Exorcising Brian Ch. 02byRex Siter©
A reporter for the county newspaper asked, "Could life be any better for you at the moment, Mr Harton?"
Eric, still a little bemused by the rapid events of the past few months, admitted that he could not have wished for a better outcome. Yet, only he knew he carried a patch of lost wonder that steered him away from total satisfaction. A gap deep inside that he could not lose, no matter how hard he tried.
Still, recent events had been an unexpected form of consolation, even if they had been caused, in a remote sense, by that very lost wonder.
After leaving university with a first class honours degree, he had been lucky enough to be accepted by a London newspaper, for a trial period. After covering minor stories, doing what the mass of pressmen he had met over recent days were doing, he had been offered a full time contract. Bigger stories came his way, big court cases, upper crust scandals, and the like. So, he progressed steadily for the next three years. Always, inside him, something cried out for what was lost.
One weekend, after an abortive attempt at filling the gap, and having an unusually clear schedule, he began tapping out on his laptop, something, he hoped, might become a novel. More importantly it might clear the troubled corner of his mind.. He had little plan, a loose set of characters, some very special scenes, but no real idea of where it would go.
However, once he started writing, the whole thing just took off. His imagination caught fire, and he was guilty of stealing time from his actual work, because he just could not stop. The thing practically wrote itself. He was writing of murder, cruelty, intrigue, vengeance with some vivid----
The reporter broke into his thoughts, "Would you admit that the very graphic sexual scenes are what sold the book?"
Eric had to smile, "You'd need to ask my readers, that one."
"Personal experience, Mr Harton? Or wishful thinking?"
Before Eric could frame an answer, his agent Harry Benton broke in, "I think that a highly impertinent question. And since, as has been well reported, the book has attracted the attention of Harvey Stilling, the Oscar winning Hollywood director, it is hardly just the sex"
Being in Bristol was the fourth stop on this promotional book signing tour. "Exceptional for a first time author," Harry had told him.
Eric just could not come to terms with the speed of things once the book had been completed. Through the newspaper, he had been recommended Harry Benton, as a reliable agent, and he had certainly proved his worth. In next to no time he had several editors clamouring with offers. The book had only just been published, and already was tipped for the best seller list. So, at twenty five, Eric was looking at an amazing turn around in his circumstances, and the possibility that he was set-up for life. Consequently, he had resigned his post with the newspaper and start a second book.
A best selling author at just twenty five. It was beyond his wildest dreams. He lay back against the leather of the limousine that was driving them to their hotel.
"Where are we tomorrow, Harry?" Eric asked, his eyes closed.
"Tomorrow, it's a trip to the seaside. Torquay, Devon."
The last word drove like an arrow into that hollow place Eric held inside. Images formed behind his eyelids as though a magic slide show had been switched on. A curvaceous, naked Paula, lying back like a presentation. A .naked back, starkly sensuous. Blue eyes turned up to him as the mouth worked----
No! No! No!
He sat up quickly, rubbing at his eyes. The book was meant to kill off those visions. Yet they persisted. When memory became too much, hadn't he toured around Devon three years ago, looking in phone books, contacting local authorities. But with no firm location to follow, the search had been fruitless. Paula could be anywhere in Devon. If she was, in fact, still in Devon. She could be anywhere.
Eric had become desperate to know whether the rapture of that time had just been a one-off. If it was just the sex, why, after a goodly number of sexual encounters since, did he still see her face when he closed his eyes and opened his heart. Why had she taken root inside him? Trying to convince himself that he had probably passed out of her thoughts didn't help. She would have a totally new life by now. Dejected by that futile Devon search, he had returned to London, where, out of all his uncertainty, he had started the book..
"Something wrong, Eric?"
"No, nothing. Overwhelming circumstances, I guess."
Harry laughed, "Not surprising. I tell you this is going the places. How's the new book going?"
In truth, it wasn't going well. Too much had happened lately.
That night his sleep was invaded by erotic dreams of fingers touching, lips exploring, and when he awoke he was soaked in sweat.
The drive to Torquay seemed to take an age. I am in Devon once again, was Eric's dominating thought. Even though he was forcing himself to bury the significance of that, it kept returning, as the traitor in his head whispered, "Somewhere in Devon there is a certain bungalow." Oh, yes, not many bungalows in Devon, are there? Just a little scout around would trace it. That had been his thinking three years ago. He kept telling himself that he was being absolutely stupid.
In Torquay, the sun was shining, as it should on a July day, and they had a quick lunch before taking a short walk to a large bookshop. As they arrived, Eric could see there were several people already queuing. That was how it had been in London, Nottingham and ---well everywhere.
Inside the shop, Eric was subject to the, now familiar, handshakes, congratulations, and good wishes from management and staff. Soon he was seated behind a white table laden with copies of his book. The garish red cover screamed at him , and, too late, he had thought the title 'Exorcising Brian' could have been better,
The customers, mostly ladies, but with a smattering of men, either asked for a book from the pile or already had a copy which they placed in front of him. Eric had developed a technique in which he kept his eyes down until he had signed a book, and he always asked the name to which he should address his greeting. Then after signing he would hand the book over, and treat the recipient to what, he hoped, was a genuine smile.
After two hours or so, the genuineness of the smile was feeling a bit strained, but, as he signed a book to a 'Roberta,' he vaguely recognised that there were only three ladies left in the queue.
The next lady placed a book in front of him, already open at the inside cover,. "Who shall I make it out to?" he asked, pen poised.
"Sienna." Came the reply.
The name had Eric's hand freeze over the book Something inside him seemed to lurch, as he raised his eyes over a slender figure in a pink button up dress, to a face that had him all but leaping to his feet. Blue eyes, high cheek bones, full mouth, and the hair, that tawny hair, shorter now, but neatly styled. Sheer beauty, so long lost.
"Hello, Eric." Her face broke into a ready smile. "Have I surprised you?"
Eric's mind was churning. This was what he had longed for, wasn't it? Yet now, he was almost speechless with the shock of it. "Paula! Surprise doesn't cover it."
The lady behind Paula gave a loud clearance of her throat.
Paula turned quickly and apologised, while dazedly Eric wrote into her book. As he handed back the book, Eric quickly told Paula the hotel they were staying at. "Just down the road. The annexe bar. Half an hour?"
"I know it," she nodded, and, giving him a quick smile, she picked up her book, and walked out of the shop.
Very briefly, Eric watched that unforgotten hip sway, before another book was slammed down in front of him, with irritated force.
God, he looks better than ever, Paula thought, as she stepped out onto the sunlit street. That look of maturity suited him. Gone were those boyish features. He'd be twenty five now, wouldn't he? So exciting to see him like this.--a success. Just what she had wished for him. It had given her a sense of pride, when she read the book, to find that she had played some distant part in that success.
She was relieved that he wanted at least to talk with her. When she'd discovered that he had a book signing in Torquay she just couldn't let it pass, even though she had serious doubts about seeing him. Paula was prepared for the fact that she was going to be meeting a person who would be far removed from the hunky, brown eyed, man/boy that she had spent just six hours with, seven years ago. How those six hours, and their consequences, had lived in her mind. She had tried telling herself that it should all be locked in the past. A brief episode that she should be able to call a day on. She had tried in so many ways. But, like the words of an old song, there was always something there to remind her.
Then, one day, there he was, smiling at her from a newspaper, an exciting new author. More than anything she realised that he probably had a woman in his life by now. Seeing him interviewed on TV, had told her that he wasn't married, but that didn't mean much these days.
Walking down to the hotel, she casually flicked back the front cover of the book to read his inscription. It stopped her in her tracks as she read:
'To beautiful Sienna, who simply brings on the sunshine.'
A long forgotten melting began inside her. Was there real meaning to be taken from those simple, touching words? Why had she used her pen name when he asked? To see if her remembered? Well, no doubt there then.
A few latecomers had lengthened the queue, so it was more than half an hour before a rather bemused Eric was making his way back to the hotel, alongside Harry. Paula filled his mind. Seeing her so unexpectedly had confused him. He had thought so much about her, hadn't he? Had tried to find her, hadn't he? Yes, on both counts. So why this feeling he had now that she had turned up. Hell, he was more nervous than he had been all that time ago when she had first invited him into her house. And he had been a teenager then.
In the hotel annexe, at a table nearest the door, Paula saw Eric come in with an older man. She raised her hand, but he spotted her immediately, said something to the other man, who glanced in her direction before walking away. As Eric approached, Paula's uncertainty increased. What direction could their conversation take? Not old times. They had been brilliant, but too short. Just what was she expecting from this encounter? Certainly nothing like their last meeting. So, why did she build herself up for disappointment, as his tall figure, immaculate in a dark suit, came to the table
Unsure of himself, Eric pushed through the revolving entrance. There she was. So close, hand half raised, still lovely to look at. He told Harry he would see him later, and tried to adopt a purposeful stride to where she sat with a cup of coffee or tea in front of her. On the way down he had tried to invent a smart greeting, but now that she was there in front of him all he could do was bend swiftly, kiss her cheek gently, and murmur, "Paula, you look good." In bending, he had rested one hand on the table, and the rest of the annexe vanished as, for a few seconds, her hand covered his. An electric charge from long ago. He sat down, staring dopily into those blue eyes.
Paula could only reply, "So do you." But how her hand had moved to cover his she had no idea, but it felt so right. How strange that he seemed so lacking in confidence. She had half expected him to be more outgoing, more flamboyant, given his new social standing. It seemed right for her to open the conversation, as she removed her hand from his. "Thank you for what you wrote on the inside cover. That was sweet."
"It was true," he replied.
Paula liked that. "I was so delighted to follow your success."
"Right out of the blue," he said.
"You might say that," she said, in a teasing tone that Eric so readily remembered, "but a certain part of it is right out of your--our life, isn't it?"
"So you've read it?"
"That title. Could I resist. It's me, isn't it? Your female character."
"I can tell by your smile----your choice of name for her, Pauline. Very close. That section, that one reviewer called the raunchiest writing he'd ever read. You captured that so well." Paula was sure Eric's face had reddened. "You're not embarrassed, are you.?"
Eric hadn't been---until now. Yet he didn't know why. If Paula had read it, she was bound to recognise the setting, not to mention the activities described. "Not really," was all he could say.
"Hair colour, eye colour. Copulation on a kitchen table-----and that shower scene." And she gave him a wide honest smile. "Your description of what pleasure the male character, the cop, Eddy, felt in that scene--I hope that was an accurate recall of how you felt."
Eric was struck by a quick image of those eyes looking up at him, gauging his pleasure, while her generous mouth worked its magic on him. Now, staring into that face, trying to find signs of the passing years, Eric had to admit, there were none. So, to change the subject, he told her that.
"Thank you---the wonders of modern skin cosmetics." Inwardly delighted at his comment, Paula wasn't yet prepared to leave the subject of his book. "But you had me---er, Pauline, murdered---and by Brian, of all people."
"He was a hate figure," Eric replied, knowing what question would be coming shortly.
"Is that why you kept his name the same?"
"Loved the way you got rid of him. But what made you kill Pauline off?"
There it was, the question he knew he could only answer honestly, and he looked into her eyes as he replied, "I thought I might exorcise you."
"And did it work? The book ends with the hero appearing to have found another woman. Did you?" She didn't really want to hear his answer to that one. But she needed to know.
"Several," Eric replied bluntly. "Most of them at university, one or two since." Her hand was resting on the table, and he reached out to touch it with his fingertips. "The book---the women---all massive attempts at exorcism--none worked."
Paula felt her heart thud against her ribs. Was this what she wanted to hear? The touch of his fingers had been so warming, so natural, so genuine. And he was staring at her with such intensity.
"And you?" he asked. "Have you---"
"I got married," she told him, and seeing the fall in his expression, she immediately added, "And divorced---two years only. Mutual agreement. There were reasons, but settle for the fact that he thought I was a cold fish. "
"You?" Eric was astounded at that information.
"Perhaps you got the best of me, Eric. Marriage couldn't eradicate that."
"Is that what you were trying to do?"
She shrugged, "I had been here just two years, and he was the first man since our encounter. Just a mistake."
They sat looking at each other. Words seemed superfluous now, as they each wrestled with the implications of what had been said so far.
"Excuse me, Mr Harton. You are Eric Harton, the author, aren't you? I wondered if you would be kind enough to sign my book."
The hurried voice, words sputtering out like rapid fire gunshots, broke into their silence. Eric looked up to see a diffident middle age lady standing over them, holding out his book. Collecting his sensibilities, and with a little shrug towards Paula, Eric nodded , and managed a smiling, "Of course." Taking the lady's pen he scribbled a quick greeting and signature.
"Oh thank you," the lady gushed. "I've enjoyed it so much." Then spotting the book beside Paula she added, "Oh, to find a man like that Eddy, eh?"
As the lady moved away, Paula gave Eric a wry smile, "I wonder where you can find a man like that?"
Eric felt it was time to test the water and he said, "What now?"
"What now, indeed," Paula responded. Deep inside, her body was telling her exactly what she would like now. The unbidden wish to have him inside her once again was surfacing. Yet the more rational part of her brain was telling her it just couldn't be as easy as that..
"Are you still in the bungalow you were moving to?" Eric asked. His 'what now' question had been an attempt to clarify his own tangled emotions. To have and hold what still looked like a most delectable body, was so appealing. The tightening in his groin told him that. More rationally he could tell himself that just being near her felt like some kind of release.
"Oh, yes, it's a delightful setting. You must see it--" She paused, "sometime." There was a very good reason for her adding that last word. If this was just a casual once only encounter, then it was almost over now. Is that what she wanted?
Eric had told her of his situation. Now he had to ask, "Is there --? Have you got--?"
"There's no man in my life, if that's what you're asking?"
"Then we can meet again?" He sensed that there was something else she hadn't told him. That hesitation about him seeing her bungalow had puzzled him.
Paula glanced at her watch, "I have a meeting arranged with my agent in Paignton shortly, but tomorrow---"
"Tomorrow I'm in Plymouth, the last signing. Your agent, you say---so you're still writing."
"Have to keep the wolf from the door."
"I did read a couple of Sienna Gold books." he admitted. "Very romantic. But well written. You should try something more adventurous." Eric shook his head, " Listen to me--the wise old first time author."
They laughed together before Paula told him," I did start one book, written in my own name---But gave it up. Glad I did when I read yours.."
Eric felt that they were circling the real situation. "Could we have a meal together, day after tomorrow, say?"
"Thursday? Should be fine."
"Why not here? Food's very good, they say"
"I'll look forward to that," Paula said, getting to her feet.
"Seven thirty?" There was a boyish thrill for Eric in making this particular date. He would have been back in London by Thursday. So he would book himself in here for a couple more nights.
Paula stepped round the table and stood close to Eric. She raised her head without committing herself, but immediately Eric bent and kissed her full on the lips, warm, gentle and short. Her eyes held his for a moment, before she said, "Until Thursday then." And very deliberately she walked away, out through the revolving doors, without looking back.
Eric stood and watched her trim figure moving away. She never looked back, and her response to his impetuous kiss had been cool. Had today just been a polite gesture on her part? Yet she had found him, had agreed to meet again, had said he could see her bungalow in a sort of begrudging manner, and what about the way she'd covered his hand as he sat down?
For Paula the time up to Thursday evening seemed to crawl. But it gave her a chance to clarify her own thoughts. There was no doubt that Eric had been pleased to see her, had admitted not being able to erase her from his memory. He had even made her a major character in his potential best seller. But were his intentions just a pursuit of a long ago sexual memory?
God, hadn't she found herself wanting him so many times over the years? Was she just wanting to relive the dream? It could never be just like that again. She needed to clarify so many things before she could allow him totally into her world. There was something he needed, no deserved to know, but she had to see signs of commitment before that could be resolved. That was the key word; commitment.
For Eric, the Plymouth book signing had been a major distraction, almost an irritation, and he'd never imagined that he would think that. Having seen Paula again was all that filled his mind.
He told Harry that he would not be returning with him to London.