|Vast: A Novel
Ch. XVIII: A Secret Place
by Nicolas Travers ©
Colin is more than a little twitchy on Sunday morning. He covers his nervousness by burying himself, first in the Mail on Sunday, then in the Sunday Times, and flatly rejects Jane's suggestion that he drive to Beaconsfield for a peace-making Sunday lunch. Jane is also uncertain, partly because she shies away from the prospect of having to explain to her father why she no longer wants to leave Colin, and partly because she suspects, deep within herself, that Colin has something unpleasant up his sleeve. But Sarah keeps on nagging at her, because she wants to rebuild links with her grandparents, and finally she decides she will go, if only for the sake of peace and quiet, and mother and daughter leave just before midday.
Colin brews himself a strong pot of coffee, and drinks half a cup, reads a couple of Sunday Times financial stories without taking them in, and tries to assemble a cold lunch. But he can think about nothing but his approaching rendez-vous, and his mind is a storm of conflicting emotions: with passion urging him forward, virtue counseling abdication and retreat, and natural prudence prey to the direst possible fears.
This conflict twitches him up into something approaching a frenzy of expectation as his kitchen clocks ticks slowly towards three o'clock. At twenty to three he can wait no longer: the weather outside is cloudy, but warm and dry, and it is time for him to go - it will take him all of ten minutes to reach Bolton Road, and he would not, for anything in the world, be deliberately late.
Bolton Road is empty, and quiet, a road lined on one side with large detached houses set back in their own gardens, and bounded on the other first by the abandoned buildings of a derelict factory earmarked for redevelopment, and then by a high brick wall enclosing the grounds of a large girls school. Colin sees Dorothy as he turns a slight curve - she is already waiting for him, wearing her sister's coat, and she lifts a hand in greeting, and starts to walk towards him as he quickens his pace, and he realises that his heart is pounding with an excitement that he has not felt for many years, and has sometimes thought never to feel again.
She smiles up at him as they meet. "I thought you might not come." Her eyes are searching his, and he wants to bend and kiss her, but Bolton Road, though deserted, is still too public, and he can only smile in return. Then her face clouds a little. "But I've had to leave Prince at home. He was fast asleep, and I didn't want to wake him."
Colin is transfixed. There is so much that he wants to say and to do, and so little that he dare express.
"Come on, I'll show you a hidingplace, where we played as kids." Dorothy takes his hand and walks towards the entrance to the derelict factory. Part of a wire mesh barrier has been torn to one side, and they can both slip through quite easily. She leads him unerringly through an office building where all the doors and windows have been smashed, and across what might once have been an ornamental garden, and Colin has a sense of taking part in some teenage adventure, and it is a magic feeling of innocence.
Then they walk through another deserted office building, and climb a flight of stairs and step gingerly along a corridor lined with empty doorways, each opening onto a vandalised room with smashed windows. Another empty doorway at the end leads to a second staircase, and they climb until they are out on the roof, level with the roofs of the houses surrounding the site, and it is a wide expanse of bare concrete with a small hutlike building at one end.
Dorothy stops, and opens her arms wide, in a gesture that mixes possession and pride. "This is my secret place." She turns to Colin, and her eyes are shining. "I bring Prince up here sometimes, and we play together, and nobody can see us, or know we are here."
She is still holding his hand, and she presses it to show the strength of her feeling, and suddenly all his prudence, and anxiety, and fear leave him. He tugs at her hand, pulling her against him, and her eyes are burning with a fierce tigerish light. She raises her face to his, and they kiss, lips first touching tentatively, and then greedily as mutual passion transcends caution, and they are two lovers oblivious to the world.
Then they part, and Dorothy draws back from him a little. "I knew I should bring you here, the moment I saw Prince liked you, the first time we met." Her voice is soft and gentle, and Colin feels a little ashamed of the heat now flaring inside him.
He kisses her again, trying to control himself. "I wish." He pauses, conscious that he is about to enter a new world, but still mastered by fear. "I wish we were the same age."
It is a trite thing to say, and he immediately feels foolish. But Dorothy is laughing.
"But we are, to each other, aren't we?"
She kisses him again, pressing herself up against him, and his desire is now almost irresistible.
"But we'd have dates, and go out together." He finishes lamely, because there is so much more that he would like to say. "We could..." But he breaks off, for there is a limit to his courage.
"We could look after each other." Dorothy completes his sentence, and they are both silent, and Colin's hopes trumpet a clarion call, but fear still bars the way.
"I could try." Her voice is very low. "I'm not much of a cook, but I could learn."
Suddenly Colin realises what she is saying, and her meaning, and a great joy explodes in his mind.
"You'd have to run away with me." He punctuates his words with small kisses, and he is thinking of his Glotech envelope, and massive winnings downstream, and the logistics of finding a small flat somewhere near Queensway, and starting a whole new life, and it is all a reckless madness, but a madness now dictating a wholly irresistible momentum, and he is swept beyond caring.
"I'll help you become a famous writer, and keep you warm when it's cold, and we'll travel all over the world." Dorothy is tugging at his hand, and now she is leading him towards the small brick building at the end of the roof. It still boasts a door, secured by a large padlock, but she bends and feels deftly under an abandoned brick, and she is holding a key.
She holds the key up, and smiles, and unlocks the door, pushing it open, and they are looking into a small room lit by one small broken window, with a pile of mattresses set against one wall.
"Boys from our school used to come her to mess around with drugs." She prods at the top mattress, and swings it to one side, before sending a second and a third flying after it, tugs a fourth free to lay it on top of its companions, and squats down it, patting it into shape.
Colin feels a twinge of alarm. "Did you?"
"Do drugs?" Dorothy frowns. "Not me, I've never even smoked. We all knew about his place, some of us girls used to come up when they were here, to scare them."
She waits for Colin to step through the doorway, and locks the door carefully behind her. Now they are close in the dusty space, and she holds out her hands, and pulls Colin towards her, and they are kissing again. Then she raises her arms, and starts to take off her raincoat, and stares at him intently for a moment, and slowly, very slowly, takes the coat and rubs the smooth lining against his face.
Colin is carved in stone. He can feel himself falling, and his lust has passed beyond bearing, and he is transfixed.
"Do you like it?" Dorothy's voice is barely a whisper as she caresses him. For a moment she stares up at him, and then gently lays the coat to one side, and starts to unbutton her dress, and she has no bra, and her breasts are young and full and symbols of her own desire, and Colin's spell is broken. He caresses her gently, and she is wholly naked against him, deftly unbuttoning his shirt and helping him free himself from his trousers and underpants, and then they are lying joined together, and their movements unite their pleasure, until she begins to pant a little, and moan softly, and then lets out her breath in a long exhalation of satisfaction, and it is a culmination for both of them.
Afterwards they are both silent for a long moment of time, clinging to each other and embedded in each other. Then Dorothy smiles softly, nuzzling her cheek against his.
"You held yourself back, didn't you?"
Colin nods, and touches her nipple with a tentative fingertip.
"It was nice." Her voice sings with the certainty of joy. "Can you always do it like this?"
He nods again. Jane has trained Colin well in the exchanges of satisfaction, and always enforced joy as a mutual goal. Pleasing has long been an integral part of pleasure.
"And will you really run away with me?" Now they are nose to nose, qand part of each other, and sharing a devotion that transcends all boundaries of age and convention.
"I will." Colin says the words solemnly, and it is a commitment.
"Will you stay with me?"
He nods without speaking, for his feelings have moved beyond words. He is now in a new world, and Jane and Sarah and his Victorian cottage home are nothing but shadows in a fading memory.
Dorothy tightens her arms around his neck, and they are close again. "We'll be happy for ever and ever." Her voice is soft as she embraces him. But her softness is also a brand that sets a fire burning in him again, and he presses into her, seeking to penetrate her even more deeply, and she begins to sigh, drawing in long staccato breaths as they move together in a rolling conjugation of desire, until her sighs rise to a keening, almost tearful pitch, and she is suddenly thrusting under him, and Colin matches her movements with an almost frantic drive of his own, seeking to achieve his own fulfillment before she is spent, and they collapse together, and their exhaustion is both completeness and completion.
Then they lie together, quiet now and parted, caressing each other from time to time, and it is a moment for mutually sated happiness and a communion of dreams.
Dorothy drifts into a drowsy reverie, and sings quietly to herself in her heart, savouring the full fragrance of her conquest. Now she knows that Colin shares her ambition to escape, and that he will run with her, and be her man, and she is content.
She stretches lazily, and her hand rustles against her sister's coat, and she wonders for a moment why such a thing should rank so large in a man's way of thinking, and then pushes the thought to the back of her mind. Colin is a clever man, but she guesses that he is sadly mixed up about sex, and suspects that the coat may be no more than a symptom of frustration. It is plain that he wants her for herself, more than some symbol, and that he is not obsessed, and therefore it is not important: she will play all the games he needs to rebuild himself, and invent more, if need be, as a bond between them.
They lie together in the dark of the small building, and time flows past as they explore each other, and they might be lost in another world.
Then, suddenly, they are both alert. Voices are talking outside the door, perhaps four or five different voices, young, maybe male, possibly female.
Colin sits up in the semi-darkness, and scrabbles panic-stricken for a garment, and closes his hands on Dorothy's raincoat, and clutches it in front of him, but the cold smoothness of the material is now as much a threat as any salvation, and he drops it again, patting wildly across the mattress for his shirt. His mind conjures up burly uniformed security men, threatening questions and accusations, public humiliation and scandal.
Dorothy puts her hand on his arm. "Ssh." Her voice is no more than a breath of sound. "They're teenagers. They'll go away in a minute."
The handle to the locked door of the small hut rattles, and the door judders. The voices retreat, and seem to be conferring, and then someone is rattling at the broken window, to the accompaniment of more discussion and muted giggles. It sounds as though two or three girls are gathered outside.
Colin looks at Dorothy in terror. She shrugs, holding the forefinger of her left hand to her lips, her right hand still on his arm.
A face is silhouetted in the window. It is a teenage girl, screwing up her eyes to see in the darkness. "Who's in there?"
Her voice is unnaturally aggressive, the voice of bravado.
Dorothy stiffens. "Push off." Her voice is hard and sharp.
The face withdraws a little, and then returns, sniffing as though to catch a scent. "Are you girls in there?"
"We're minding our own business."
"How many are you?"
Dorothy leans towards Colin, her mouth close to his ear. "It's just a bunch of girls."
"We've got some boys coming. We'll thump you if you don't come out." The girl's voice is braver now, and challenging.
Dorothy sighs, pushing at Colin. "You'll have to go and thump her."
Colin is petrified. "I can't, I'm not dressed."
"That doesn't matter." Dorothy scuffles under the mattress behind her and holds up a short wooden stake. "Stick this in her face, and yell at her. They'll go then."
Reluctantly Colin edges to his feet, supporting himself on the stake, and then lifts the wood to hold it in both hands like a spear. He is naked, moving crablike across the welter of mattresses until he is perhaps two feet from the window.
A hand touches the back of his leg and he halts uncertainly. Dorothy raises herself to stand at his side. She takes the stake from him and jabs sharply at the window, and a voice outside squeals sharply in pain. Dorothy moves closer to the window, drawing Colin with her.
"My boyfriend says you've got ten seconds to get off the roof." Her voice is a snarl, and she nudges Colin.
"Ten seconds, or as long as it takes to get my trousers on." Colin's voice is a matching growl - Dorothy's defiance is infectious, and he has located his clothes. He drags on his trousers quickly, and takes the stake and moves to the door, turning the key with his free hand.
The lock is stiff and rusty, and the key turns slowly. He steps out, naked to the waist and shoeless, but the roof is empty, and it is as though it had been deserted forever.
Dorothy looks out over his shoulder. "Have they gone?"
She surveys the roof and then draws him back into the storehouse, looking up at him, with her face barely an inch from his, and kisses him quickly, and she is smiling ruefully. "We'd better go as well, just in case they really have boys coming."
Neither of them speak until they are dressed again, and then they hurry away from the storehouse like fugitives, to descend the stairs quickly into the abandoned factory building, and retrace their steps along the deserted passages.
They are on their way out of the building when a banshee wail breaks out, screeching from the anonymity of one of the smashed windows.
"Dotty, Dotty, we know who you are are, Dotty."
The derelict factory is silent for a moment, and then a second voice howls an echo, and a third voice echoes the call again, and it is the sound of wolves howling in concert as they stalk a prey.
Colin halts uncertainly, but Dorothy tugs at his arm. "Don't stop, or they'll make trouble, and people will come."
Now all three voices are calling in chorus, and the sound is a witch howl of hatred. "Dotty, Dotty, Dotty."
They cross the remains of the factory garden and hurry through a building again, and voices are screeching behind them again.
"We'll get you, Dorothy Sorrow, you and Sarah Vast's dad. Just you wait and see. He'll get nicked, 'cos you're under age, and then he'll go to jail."
The hidden voices join in mocking laughter, and the screeching echoes in a chorus of hate.
Colin stumbles, frozen for a moment by a stab of terror, but Dorothy tugs at his arm again, and they are running for their lives, and do not stop until they are well along Bolton Road, and safely clear of the derelict factory. Now he is panting, and out of breath, and his heart is thumping, and he has to hold on to a wall at the side of the road to keep himself from collapsing. He stares at Dorothy, and she avoids his eyes.
"They said." He has to pause for fresh breath, and his fear saps at him. "They said you're underage."
"I'm going to be sixteen soon." Dorothy is defiant.
"Soon?" It is a condemnation, and a sentence, and he must know.
"Next year." Her voice is very small, because now she is no longer certain.
"They'll crucify me." Colin's voice is flat, and drained. But strangely, although he is terrified, his terror is also something outside himself, a threat he can face, and fight, providing he does not have to fight alone.
"They won't be able to, I won't make any statement, nothing." Now Dorothy is in tears. "There was a girl in the papers, she went with a boy, but they couldn't touch him, 'cos she wouldn't talk."
Colin's mind whirls, but his fear is a cold frozen waste, and the ice may yet bear him. It is a moment of truth, and he makes his decision.
"We'll have to run away." He takes a deep breath. Dorothy has stopped crying, and is holding her breath. "You'll have to come up to London, we'll find somewhere to stay."
"Tonight?" Her eyes are glistening, but now they are brilliant with excitement.
He nods. He is mad, and he knows he is mad, but he no longer cares. "I'll meet you at the Castle station, as soon as I've packed."
Dorothy stares at him, and then quickly reaches up and links her arms around his neck, and they kiss briefly. A moment later she is gone, hurrying away towards her home. She turns just once, to wave, and then disappears at a bend in the road.
Their parting is watched by three teenage girls standing silently at the gate to the derelict factory. One of them frowns, as though trying to recall something, and then smiles slowly.
"Doesn't Sarah's dad have an answering machine?" It is a rhetorical question, for she plainly already knows her answer, and is merely mobilising approbation.
Her companions turn to look at her, and a second girl nursing a bruise on her cheekbone scowls. "She goes out on Sundays."
The first girl is unconcerned. "We can leave her a message."
A third girl titters. "With hankies over our mouths, so she can't recognise us."
The three girls laugh together, and it is not a pleasant sound.
To Be Continued...
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