tagNovels and NovellasOne Rainy Afternoon

One Rainy Afternoon


Prologue: 21st April 2013

My name is Jim Baines. Born in Nottingham, England, October, 1978. White. Male. Thirty-four years old. Eleven stone, six pounds as of last Saturday. Five-feet eleven. And honest, with it. Could have said six feet and, well, it's not like you'd have ever known, is it? But I've always had a thing about accuracy. A bit OCD maybe. Like to get the details right, you know?

Bear that in mind for later. When I'm telling you shit that you're going to have a much harder time believing.

Look at me and you'd probably think; average guy. Not bad looking. Keeps himself in shape. Look a bit harder and maybe you'd think; actually, you know what, he's better-looking than I thought. Definitely looks good for his age, anyway.

I guess not drinking, not smoking, not fucking myself up with drugs and working out regularly means I can still pass for late-twenties. Maybe even younger. And somebody had the right genes somewhere along the line for me to inherit a pretty good masculine shape. Forty-inch chest. Thirty-two-inch waist. Oh, and a thick mop of brown hair, with a hairline that hasn't shifted since my teens. But I'm no movie star. On first glance I wouldn't catch your eye. So yeah, you'd think; average guy.

You'd be wrong, though. But, well, more on that later. Much more.

For now, I guess there's other stuff you need to know about me. Actually, no, scratch that. There's other stuff that I need you to know about me. Because I know, later on you're going to judge me harshly. Perhaps rightly so. But I need you to make that judgement at least being in possession of, well, the key facts. The background. The mitigating circumstances. The... yeah, okay, the lame attempts to justify the unjustifiable.

Whatever. It's stuff I need to tell you before we get on to... well, the reason you're reading this shit in the first place. So, here goes nothing.

At age twenty-four, I'd thought I was the luckiest man alive. I'd finally married Katie, who'd been with me since I was fifteen and who was so lithe; so elegant; so classically beautiful that I'd never understood how we ever came to be together.

I doubt anyone else could work it out either. Probably thought I was hung like a horse. I'm not, as it happens. See, that honesty thing again? But, well, in their eyes there had to be some reason why such a stunning beauty would be with an average chump like me.

Yet there we still were. The business I'd inherited was finally taking off, after years of hard graft. Katie was about to land a publishing deal for the children's stories she'd always loved to write. And our beautiful daughter Kiera - who had arrived entirely unexpectedly and turned our world completely upside-down eight years earlier - was growing into a clever, funny, confident child who seemed ready to take on anything the world could throw at her.

Yeah, you read that right. Eight years earlier. I really was a father at sixteen. That's not exactly average, is it? Still, it isn't the only reason I'm not an average guy. As you'll find out soon enough.

So, yes, Katie and I had been teenage parents. I can't begin to describe the chaos that had caused for two well-educated kids from respectable families; the utter destruction of best-laid plans wrought by nothing more than a split prophylactic.

It was a traumatic time. My mother had been taken by cancer when I was fourteen and my father had only just started to recover when I hit him with the news that he'd be a granddad. He didn't take it well. In fact, he never really recovered and was dead before Kiera's second birthday from a massive stroke. Yeah, like I said: Traumatic.

Katie hadn't had it much better; a termination had been unconscionable for her - and me - but her parents were obsessed with her future and the consequences a baby would have. The wedge that argument had driven between them was huge. She'd got her way; Kiera was born. But the anger and resentment had lingered on long afterwards. In the end her parents moved away, down to the south coast, and left us to bring our daughter up alone.

It was tough. Somehow, within mere months, Katie and I had gone from revising for GCSEs to raising a child, only to then be hit with my father's death just at the point when we'd thought we were starting to get used to our new lives. All that had pushed us right to the precipice. Right to the edge.

But we'd looked over that edge; held on to each other and got through. Those hard, dark, confusing times were behind us. The future might have looked a lot different from that which our pre-Kiera selves - university-bound, high-flying careers ahead, blithely oblivious to fate - would have imagined. But, right then, at twenty-four, it felt brighter than ever. And I wouldn't have changed a thing.

You'll have guessed by now that it wasn't going to last. Of course, you're right. A freak failure in the steering of an oncoming HGV on the motorway one night and my beautiful, precious wife was taken from me, for ever. Her parents, too. They'd been sat in the back as she'd ferried them up to stay with us for what was to have been a first reconciliatory visit; to finally spend some time with the grand-daughter they'd barely seen.

It had been quick, at least; the impact so severe that all three were killed instantly. And it had been a genuine accident; the investigators on the scene had found the truck was well-maintained. The lorry driver wasn't drunk, tired or on drugs. It was simply a mechanical failure nobody could have planned for. One in a million. Pure chance.

The driver survived; badly injured and crushed by guilt. I remember going to visit him days later in hospital; driven by a strange compulsion to tell him that I didn't blame him. Maybe as much to convince myself of that as to convince him. The two of us ended up crying openly together. His words, such as they were, offered some comfort; it had happened so quickly that Katie would barely even have seen it coming.

But still I tortured myself with thoughts of the terror; the sheer certainty of death that Katie must have known in those last few seconds of her life as she saw the truck crashing through the central reservation in front of her; utterly powerless to avoid the collision. For years afterwards I woke up, shaking with fear, from my own imagined nightmares of that moment.

Even now I couldn't really tell you what happened in the days and weeks which followed the accident. Rage, anguish, despair; tempered only by the faintest sense of gratitude that I still had my daughter who, struck down with tonsillitis at just the right moment, had been too ill to make the return journey with Katie. Pure chance had spared her, just as pure chance had taken my wife.

Pure chance was going to be visiting me again, years later. I just didn't know that, then.

Eventually I emerged the other side; the funerals conducted, the meagre handful of remaining relatives returning to their lives. I attempted to find normality but after only a few weeks I was unable to bear the ache of the memories, still wrapped up in the fabric of the house we'd shared as a family.

I knew it was slowly killing Kiera, too. My gorgeous, carefree little daughter - still just eight years old - had been crushed into a haunted shadow, lost in a child's guilt-driven grief; unable to fathom the mystery of what she had done to cause her Mummy and Granny and Grandpa to be taken from her. It was unbearable to watch her withering under the weight of loss. I felt so helpless; so hopeless. Yet I had to carry on for her. She was my world now.

So, I sold everything. As an only child I'd inherited my dad's house and his engineering business when he'd passed. Even before then, fatherhood had changed me; I'd given up my dreams of university. I had wanted to be earning - needed to be earning - right then to support my beautiful little baby daughter. So I'd gone straight to work at the family firm instead of staying at school. And when dad died, I'd worked hard to keep everything together. More recently I'd got lucky with a few ideas that had taken the business into new territory. It was doing better than ever.

But, for Kiera's sake, it all had to go, along with the house, to give us a proper fresh start. I chucked the proceeds all in with Katie's life insurance and bought a big, comfortable house in a quiet, leafy suburb on the very edge of Chelmsford; a hundred miles away from everything in our past life.

With enough left over to invest in getting a new business off the ground without the risk of needing to mortgage the house, I felt I could give Kiera the security and consistency she'd need to start rebuilding her life; to have a chance of rebuilding herself. It would be hard, for both of us. But it was better than any of the alternatives I could think of.

Pay attention, because this next bit's important.

You're going to wonder why I'm telling you about our new neighbours. Seems a bit odd, right, given all the other things I could be telling you about? But stick with it. If you really pay attention, you'll get a head start on what's going to happen later.

So yeah, pure chance came back for another shot at my life. It turned out that the house I'd found was next-door to a couple, Keith and Sarah, who were a good ten years older than me but had two young children; Josh and Jadie. They were everything you could want from new neighbours; welcoming but not overbearing, friendly but not intrusive.

For Kiera's sake, I told them early on about Katie's death and the reason for our relocation. They were compassionate and understanding, gently letting Josh and Jadie know so that they wouldn't ask Kiera awkward questions. Good people. Decent people. Kind people.

That didn't stop me from betraying them pretty horribly. But that was years later. I'll get to that.

Kiera and I settled in to our new life as best we could. And the kids next door certainly played their part in helping my daughter to feel welcome. I didn't see much of nine-year-old Josh but his little sister Jadie - who, it turned out, was just a few months older than Kiera - soon became a regular visitor to our house. With Keith working overseas much of the time and Sarah a busy accountant, I was only too happy to look after their daughter as it meant company for Kiera.

Before long I found myself juggling my own work hours to maximise the time the girls could spend together. I desperately wanted my broken little angel to make new friends who could help her put herself back together. And a playmate who lived next door and went to the same school seemed like an ideal companion; someone who might just bring some childish joy back into her world and make her forget, if only momentarily, what had brought her here.

As it happened, Jadie turned out to be an utter delight. Ferociously intelligent and insatiably curious; it wasn't long at all before she took Kiera under her wing. I think she saw it as her own personal challenge; to fix Kiera and make her happy again.

If that sounds trite, well, so be it. But I will never forget finding myself speechless, eyes welling up, when one afternoon - just a couple of months after we had arrived - Jadie had left Kiera playing outside to come and find me indoors.

Looking up at me from under her fringe with her big green eyes, she'd said, "I know it's really sad what happened with Kiera's Mummy but I'm here to look after her now. I'll make her happy, I promise, Mr Baines."

She'd held my gaze for a moment before skipping off again. But she was true to her word. Always positive, always smiling; her infectious enthusiasm for life slowly rubbed off on Kiera as the months went by.

And me? Well, for my own part, the best I can say is that I just about coped in those early days. Barely. Sure, it made it easier to see some hope for Kiera but still, I would often descend into black depression for days on end. And whilst I was glad that Kiera had new friends in her life, for me it seemed like nobody could replace my beautiful Katie.

I couldn't let go. I didn't want to let go. So whilst I slowly made new acquaintances and built a new social circle, I never really committed to it. My free time was taken up with the challenges of being a father and mother to Kiera.

What about sex? I mean, let's be honest that's why you're reading this shit, right? Well, it just didn't feature in my life at all in those first years after Katie's passing. A desultory one off the wrist in the shower now and again to relieve the tension but, really, nothing more.

As time went on there were 'opportunities' - friends of friends; casual acquaintances; even the wife of one of my top clients. But I never took any of them. I still couldn't shake the sense of betrayal. And even when finally the memories of Katie began to dim and I felt my appetite begin to re-awaken, I found that I couldn't bring myself to disrupt the delicate balance in Kiera's life by bringing another woman onto the scene. Or, even worse, a string of different women.

So I resigned myself to a sex life which involved nothing more complicated than an internet connection and a box of tissues. It wasn't difficult. Routines, habits; they take the sting out of so much. I thought it would be enough for me, at least until Kiera left home.

I thought wrong.

Still, I did grow used to the absence of a relationship. There were other sources of joy. As weeks turned into months turned into years I saw my beautiful, fragile, damaged daughter slowly but steadily begin to regain her lust for life, thanks almost entirely to her friendship with the amazing little girl from next door. An amazing little girl who quickly became an important part of my life as well as Kiera's.

Jadie spent so much time with us over the years, it soon felt like she was as much part of our family as she was her own. To be brutally honest; probably more so. Keith's job in some global IT outsourcing firm kept him away from home for weeks on end and Sarah worked punishing hours travelling around to her clients. Most weeks I saw their daughter more than they did. We did so much together, just the three of us. Homework. Shopping. Playing games. Days out. Just sitting round the kitchen table chatting about nonsense...

Perhaps missing her virtually-absent father, Jadie delighted in demonstrating to me her amazing capacity for remembering stuff. She had a real gift; she soaked up every bit of trivia I could tell her like a sponge. Kiera was a clever little thing but she like to hide her ability, whereas Jadie loved showing off.

As the girls grew up, their humour developed as well. And whilst Kiera would rapidly tire of my banter - I was, after all, her boring dad and therefore not worthy of continued attention - Jadie seemed to love the verbal sparring, gradually becoming better able to defend herself from my comic barbs.

Sure, there were difficult times. Those tweenie years, which actually seemed to go on well into the girls' mid-teens, were full of hormones and confusion. They were hard for all of us. Kiera had to deal with my clumsy attempts to talk her through the 'changes'. I saw her slip again into dark places - fearful places - as the world once more became a bizarre, threatening maelstrom of confusion.

Even Jadie succumbed for a long while; her bright personality seeming to flatten into two dimensions, sucked into a vortex of strange new feelings which she, like every other pubescent girl before her, struggled to make sense of.

But they both came through it. And finally, ten years since Kiera and I had moved, it looked like the tricky times were all behind us.

They were, until I complicated matters again. Which brings us to the present day.

At eighteen, Kiera and Jadie are both well out of those difficult years and have, somehow, managed to transform themselves into remarkably well-balanced, conscientious, highly-motivated individuals who - nearing the end of their final year in school - show the sort of commitment to their work that I could only have dreamed of at that age. Had I not already been a father by then, of course.

I guess that's a girl thing, maybe? Who knows. Whatever it is, they never cease to amaze me with their efforts. They both bagged a string of A's and A-stars when they did their GCSEs; they now look set to repeat that success at A-Level. And they think ahead, constantly, about their future; both are taking a year out before applying for university, so they can earn some money and minimise the debt they'll end up with. Forward planning, right there.

And, yeah, I'll say it here, right now. Might as well get it out there. They are both seriously attractive now.

I mean, of course I'd think my own daughter was beautiful, right? All fathers do, don't they? But really, honestly, my Kiera is something special. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that I find her attractive - this isn't that kind of story, believe me. If you want to read that sort of shit, best leave now. I might be a man of low morals but, well... incest isn't my thing. At all.

No, what I'm saying is that my daughter is now a genuinely beautiful young girl. Tall, at five-nine and lithely elegant with it; she's clearly inherited her mother's grace and poise, along with her fine features. Long, dark, straight hair. Blue eyes. Alabaster skin. I can barely believe my little girl has, almost overnight, blossomed into this slim, willowy beauty. She looks so... grown up; she could easily pass for twenty-something. She talks like a grown woman too; her voice has lost its childlike sound and gently deepened into a rich, soft tone.

And Jadie? She's like Kiera's perfectly-matched opposite. Blonde, vibrant hair against Kiera's gorgeous dark tresses. Lightly tanned, healthy skin against Kiera's porcelain white. Magical green, sparkling eyes to Kiera's calm, deep blue. A lighter, more girly voice which fabulously contradicts her immense vocabulary and intellect when she talks. Which she does, a lot. So, yeah, Jadie's equally stunning in her own way; she's just down at the other end of beautiful. You know; the cute end. The sexy end.

She somehow looks younger, too; maybe because she's shorter than Kiera by a considerable margin. At maybe five-two or five-three at most - and carrying rather more weight - she doesn't have my daughter's elegance. But, by means of compensation, she has been blessed with the right sort of curves, everywhere. The sort which make it seriously hard not to lose your gaze in, if you're not paying attention. Not good if you're her best friend's dad, right?

Yeah, exactly. Awkward moments, there've been a few... And if you do manage to avoid looking at that amazing chest - 36D, maybe, at a dirty-old-man's guess - or those wondrous legs or that fabulous behind? Well, you just end up looking at a face so achingly pretty - especially when she smiles - that you sometimes still end up lost for words, stumbling and mumbling like you're a clumsy teenager all over again.

So, yeah, they're a pair of stunners. And, somehow, their friendship remains as strong as ever. There's none of that catty rivalry between them that you can get with girls. No bitchiness. No jealousy. To be fair, when I think about it, their friendship has never really faltered; I can't recall them ever falling out properly.

But then, Kiera doesn't know the truth. Not yet, anyway.

I reckon you probably do, though. I mean, it's not so hard to guess, especially after what I've just told you. So, yeah, let's get it over with then. I'm not an average guy. Average guys don't betray their kind-hearted neighbours. Average guys don't allow their baser instincts to override their love for friends and family.

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byjimb1978© 6 comments/ 38830 views/ 50 favorites

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