tagNovels and NovellasWinter Fires Ch. 10

Winter Fires Ch. 10


Caroline breathed a satisfied sigh as she put down her empty coffee cup. Pearl eyed her over the rim of her own one as she drained it.

"Are you going to go and find Simon, Caroline?" she asked the young brunette.

"That's the idea," Caroline replied, "but I have no idea how."

"Ask him?" Pearl suggested, pointing out the doorman nearby.

"Yeah... good idea, Pearl." Caroline was clearly psyching herself up, she wasn't normally this forward.

"Excuse me?" she asked the big man, looking up what seemed a long way, passed an impressively expansive chest.

"Can I help you?" he rumbled back to her, but he was smiling as he asked.

"I'm looking for a friend. He's about this tall, curly blonde hair. He might have been with the lead guitarist for Rocksette."

"Ah, I know Alison. Sugar, if he's with her, they'll likely be, how can I put this delicately? They'll likely be engaged, if you get my drift."

Caroline felt herself colouring up.

"I... I need to find him. Please?"

He looked at her for a long moment.

Just then 'Rocksette's lead singer, Shaun, came up.

"Hi, Dan. Alison back there?" he asked the doorman.

"Yah, she is, but like I was telling this young lady here, she's likely to be engaged, if you get my drift." The doorman, obviously 'Dan', told him.

"Well, she'll have to disengage. Feargal, from the record company, wants to talk to us all, and he's fretting. Which room?"

"Okay, man. Third on the left. Miss, you might as well see if you can find your young man, too. Go with Shaun, here." He opened the door he was guarding and waved them through.

They went through the door into the corridor beyond. Shaun said to her, "Looking for your boyfriend?"

Caroline decided to keep it simple. "Er, yeah."

"Well, doll, just remember that at parties like this all sorts of things happen. Don't take it personal, like. Alison don't mean anything by it, she's just being, well, being herself. Your young man, well, he'll..." Shaun tapered off, unsure how to continue.

Caroline helped him out by just saying, "I know," and surprising the singer with a peck on the cheek. "Thanks for trying. Simon and I, well, we'll have to talk."

'Will we ever,' she thought. 'Can I really do this?'

Shaun knocked on Alison's door. "Alison? Are you in there?" he called.

After a pause came a giggle and a reply of "Just a minute!"

Shortly after, the door opened. Alison was wearing her bath robe and Simon was sitting on the bed in his trousers, just pulling his shirt on.

Alison spoke as the door came fully open, "Hi, Shaun, what did – who're you!?"

Caroline and Shaun spoke at once.

"Hello, Alison, I'm looking for Simon."

"Alison, Feargal's having a fit back in there, he wants to speak to all of us about something!"

Alison looked at Caroline for a moment, then at Shaun. She told him, "Give me a moment, Shaun," and sniffed. "I need to get dressed and blow my nose."

Shaun pushed his way into the room, and Caroline followed him. She went to Simon, who was looking very sheepish, but also, strangely, relieved. Caroline herself felt quite numb, almost as if it were someone else in the room, not her.

"That better be all you're doing to your nose, Alison," Shaun warned. He sounded annoyed. "You do too much of that stuff," he told her, shouldering his way into the bathroom. He shut the door behind him.

Caroline heard the brittle, taut answer, "I can handle it!" from behind the door, but wasn't paying attention. Instead, she took Simon's hand and pulled, gently. "Come on, Simon. You don't belong here."

"Caroline?" Simon said. "You don't know how right you are. Where's Marianne?"

"We'll talk about that in a moment. Let's get you out of here first."

Simon nodded and followed Caroline out of the room, hearing raised voices from the bathroom before he shut the door behind him. He did it slowly, with a certain amount of regret, but also finality.

"Sorry," Simon apologised to Caroline.

"What for?" she answered.

"Dunno, really. It just seemed something that needed to be said," he told her. She realised that he looked stone cold sober, and a little frightened.

"Whatever's the matter, Simon? You look like you've seen a ghost!"

"Alison offered me cocaine. I nearly accepted. I might still have done, if you hadn't come knocking."

Caroline didn't really know what to say. "Oops."

"Yeah," was Simon's only comment.

Caroline took Simon's hand and started walking towards the door back into the restaurant, where the party was still going on. Before they got there another room door opened in front of them. Chris came out, trailing Marianne by his hand.

The four saw each other and stopped.

Chris hesitated a moment, but Marianne simply said, "Hi, Simon, Caroline. Enjoying yourselves? This room's free if you want it." She winked at Caroline before changing hands so that she was leading Chris, and going back into the party.

Simon stood and watched the pair of them leave together. Caroline squeezed his hand.

"I guess that's it, then, Simon," Caroline told him, quietly.

"No, Marianne told me at the start of the party that we should go and enjoy ourselves," he told her. "It hurts, mind, it really does, but I'm in no position to complain."

"No, Simon, you've misunderstood. She's told us we can use the room – together. You see, we've got this rule between us..."


Caroline wondered how to put this. She also hesitated because she wasn't completely sure, even now. Marianne had signalled to her that she was free to move in on Simon, hadn't she? That must have been what she'd meant. Mustn't it?

Caroline had always been the diffident one, while Marianne had always been assertive. As a result she'd always seen her sister get in first, whether it be clothes, or boys, or such mundane things as what to watch on the telly. Even now, Caroline had held back and hadn't gone looking for 'her fireman', as she'd thought of him. Quite by chance, Marianne had got him instead, and Carline hadn't known how to react. But her mother had told her to stand up for herself more.

If Marianne hadn't meant what Caroline was almost sure she'd indicated, then this could end up in a blazing row. But if Caroline was right, and didn't act, she could watch her man disappear.

Caroline was fed up with missing out. She'd had enough of seeing opportunities, and being too afraid of things going wrong to take them until it was too late, and the chance had gone.

She reached for Simon, and kissed him.

It was just a light kiss, a gentle one, almost just a brush of her lips over his. But it was the start. They felt it, both of them. This wasn't just an ordinary kiss, this was a kiss, and she wanted to repeat it.

So she did. This time he responded, placing a hand lightly behind her back, then gradually drawing her in until she was pressed closely against him, her breasts crushed against his chest, their lips moving against their counterparts with almost bruising force. She opened her mouth and felt Simon's tongue introduce itself to hers.

Caroline wasn't inexperienced, she'd had boyfriends before. Most of them had been with Marianne before her, and of late they'd expected to pick up with her where they'd left off with her sister. Caroline had just about decided not to accept Marianne's 'cast-offs' as she'd had to point out to these young men, somewhat forcefully, that she wasn't her sister, and there were some things she didn't do on a first date. Some things she didn't do on any date.

But Simon wasn't pushing. The tongue kiss was there, yes, but it was tentative, inviting a denial. She felt his hands, yes, but again, their touch was passionate but not pressing. Caroline felt safe, safe that she could refuse or go slower at any point, but didn't want to.

Simon pulled back from the kiss. "Caroline, I... I'm sorry." He said. She put a finger over his lips.

"Ssshhh. Simon, something happened then. Let's take it slow, and see what happens, okay?"

He smiled, tentatively. "That sounds like a good idea. Um, you mentioned a rule? You and Marianne?"

Caroline nodded. "I think... I think you need to talk to Marianne, and soon. Very soon."

How could she make him understand? If she just said, "Simon, she just told me she'd dumped you!" he'd be angry, and deny it – he already had. No, this time she had to get Marianne to make it clear to Simon that the relationship was over, and Marianne had moved on. So Caroline could move in.

But she couldn't do it now. Not until Marianne had settled things with Simon, properly.

She also couldn't dream of intruding on whatever Marianne and Chris were up to.

She needed to slow things down.

"Lets... lets go back out to the party, see what's happening. It's probably winding down by now."

Simon looked thoughtful. "That's probably a good idea," he said, slowly. "I doubt if the party's finished though, not if what I've heard of these things is right."

"Oh, I doubt if it's an orgy out there, Simon!"

He grinned and took her hand. "Okay, let's go!"

- - - - - - - - - -

Back in the hotel restaurant the party was still going, though the music was softer, slower, and the lights were turned down. Some people were sat in a circle on the floor, talking and passing a joint around, while others chatted in pairs or threes. The bar was still running – unofficially, Caroline thought, as it was well after closing time. She grinned to herself. Drinking after hours was the least problem they'd have if the police called, with the drugs in open use around her.

She was surprised to see Pearl walking towards them, looking relieved.

"Hi, Pearl!" she called.

"Hi yourself, Caroline. Chris has just left, with Marianne."

'Just like that,' Caroline thought.

"Just like that?" Simon asked, "I mean... Marianne's gone off with him, and..."

He ground to a halt, mouth opening and closing like a gaffed fish, unable to process what had happened. "It was supposed to have been just a night, just tonight."

Caroline linked her arm into his, and Pearl looked at him with an expression of pained understanding.

"Come and sit down a minute," she told him. Caroline went with them as they sat down near the bar. Around them the party was noticeably thinning. There were few 'suits' in evidence, more women, and the aroma of more than just tobacco smoke permeated the air.

"Chris is normally a perfect gentleman with his models," Pearl began, "he doesn't screw them, or screw them around. But he's single, goodish looking, successful and he makes the girls look wonderful in his photos. So he has opportunity, he has a good rep for not messing around, and... sometimes it happens."

"Like it happened to you?" Simon asked. Beside him, Caroline nodded to herself – it was a simple thing to work out.

"Like it happened to me," Pearl nodded. "I actually thought we'd fallen in love, but it wasn't to be. We are very good friends, mind. I still love his photos of me!"

"And Marianne...?" Simon asked.

"I don't know who's under who's spell, there, but there's something going on, Simon. You must have noticed, Caroline?"

Caroline hadn't, not really. She hadn't been paying attention to Chris and Marianne when they'd been in the studio, she'd been too wrapped up in her own shyness and trying to shake it off. She shook her head.

"Oh, well. I did. Sorry, I would have warned you. Simon, I don't know if this will be a one-time thing or not, but I think..." she bit her lip. "I'm very sorry, I think you ought to be prepared."

Simon swallowed. "Okay," he managed, "it's, it's unexpected, that's all." He shook his head. "What do I mean, that's all?"

Simon was pale, shocked, even a little feverish. Caroline rubbed his arm, soothingly.

"Look, I've got to get a taxi back to my hotel," Pearl said, "Chris told me to look after you – can I offer you a ride?"

Simon said nothing, but Caroline nodded and said, "Yes, thank you," for them both. Pearl went to arrange for the taxi.

Caroline was torn between her desire for Simon and his clear emotional discomfort. It was clear to her, though, that she'd have to go slower, tread more softly than she wanted to.

'Patience, Caroline,' she told herself.

Pearl reappeared and told them, "The taxi will be here in about twenty minutes. It's probably best if we wait in the lobby."

Caroline followed Pearl out of the hotel restaurant where the party was in the process of winding down, or more likely, splitting off into smaller rooms. She took Simon's arm as she sat, waiting for the cab to arrive.

- - - - - - - - - -

Simon woke up with someone shaking his arm. Fuzzily he opened one eye and mumbled something that sounded like "Wozzatgerroffahtovit," before he saw Marianne's out-of-focus face looking down at him. He shook his head, disoriented, sat up, rubbed his eyes and looked again.

It wasn't Marianne, it was Caroline, he realised.

"Morning, Simon. If you're feeling like I'm feeling, you'll want these," she told him, handing over a glass of water and some aspirin.

"Er, ta Caroline," he responded, taking the small white tablets and gulping enough water to swallow them.

They sat together for a little while, quietly. Simon felt his hangover, gauged it, decided that he'd had worse, and thought back to the previous day.

What a day. He seemed to have lost Marianne, though, and that coloured everything. Just as he was about to turn to Caroline he heard a door open. In bustled Jennifer.

"Good morning, you two. Ah, I see. A good evening, then?" she grinned at Caroline. "Where's the other one?"

"Marianne's not here, Auntie. She's... she's staying over with a friend."

That was never going to be enough for Jennifer, and Caroline knew it. So did Simon, who looked up at the older lady mournfully.

"She went off with Chris, the photographer she's been working with."

Jennifer clearly didn't quite know how to respond to this. After a moment, she settled for, "Well. Can I fetch you some breakfast?"

Simon really didn't feel hungry, and evidently Caroline didn't feel like eating either. They accepted the offer of a cup of tea instead, and fell silent once more. Simon barely felt Caroline's fingers stroking his arm as she told him, "It'll be all right, Simon."

"How will it be all right?" he ground out, "Marianne's not here, is she?"

The fingers were withdrawn. He heard a small voice tell him, "You'll feel better once the hangover's gone, Simon. You'll see."

The morning wore on, and as his hangover improved so did Simon's mood, up to a point. He still believed that Marianne had left him unceremoniously for Chris, while he was himself feeling guilty about Alison – and Jennifer. More and more, he couldn't bring himself to look her in the eye. Jennifer noticed, and sat down carefully next to him, after sending Caroline into the kitchen to make a cuppa.

"Okay, Simon. You've hardly said boo to a goose all morning, and now you're avoiding looking at me. Is this about the night before last?"

Simon flushed, but then felt his anger rise.

"Yes! Yes, it's the night when you sucked me off without asking permission! How'd you feel if I'd come in and had sex with you without asking first?"

"I'd feel upset, of course," she answered. "I thought we'd dealt with this, or at least that you and Marianne were going to talk about it."

"We, we never really got around to that," Simon admitted.

"And now she's disappeared, and you can't talk about it, can you? I think I'll be having words with that young lady," Jennifer replied, hardness setting in to her eyes.

"Mmmmhmm. Me too," Simon said, thoughtfully. Then, more clearly as he saw things better, "I'm sorry, Jennifer. You thought it had been sorted out, didn't you – cleared beforehand?"

"That's what I told you," she answered.

"Well, then. You did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. Let's lay the blame where it belongs. Marianne could have done things much better."

"She meant well, you know," Jennifer told him, "but yes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I'm not blameless, I could and should have made sure you knew what was happening and agreed. I didn't."

Self-honesty prompted Simon to reply, "I guess I was enjoying having my, er, well, you know, it was too much to say anything."

That prompted a lopsided smile from Jennifer. "Am I that good, then?"

Simon blushed even more, and Jennifer laughed, a good, honest-to-God laugh, just as Caroline came in with the tea on a tray.

"Oh, good, that's better!" she declared as she set the tray down on the coffee table. "It's been like a church in here all morning – solemn and heavy."

"Simon just paid me a compliment, but it's something we'll keep to ourselves," Jennifer told her niece with a wink. Simon was still blushing bright red, but was now smiling broadly as well. They sat together on the sofa, drinking their tea. Jennifer asked about the music they'd heard. "I could hear quite a lot in the garden, but couldn't make it all out properly – mainly just the 'thump, thump' of the bass," she told them.

Simon told her about the bands, and Caroline gave her impressions as well. He felt better again, even when they got to 'Rocksette'.

"They played a really good set," he remembered, "I like them a lot."

Caroline bit down hard on the catty comment she was about to make.

"Who was on after them?" Jennifer asked, and as quickly as that the moment was past. Simon skipped quickly through the other bands and concentrated on telling Jennifer all about Pink Floyd. Jennifer tried to be interested, but it was obvious that it wasn't really her 'thing'.

The day wore on, and the telephone remained stubbornly silent. They were all, for slightly different reasons, waiting to hear from Marianne.

Finally the phone did ring, and of course all three of them jumped in surprise. Jennifer got up to answer it.

"Hello? Marianne? Oh, goodness, we've been worried about you, love. You're where? Oh, okay. You want to speak to Simon? Okay, I'll get him." She beckoned Simon to the phone.

"Hello, Marianne?" he said, and heard her slightly scratchy, "Hello, Simon. Are you okay?" in response.

"Yeah, fine. I had a nasty hangover, but it's mostly gone. I've had a pair of wonderful nurses looking after me this morning," he teased. Marianne chuckled from the other end of the line. "I'll bet you have," she told him.

"I'm still at Chris' place, Simon," she told him. "Is Caroline there with you?"

"Yes, she's here, do you want to speak to her?"

"In a minute. I need to speak to you, first, Simon. Did you have fun at the party?"

'Oh, shit,' thought Simon, 'here it comes.'

"I had a great time, Marianne. From what I could tell, you enjoyed yourself too?"

"Yes, I did, thanks."

"What did you enjoy most, Mari?" he asked her. The words came out before he could consider their possible ramifications.

"Well, I did what I said I wanted to do. I got drunk, got high and got laid. You?"

Honesty versus Embarrassment. Honesty won, along with a little payback, especially since he was needled that Marianne was there instead of here, and had plainly had a good time – and had sex. With someone other than him.

"Simon?" Marianne prompted. He realised that he'd fallen quiet.

"The same, to all three. Do we want to share details?"

"I don't think so, not over the phone, anyway," she laughed. "It might make my Aunt's hair go white, hearing your description!" Now it was Marianne's turn to go quiet.

"Simon? Er, look. You've got Chris' number, haven't you?"

"At home, yes, but not with me here," he replied, uneasily. She gave it to him, and he wrote it down on the pad that Jennifer kept next to the phone. Then he heard Marianne hesitate. He thought it was unlike her, she was normally so self-assured.

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