It's a Zulu doll I was given. I used to carry it with me, but it got lost, and all I have left is that picture."
"I see. You never found another one?"
Karen shook her head. She preferred not to talk about it. "Shall we go?" she said curtly.
Hal sensed he'd intruded and dropped the subject.
They had a very nice meal and drove back rather late. Hal dropped Karen off at her place.
"Thank you very much for coming with me," he said. "I very much appreciated being with you, you certainly lifted my spirits a lot."
Karen smiled at him and got out of the car.
"I hope we will meet again," Hal said.
"Yes," she said. "Goodbye, then!"
She gave him a little wave of her hand and went in. Hal sat alongside the curb for some time, looking at her disappear into her house and wondering at all the unpronounced things that she kept hidden inside; then he eventually drove off.
Karen put up her coat and went into the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. You could have asked him in for a cuppa, a little voice in her head said. But another voice said she was at least safe again. Well, that was that. No Hal anymore. She suddenly realised she hadn't even asked him where he lived; she had no phone number, nothing. She had not even noticed his registration plate. The cheerful mood of the evening vanished completely.
When her friend asked her later about the end of the dinner she said, "Nothing happened."
"I would think you were sad about that by the looks of you, if I didn't know you any better," Lisa said.
Hal went back to work that Monday. Karen kept churning in his mind. The more he thought about her, the better he liked her. If only he had been able to break through her reserve... in the evenings he worked on making a cardboard box that could house the small doll. He'd taken it off its shelf and sat it in the centre of his desk. He found a piece of thin grey cardboard and drew the contours with a ruler and a T-square. His first attempt was not to his liking; the second was. Then he glued the box together apart from the flap on one end, and finally he used a print of a painted Zulu hut to decorate the box.
Yes, he thought, that was it. He put the doll inside the box and sat it on his desk until the end of November. Then he started to write a letter to accompany it; it took him a long time to get things right, as he was afraid it might offend unknown sensibilities, and he didn't want to risk doing that.
A few days before her birthday Lisa asked Karen what she intended to do.
"I don't know," Karen said. "I don't feel like a party, really. But you are always welcome for a drink, of course."
"Right," Lisa responded. "Did you invite that Hal person over?"
"No," Karen answered. "Couldn't if I would... He didn't leave an address."
"And you never asked!" Lisa said astounded. "I thought you liked him?"
"Hmph," Karen responded. "He could be worse..."
Lisa shook her head and smiled at her. "I think you're silly," she said teasingly.
Karen didn't think so. She told herself that she had never felt ill-treated or insulted any more since she had stopped dating, and that though she occasionally missed a good cuddle she didn't miss the physical aspect overmuch. But it didn't really feel that good.
"Bah," she said. "All men are idiots at best."
Lisa left it at that. She'd known Karen for a long time and she had been told most of the ins and outs of her liaisons, and she knew it would do nobody any good if she went on now.
The day before her birthday Karen was in a rotten mood all day. She told herself it was because she didn't like growing older; she almost believed herself. Lisa didn't, though. She made a playful remark about Hal and she almost had her head bitten off... Karen, oh Karen, she thought. You don't know your own mind.
When she'd stopped working on her birthday Karen bought a few bottles of wine and went home to put her feet up. There were few postcards of old aunts and friends that lived far away, and there was a post office slip saying that she could pick up a registered parcel in town. She put it in her purse.
She made an effort at acting cheerful; Lisa was there with her boyfriend, there were a few other couples and two other single girls and they did have a pleasant birthday party after all.
The next day she went to the post office and picked up the parcel. It seemed to contain a little box. She shook it but it didn't make any sound. She didn't recognise the address and put it in her bag to open it at home. Lisa would came round that evening, too, since her boyfriend would be working late; so she just waited until Lisa was there before she opened it.
"Why didn't you open this straight away?" Lisa asked.
"I don't know," Karen said. "I don't know the address and I wonder what on earth would come in a box this size..."
"Aw, come on. No one in his right mind would send you a pair of knickers, girl," Lisa teased.
That was not exactly what she'd feared; but she didn't reply.
"Now," Lisa said, "are you going to open it or do you want me to do it?"
Karen tore off the paper. Apart from the box she found a letter inside.
"Well," Lisa asked anxiously, "who is it from, and what's in it?"
Karen slit the envelope open. She first looked at the name at the end.
"It's from Hal," she answered.
"I'd expected as much."
Karen started to read the letter. It was dated November 23.
I wish you a wonderful birthday. I hope you don't mind my sending you a birthday present - hopefully you'll have some room for this little traveller. She sat on a bookshelf at my place for years and got dusted down now and again; I looked at her in passing sometimes. Obviously your old one can never be replaced, but maybe you will like looking at this one sometimes. I apologise for the fact that she's not brand new; but that's in the nature of these dolls. I think she should be with you.
Karen stopped reading. She turned very white.
"What's the matter?" Lisa asked. "He's not another one of those creeps you seem to attract?"
"It's a doll," Karen said. She picked up the box, opened the lid, and took out a small doll, covered in beads apart for the face that had a couple of beads for eyes, and black hair made of woollen thread, and looked at it with tears in her eyes.
"It's very much like the one I used to have," she said with a lump in her throat.
"Why don't you tell me all about it?" Lisa said. "It seems to be just a doll to me."
"You know I was born in South Africa. I had a nanny there, an old woman whose face I can still remember even though I was only almost four at the time. She was a Sangoma, they said, a sort of shaman, or medicine woman, and the local population said she was good at divination. She gave me my doll, and she said it would bring me happiness in the end. But when I had my first boyfriend, and we had a fight because he said he wanted to make love to me and another woman together, he got so angry he threw it into the fire. It didn't do me any good anyways."
"Can I have a look at it?" Lisa asked.
Karen passed the doll to her and Lisa studied it intently. "It looks as if it's been played with," she stated.
"Yes, that's what he meant. The good ones really were played with. They're expensive, too. That's one of the reasons I never bought a new one."
"Oh," Lisa said. "They must have been used to be OK, then?"
"Yes," Karen replied again. "That's just it." She stared into the distance for some time. Then she picked up the letter again.
I would like to thank you for your time this autumn, and I'd like to tell you how well I like you - I suppose you noticed. When I said I hoped we'd meet again I really meant that; I hope you do not think I was just making socially acceptable noises.
I would very much appreciate to meet you again at my place; if you do not feel at ease with me on your own you could bring a chaperone.