Rag Doll Ch. 02


Ashley grinned at me and hugged her friend.

"Judy, this is Nicky, my...friend, from England; Nicky, this is my best friend, Judy Nixon, founder member and current president of The Loser's Club!"

I shook hands with her. "It's nice to meet you, Judy, I'm very pleased to finally meet some of Ashley's friends!"

She beamed at me, and looked at Ashley's secret little smile.

"Whoo, that accent, how do you stop yourself climbing all over him...wait...NO, you already have, Ashley, you slut! Fucking-A, girl!"

Ashley was blushing scarlet, but grinning slyly, and Judy started demanding details. I felt I should say something at this point.

"Hello, excuse me, I'm still here..." and Ashley picked up on what I was saying, damping down her friend with a promise to reveal all another time.

"I brought you the English assignment, Jude, it's not due back 'til Monday, so no need to go crazy. There's also a History assignment, and oh, look, a math assignment!"

Judy took the papers from her and flicked through them

"Thanks Ash, I was afraid I was going to have to fuck that creep to get my English Lit grade, you saved me from a completely forgettable experience!"

The two of them hugged and we left as we had to be back to help finish dinner. On the way down the stairs, she explained why she was bringing assignments to her friend.

Apparently Judy likes to wear very short skirts, and very skimpy underwear, and the English teacher always made her sit in the front row, on the pretext that she needed watching. During the lesson, he would gradually slide down lower and lower in his seat until he was staring up her skirt at her crotch. She had objected, vocally, and at some length, using certain short and expressively robust Anglo-Saxon words, and had gotten herself suspended for a week, hence the side-trip for us.

As we were walking back to the car, I saw that one of the double-garage doors was up, and there was a man with the bonnet up on a black Range Rover Vogue, looking baffled. Ashley waved at him.

"Hi, Dr. Nixon! Problems?"

He waved back distractedly.

"Hello Ashley, yeah, something's wrong with the suspension, it's not adjusting, and I just spoke with the dealership, their so-called experts were out here earlier, they couldn't work out what the problem was, and now they're saying 4 weeks for a replacement air-suspension. 4 weeks!"

She nudged me. "Nick knows British cars, do you want him to have a look?"

Dr. Nixon Looked at me. "Are you a mechanic, young man?"

"Yes I am," I replied, "newly qualified, but I have a Jaguar-Land Rover certification."

He looked closely at me.

"English, eh? Well, you should know about these cars then. What's your opinion? New air-suspension system?"

I took the keys from him and turned the engine on and pressed the EAS button three times to jack it up fully, but not feeling the car rising up.

I went to the front of the car and unclipped the plastic cover to the suspension compressor at the left side of the engine bay, undid the three mounting nuts with a spanner from the open tool kit on the bench next to the car, and disconnected the outlet hose from the compressor for the air-suspension system. I could feel the motor gritting and vibrating, and when I put my finger over the outlet nozzle I wasn't feeling anything like the pressure I should have felt if it were working properly.

I grinned over at Judy's dad. "This is your problem, Dr. Nixon; the compressor is basically dead; if you touch it you can feel the impeller gritting and knocking, so the seals and bearings have failed. The good news is, they're nowhere near as expensive as a replacement air-system. They're about £250 in England, so probably about $500 here. It's a common fault with the Vogue and HSE 4 and 4.6 litre EAS models, but not in vehicles as young as this; they usually fail somewhere around 150,000 miles. The good news is, it's easily fixed. If you get your dealer to order you a replacement Land Rover compressor, not an after-market one, I'll come back and put it in for you. In the meantime, don't drive it, you'll permanently damage the suspension, and a complete replacement system costs £4,000 in England, so it would probably be at least double that here."

Dr. Nixon smiled at me, pulled out his cell and dialled a number, when it answered he handed the phone to me.

"Tell him what you just told me, and give him the part you need!"

I spoke briefly to the parts bloke on the other end, reading out the part number on the compressor body, and he gave me a 48 hour collection time.

I handed Dr. Nixon his phone and he grinned at me.

"What's your name, son?"

"My name's Nick, Nick Davies, I'm staying with Ashley and her Mother, I'm ..." Ashley jumped in with "...a family friend from England!"

"Well, Nick, Nick Davies, if you can diagnose the problem in a few seconds, perhaps you and I should have a talk. The so-called specialists from the dealership were here for over an hour, and all they could come up with was that I should probably have the entire suspension system replaced! Are you planning on staying in Albany?"

I told him I was, that I was waiting for my paperwork, that I was an American citizen but brought up in England, so I had to wait for my papers and qualifications to be issued and assessed, and that I was in the process of getting my Social Security number.

"OK Nick, if you come back on Thursday, put that back in for me and get it to work, I think we should have a talk afterwards."

I promised him I'd come as soon as the part was ready, and he thanked me. As we were walking back to the car, he stopped me again.

"Nick, what other European cars are you trained?"

I had to think for a second, all my papers were still with the Employment people,

"I have service and repair certifications for Jaguar-Land Rover, you already knew that, BMW and Mini-Cooper, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Renault and Peugeot-Citroen, SEAT, Volvo and Saab, and I also hold a Lotus powertrain specialist mechanic's certificate. In 5 years, they cram in a lot in Technical College in England!" I grinned.

Dr. Nixon looked at me closely. "Have you got a job lined up anywhere yet, Nick?" he asked, and I confessed that I hadn't looked; I was still waiting for my assessments to come back.

"Look, I have some friends in town who might like to talk to you, how about we get this little problem here out of the way, and then we can start making some calls; with your background, I think some people are going to be very interested in you, so we'll make some calls once you're done here. See you Thursday!"

We shook hands and walked back to the car, Ashley nudging me excitedly. Once we got in the car she leaned over and kissed me.

"Wow, you sure charmed him, Nicky, I'm gonna have to keep a close eye on you!" she laughed. "I think you've scored a hit there! Just imagine, if he could help you find a job, how cool would that be?"

I chucked her chin.

"Don't get ahead of yourself, Ash, I haven't done anything yet!" I reminded her, "Let's see what happens Thursday, first!"

We got home and helped mother with the final preparations for dinner, but it was still only not quite 5 pm, too early for dinner for me, so I told mother I'd take Ashley out for a drive, look around town and relax after the busy day.

"Sure, Nicky, whatever you want, dinner at 6.30 sharp, OK?" she smiled.

Ashley followed me out, trying not to grin, and thanked me politely as I opened her door for her and handed her into the car. When we'd first come in, she'd changed into a tight white polo top and grey sweatpants, and looked lithe and athletic with her glossy, bright bronze hair tumbling loose around her shoulders, framing her beautiful face and setting-off her startling green eyes.

"So where we really going, Nicky, and what do you want to do, as if I didn't know!" she grinned

I looked at her innocently.

"I was just wondering if you had any more 'quiet places' you might want to show me, somewhere we can actually talk, instead of just...you know!"

She cocked her head at me and grinned. "Just...'talk', huh? OK, I'll show you another "quiet place", if all you want to do is...talk!"

I back-pedalled a little. "OK, I may want to do more than just talk, but talk first, OK?"

She winked at me and pointed down the road.

"That-away, Nicky, and don't spare the horses!"

Following her directions, on a different route out of town, we drove a long, meandering route until we were in a rural, almost wild part of the outskirts of town.

"Where are we, Ash? I'm lost, I'm not sure I could find my way home from here." I admitted.

"We're on French's Mill Road, that's Norman's Kill over there. Daddy used to bring me out here when I was small, he used to say this was as wild as he ever wanted to be and still be able to make it back to town if we saw a bear! Of course, there are no bears...or maybe..." she tried to keep a straight face, but started giggling.

"Oh Nicky, you should have seen your face when I mentioned bears! Nicky, this is Albany, not Yellowstone!"

I had to admit, the thought of bears had unsettled me momentarily; I'd forgotten that America has some large and ferocious predators lurking in the forests, not like the UK, where the largest wildlife you have to worry about is the occasional preoccupied badger ambling across the lawn or urbanised fox rooting around in your dustbins.

"So, Nicky, now that we're here, what do you want to talk about, and remember, we're on the clock, boy, so spit it out!"

I got out of the car, helped Ashley out, and leaned against the bonnet of the car, Ashley in the curl of my arm.

"Baby" I began, "where are we going here? I told you yesterday what I wanted, that hasn't changed one iota, and I want to be part of your life, maybe the major part, but I want to know how you see us doing this. If we're going to be us, you and me, then Mom...Mother needs to know; I've just dropped out of the sky into the middle of your lives, how am I going to stay there if I hide something this important from her? And by the way; I'm the world's worst liar, I might as well carry a big sign and blow a klaxon every time I try and lie, so I won't be able to tell a convincing story if Mother twigs on and asks me outright what's going on. So what do you want to do?"

She looked into my eyes, seeing...what? Eventually she nodded.

"You're right, Nicky, we should tell her as soon as possible. If she finds out, or catches us, well, I don't know, but it'll be bad, and look worse, like we were just casual fuck-buddies or something; I know mom was afraid I'd never recover from the...you know, the trauma thing, or that I'd go off the deep end, be unable to have any real relationships and just screw any and everybody in sight because my head was all fucked-up. I want to be able to tell her in a way that shows this isn't the case, that it's not simply the trauma kicking in and I've chosen to self-destruct as a career slut because I hate and can't trust all men. That's kind of an exaggerated take on how she's thinking right now, but it covers the main points."

She grinned at me.

"I know this whole 'long-lost brother' thing is also an issue, but we have to make her see, that's how we can make this work in our favour as a couple; four days ago we didn't even know you were alive, you disappeared before I was born, so you're not my brother, not really, there's no long family history together to get past; to be honest, other than that genetic connection, we have nothing, no shared experience of each other growing up, no sibling bond, anything. The guilt that goes with breaking that taboo doesn't exist here, because I think that guilt is based on the fact that you are disregarding all past connection and breaking all existing bonds in order to go forward with a new version of the relationship. None of that is true in our case; we have no history, period. She'll be hurt, I know, but I think, I hope, she'll see that, she's not stupid."

I was surprised and gratified to hear my own musings of the previous day reflected back at me like that. She'd obviously been giving this whole relationship of ours some in-depth consideration and reflection, and was articulating how she thought we should go forward with a lot more clarity and insight than I had been able to bring to it. For my part, I was well aware that she'd suffered a deep and bruising injury; even if it didn't show externally, there were probably still those memories and unresolved guilt, shame and anger issues lurking inside. She'd thrown herself into this thing with me, and while I'd enjoyed how it had happened, and was enthralled at the thought of continuing with her, a part of me was concerned at how rapidly it had happened. But my concern was solely for her. I was completely smitten with her, and I didn't ever want to give her cause to think or believe that I wasn't 150% into this relationship; to do less would be to damage her all over again, and lose her forever.

I thought I could understand, in a limited sense, what was going on with her; her apparent rapid recovery was really just her personality reasserting itself, compensating for the hurt and trauma; she had forced herself to get past what had happened to her, but inside, maybe nothing much had changed, maybe she'd just refused to let it dominate her. I didn't know how much or what type of rape counselling was available, but perhaps that was one area I could actually be of use, maybe I could convince her to join a group where she could unload whatever she was still carrying around, and help her to finally let go of the hurt and shame.

I really loved this girl, but I needed her to be with me because she wanted to be with me, not because she thought I was the only option available to her. I'd come to her when she was deeply vulnerable, so the very real possibility existed that what she was feeling for me was just passing reflexive need to reach out to another person. Once clarity of vision returned, if she decided that I was not the one for her, that what we were doing was not what she really wanted, I would have to respect that and let her go – she was still my little sister, that would never change, and I would never want her to think she had to stay with me simply because she thought she would hurt me if she left; it was all about what was right for her, not about what I wanted, it had to be.

Even so, the thought that I might have to let her go tore at me like steel hooks, and I could feel my eyes stinging at the thought of losing her, a hollow ache starting to build up inside me. Was this really what love was supposed to be like? Because right now, it hurt like hell, and who was I kidding, it could get a whole lot worse.

Ashley poked me gently in the ribs, and I realised I was staring blankly at nothing as all this ran through my head.

"You were thinking some pretty deep thoughts there, Nick, you were miles away. Care to share?"

I drew a deep breath, blinking away the tears, and Ashley saw the droplets on my eyelashes.

"Nick, what's wrong, why are you...?" I stopped her.

"Ashley, before you tell our mother, you have to be really, really sure that this is what you want. We kind of fell into bed with each other and started making all kinds of plans, getting all caught up in each other, but I don't think you should be making life choices like this unless and until you know for certain which part of you is doing the choosing. You say you're over what happened to you, and I want to believe you, I really do."

"What you have to ask yourself though is; have you really dealt with it and moved on, or just painted over it and hoped it'll go away with time? When I saw you properly for the first time, I thought you were the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, and I wondered how I could ever be anything more than just your older brother come home. What I don't know is whether you're ready to have, not just me, but anybody, in the same way. What happened to you is bound to leave scars, probably deep scars, you have to know that, and perhaps, just possibly, those feelings from what happened are leading you to make some wrong assumptions about what you want and who you need. I know you're the girl for me, and I don't want anyone else, but how can you be sure I'm the one for you, that you're not just over-responding to me because you think there's no-one else for you? I want to be your anchor in life, not just a convenient lifeline."

She looked at me with tears in her eyes, and she looked so adorable, so vulnerable, that I just wanted to hold her close and make it go away, but I had to make her understand what I was saying.

"Will you promise me one thing, Ashley?" I asked her

"Ask me first Nicky, I'm not promising anything until I know what you're going to say!"

"OK Ashley, will you promise me that you won't say anything to Mother until you've considered, really considered, what we're doing here? I want you to be mine, God I think you're perfect for me, but you have to be certain that what you're feeling for me isn't just because you feel like you have no other option, that it's real, and it's what you really want. You've captured my heart, and I want you to give me yours in return, but only when you're completely ready; I'm not going anywhere any time soon, so take your time."

She looked up at me.

"Oh Nicky, I do want you, and I'm sure I'm feeling what you're feeling; it's more than just attraction, it feels right, deep down inside, it doesn't make me want to shut off and cringe like I used to do when I'd be out with Judy and guys would try and pick us up. I used to feel repulsed by that, like it was dirty and unclean, like it would make me even dirtier than I already was, but I don't feel that way when I think about you, or hold you, or make love to you. You make me feel fresh and clean and new inside, like what happened is really over and gone."

"Maybe I do need therapy, I don't know; I did try it, I went to some counselling sessions with a group, but it only made me feel worse; those poor women and girls, they had really horrific stories to tell; mine was almost nothing compared to some of the ordeals those poor women went through, and it didn't help in the slightest; it made me feel like I was wallowing in their pain and misery, and just brought what happened to me into sharper focus, the last thing I wanted to happen."

She swallowed, and continued.

"If you ask me to, I'll give it another chance, and see if it helps clear out whatever's remaining, although I still think you're all the therapy I need now. I don't think I can relate to some therapist or counsellor, no matter how experienced or well-meaning; I've spent nights crying about what happened, I've had nightmares about it, I swore off boys and sex because they meant the same thing in my mind, and that was a place I couldn't go, but you changed that for me, so to answer your question, yes I've thought about this, and yes, I think I've made my choice for the right reasons, and yes, I think you're the one for me. That's three yes votes in a row, Nick; you can't get better than that! You're not rid of me just yet, Nicholas Davies, older brother of mine, emphasis on 'mine'!"

I grinned down at her. She really was stunning, fresh and beautiful, still innocent and trusting, and my heart went out to her all over again. I wanted her, but I could feel deep down inside, in that instinctual part of me that knew what was really going on, that I had to go slowly with her, let her set the pace, so we could make this work.

She hugged me, throwing her arms around me, the blaze of pain as her palms slapped my shoulder blades waking me up in a hurry. "Ashley...my back...my back...!" and she instantly let go, concern written all over her face.

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