Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Veiled Dreams Chapter Three Bad Timing

Christina heard voices in the hallway and then the door slammed. He had gone. She had let him go.
Why did I do do that? thought Christina. I am so stupid. Why didn’t I just take the flowers and say thank you, and we could have carried on from where we left off. She always seemed to do the same. Tell him the opposite of what she really thought. Well, not always, but often when it mattered.
When Paul woke up and told her Jan was here, her heart started thumping. She’d wanted to jump out of bed and rush to him and fling her arms round him. But then she’d remembered Paul was there and she didn’t want him to see her doing that. And then she hadn’t had a shower yet and she might be a bit smelly. Let alone the state of her hair.
And a little voice inside her had said she should not give in to him too easily, that she should make him suffer a bit for the way she’d suffered when he’d been away.   
Oh, and she’d missed him so much. There was so much to tell him. That they’d got her medication right now, and she probably wouldn’t have any more fits. That she’d done well in the IB mocks. Why couldn’t she just have accepted the flowers? And she did really know that he had to go to the bikers’ convention.  
Christina groaned. She pulled herself up off the bed. She ran a hand through the wild hair and then started attacking with the brush. Then, she got herself quickly through the shower. Paul was in the kitchen when she got there, reading his latest computer magazine.  
‘There’s some coffee,’ he said.
She poured a cup. It was too hot to drink yet. She sat and thought about Jan while it cooled down a bit.   
‘It’ll be cold if you don’t drink it soon,’ said Paul.
‘Oh dear!’ said Christina. She took a sip. It was cold. It was disgusting.
‘Why did you have to be like that with him?’ asked Paul. ‘Don’t know what he was thinking, bringing you flowers. That early in the morning. ’
‘What do you know about it?’ snapped Christina ‘Leave me alone.’
‘All right, all right,’ said Paul. ‘Anyway, I think Van Bredow’s got your flowers. I saw him leave and he hadn’t got them anymore. She was just coming in.’
She would phone him. Then she would go and rescue the flowers.
She tried the landline and then his mobile. No reply to either. 
‘It’s useless,’ she said to Paul. ‘He won’t take my calls.’
‘Don’t’ be daft,’ said Paul. ‘He won’t be back yet.’
‘I suppose,’ said Christina, knowing that the time was going to drag now. She bit her lip and started kicking the leg of the kitchen table. Not hard. Just as something to do with her leg. Paul looked up and frowned.    
‘Why don’t you go and get your flowers back from Van Bredow, then when you do speak to him, you can thank him properly. You’ll know what they look like then,’ Paul suggested.
Christina wasn’t sure that she wanted to go and listen to one of their elderly neighbour’s lectures. On the other hand, it was better than having Paul being so smug.
A few moments later she was tentatively ringing the doorbell of the apartment which shared their entrance hall.
‘Ah, Christina,’ said the funny little woman. ‘You have come for your flowers, I expect. They are so beautiful. That is a lovely young man you have there. Come one in, come on in.’
Mrs Van Bredow’s apartment was dark inside. She had the blinds shut and it was overfilled with dark old-fashioned furniture. But there in the centre of the room, on the large square coffee table, was a vase of bright yellow and red flowers. They seemed to fill the room with light and energy.
‘You can take the vase home with you,’ said Mrs Van Bredow. ‘After all, it is not as if nice young men buy me flowers any more. And it suits these ones so much.’
Christina couldn’t speak. She just stared at the flowers. Jan had got it so right.
‘Well,’ said Mrs Von Bredow. ‘Are you going to take them? Are you going to phone him?’ She went to pick up the vase, but her hand cramped up. She winced with the pain.
That must really hurt, thought Christina.
‘Well, have you?’ Mrs Von Bredow asked again. ‘That boy deserves to know where he stands. Don’t be so haughty, Missy.’ 
‘I’ve tried,’ said Christina. ‘But he’s not answering.’
‘Might not have got back yet,’ replied the old lady. ‘Anyway, you should go and see him. It’s better if you talk face to face.’
Christina knew she was right. God, why was she such a mop-head? Why hadn’t she just been glad he’s turned up?
‘Okay, Mrs Van B., ‘said Christina. ‘You are right of course.’
‘Try once more before you go,’ said Mrs Van Bredow. She handed Christina the phone. Her fingers cramped up again around the handset. She caught her breath.
Christina punched Jan’s number into the phone. It seemed an age before it started to ring. She counted ten tones, and then waited a few more seconds. Nothing. Oh, she did want to hear his voice again, now.
‘You’d better go then,’ said Mrs Van Bredow.
‘I will,’ replied Christina. ‘Thank you Mrs Van Bredow. Will you look after my flowers for me until I get back?’ She hugged the little old lady.
‘Of course. Get on then,’ replied Mrs Van Bredow.
Minutes later, Christina was by the tram stop. She was going to have to change twice and get off right outside Jan’s door, or change just once and have a ten minute walk. She couldn’t decide which to do, and in the end opted for seeing which tram came first. A number five: so, ten  minutes on foot at the end. That wouldn’t hurt. A good brisk walk might calm her down a bit.
It was such a cheerful sunny day already. It was going to be all right.
It took a while to load the tram. So many people were getting on here and the driver was carefully checking everybody’s ticket. But then she was really lucky. She even managed to get a seat. A tall girl with a headscarf wrapped tightly round her head and a veil draped across her face sat down next to her. The girl nodded.
That’s so weird, thought Christina. Why do they do that?
The girl took a book out of her bag and started to read. Christina recognised it as one of her IB text books.
She must be about the same age as me then, thought Christina. Even weirder.
She didn’t think any more about the girl, though, until it was time to get off the tram. She was too busy thinking about what it would be like to be with Jan again. She was looking forward to his dancing eyes, and hearing his funny stories – he always made them sound funny, even if they really weren’t – from his biker trip. And perhaps he’d kiss her. She loved it when he got just a little bit carried away. And it was so sweet, the way he held back then.
‘Excuse me please,’ she said in her best Dutch.
The girl with the veil jumped slightly. She must have found the IB geography text book so much more fascinating than Christina did. Then her eyes crinkled up and Christina could tell that she was smiling. It was odd. So odd. She could tell that the girl was smiling, even though she couldn’t see her lips.
She was lucky again. The number nine tram came almost immediately. Another five minutes on the tram, and then that quick walk. She had to stand this time but she didn’t really mind. She didn’t think she would be able to sit still anyway. Concentrating on keeping her balance and not falling into other people was a good distraction.  
It did only take the usual five minutes. The trams were never held up by other traffic. But the time couldn’t go quickly enough for Christina.
As soon as it stopped, she pushed her way out through the crowd and was soon marching smartly along the wide avenue past the park near where Jan lived. Her heartbeat got faster and faster, partly from the walking but mainly at the thought of seeing him. At one point she almost turned round and went back. It was getting a bit much. And suppose he was mad with her now?
She turned into the narrow street which ran alongside the canal. Yes! She could see his motorbike parked outside his flat. She walked faster and faster, almost running.
Then he came out of the flat. Oh no! He was going to go out.
‘Jan!’ she called, running now. ‘Jan! Wait!’
He had the spare helmet with him, the one she normally wore when she rode with him. Perhaps he was going to see her. But wait. Why wasn’t he putting it into the luggage compartment?                                 
Then Susanne Richards come out of the front door. Dressed like a tart. She got on the bike, behind Jan. He said something to Susanne. He revved the engine and the bike set off. Seconds later, they were coming towards Christina.
She quickly ducked into a doorway. No, this couldn’t be happening. This was a nightmare.
They passed just a couple of metres in front of her. She couldn’t see their faces because of the helmets. She felt sick. She dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands and bit her lip hard to try and stop herself crying.
That was it then, wasn’t it? It was over. And there was nothing she could do about it.      

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Veiled Dreams Chapter Two Jan

There was no one in front of him as he raced across the long dyke. It was already light. The water on his left was tepid and lifeless. Even at this hour the heat was draining the country of energy, but the speed of the bike gave him a welcome breeze. He was probably going faster than he should have, but he didn’t care now. For once, the bikers meet had been a bore. He had to go, though. Even though he hadn’t wanted to this time. He was after all their chairman and the Baeyk Motel only allowed them all there if he was present. He could never work out why they thought he was a good influence. Perhaps it was just because he didn’t drink heavily.  
He sped up a notch. He could think of nothing but her. She would still be sleeping now. It was the school holidays. She’d asked to go with him. But he couldn’t take her. She wouldn’t be allowed in the bars and he couldn’t leave her alone in the motel. That would have been terrible for her. Besides, he’d set off during school time. No way would her parents have let her go. Actually they probably wouldn’t have anyway. Maybe next year. When she was older. When they knew him better. And when they were sure the epilepsy was under control.
He was soon on the outskirts of the city. It was beginning to wake up. Front doors opened and the traffic was building. There would surely be a flower seller open somewhere? He'd go straight to her, only stopping to buy the biggest bunch of flowers he had the money for, leaving just enough to buy breakfast. Best not even go home and shower first. Show her that he’d come straight round there. 
The traffic slowed him down. There was a storm going on inside him. Six months, now they’d been together and his stomach still churned before he went to meet her. The thought of seeing her still edged his days with gold. He was stopped at the traffic lights. He revved the bike. But it didn’t make him feel any better.  
The lights changed to green. He swung round the corner, off the wide boulevard and into the main shopping street near where she lived. It was a good job the other traffic was slow, or he would have been speeding for sure. There were speed cameras everywhere. It was just like being with her. He had to be careful, all the time. She was underage, after all. She often teased him, about being old-fashioned. Sometimes, she said he didn’t care. Didn’t find her attractive. If only she knew what he really thought. But he wouldn’t rush and spoil anything, not for the world. This girl was important. More important than any other girl he had been with.
He inched forward to the next set of lights to where he needed to turn right into her street. Good. The flower-seller was already there and opening up his booth. Jan parked the bike. 
‘What can you do for thirty euros?’ he asked. ‘With plenty of colour in it?’
‘What about five of these,’ said the vendor, beginning to take some huge yellow lilies out of a bucket  ‘and six of those?’ he suggested, pointing to some equally big fiery red flowers which looked a bit like dragons heads with tongues sticking out.
Jan nodded. They were exactly right. They reminded him of Christina. Dramatic, colourful and beautiful. A little bit angry.
He watched impatiently as the merchant spent what seemed like hours, putting the flowers together. He worked carefully, adding in a few bits of green and one or two smaller blue colours. Finally, he added the little packet of the magic formula which helped to keep the flowers fresh, and then skilfully wrapped the whole bouquet in cellophane in such a way that the flowers were protected without being squashed.
‘There you are, sir,’ said the merchant, handing the bouquet over. ‘Make sure she puts them in water straight away, and remind her to cut two centimetres off the stems first, and not to forget to put the powder into the water.’ He tapped the side of his nose and winked at Jan. ‘I hope they have the desired effect.’
Jan stowed the flowers carefully into the little space he had left in the luggage compartment of his bike, and turned down into Christina’s street. He felt slightly sick, and his pulse was beginning to race. Sometimes, he thought he could do without this relationship. Always the tension. Always worrying what she might think and trying to guess whether she felt the same about him. But, no, he couldn’t give her up. It just made so much difference to him. Life was grand.  Because Christina existed.
Five minutes later he was outside her apartment block, the bike parked again. He breathed in and out slowly several times, then taking another deep breath, he rang the bell. There was no reply for a while. That was something, he supposed. It meant that her parents were already out at work. At least he wouldn’t have to see them. Then the waiting became too much. He lifted his hand to ring the bell again, but just as he was about to press it, the buzzer sounded. His heart missed a beat.
‘Hell, who’s there?’ said a sleepy voice. Something sank inside Jan. It was Paul, her brother. Yet it was almost a relief.
‘Hi, it’s me. Jan de Vries,’ replied Jan.
‘You’d better come on in,’ replied Paul, now slightly less sleepily. ‘She’s not up yet. I’ll go and wake her.’
The buzzer sounded again, and the front door swung open. Paul was standing in the hallway in his dressing gown.
‘Go on in,’ he said. ‘I’ll go and get her up. Would you like a coffee?’
‘It’s okay, thanks,’ replied Jan. ‘I thought I’d take her out to breakfast.’
Paul wandered off towards Christina’s bedroom. Jan sat in the lounge nursing the flowers. He was grimy and sticky form the journey anyway. The lounge was impeccable – nothing out a place and not a speck of dust anywhere. He was a complete misfit. But hopefully, she would be glad to see him, and the little argument they’d had just before he’d left would be completely forgotten. He hoped she’d love the flowers, and going out to breakfast, and now gradually, gradually, her parents would start to accept him. He even thought of getting his hair cut, but she’d told him so often how much she loved his long blond hair. Soon she would be older. They would be able to take things further, and soon she’d be able to come on more of the biker trips with him. He’d even be willing to give up that for her, but that was another of the things she said she liked about him. If he became too much Mr Sensible, she’d go off him. He even worried sometimes that she didn’t quite approve of the fact that he didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs. Well, not much, anyway.
What were they doing? He hoped she wasn’t unwell. Then he heard the raised voices.
Christina’s voice was hard to hear. But he could make out ‘ever …again… .  .. have gone. … flowers where the sun.’
‘Oh come, on,’ he heard Paul say. ‘He’s waiting out there with a great big bunch of flowers. Come and sort it out, won’t you?’
A door slammed. Paul reappeared in the lounge.
‘She won’t speak to you,’ he said. 
‘Oh well,’ said Jan getting up. What else could he do? He was sorry about going to the meet, but, well if he was going to carry on being a biker he’d had to go. And she wanted him to be a biker.
‘Look, Jan,’ said Paul, ‘I can’t make her come out. You’ll have to try again later.’
‘I’ll leave the flowers, then,’ said Jan.
A door suddenly opened. Christina rushed into the lounge. Her green eyes were flashing and her thick dark curls were mussed from sleep. Still something leapt up in him as he saw her.
‘You can keep your bloody flowers,’ she said. ‘Don’t come near me again. If you can’t put me first, it’s all off.’
She rushed back to her room. Paul shrugged his shoulders. Jan could do nothing but leave.    
The lump in his throat was so huge he couldn’t swallow. He could hardly breathe. He couldn’t lose her, he just couldn’t.
Mrs Van Bredow, the Grants’ next-door neighbour was just coming in. She was a little woman, with dark and wrinkled skin, who shuffled everywhere with the aid of a walking stick. It was arthritis, she’d explained to him one day as she watched him mending his bike outside the apartment.
‘Oh, what lovely flowers,’ she exclaimed and beamed at Jan. ‘For Christina?’
Jan managed to nod.
‘Oh, there’s no one in?’ she asked. ‘I’ll take them, if you like, and see that she gets them.’
Jan did not speak.
A slight cloud passed over the old lady’s face.
‘Oh, she didn’t want them?’ she said.
‘No,’ said Jan, suddenly finding his voice. ‘You may as well keep them, Mrs Van Bredow. Enjoy!’
He thrust the bouquet into her arms, and went to leave. Mrs Van Bredow grabbed his arm, quite strongly, Jan thought, for someone in so much pain. She looked him straight in the eyes and Jan felt as if she was trying to tell him something. 
‘Don’t give up on her, don’t give up.’
She let herself into the apartment, still clutching the flowers.
The day had lost its colour. The heat and the traffic were just a nuisance. Despite the bright sun, everything seemed grey. He wanted to get back now to his apartment and have a shower and then just sleep. Try to forget, and then perhaps, when he’d had a good rest, he could think what to do to make her come round.
But there was another problem waiting for him sitting on the doorstep to the tall old canal-side house his apartment was in. Susanne Richards. Her parents rented the two floors below him and she was at school with Christina. She was always hanging around.
‘Not seeing Christina, today, then?’ she asked. ‘I’d have thought you would have been gagging for it, after being away for all that time. I know, I bet she’s sent you back home to have a shower first. Little miss high and mighty.’
‘I’m too tired for this,’ said Jan. ‘Could you move, so that I can get in?’         
‘Have you two fallen out?’ asked Susanne, grinning.
‘No… not really,’ stammered Jan. What business was it of hers? ‘No we haven’t. Not at all.’ He wished she would just go away.  
She grinned at him again. But at least she moved a little over to the side and he was able to struggle past her with his luggage.
He dumped everything in the hall and went straight to the shower. The hot water and the shower-gel felt good. When he had finished, he didn’t bother getting dressed, but just stretched out on top of the bed. His bedroom was in the shade now, and with the window just a little open, the room was beautifully cool. Seconds later, he was fast asleep.
When he woke up after two hours, he felt much better. He was no longer tired and he knew exactly what he was going to do about Christina. He was not going to let her go that easily. He tried ringing the landline, and then her mobile. Nothing. Perhaps she was still asleep. Or maybe she’d gone out. Well, he would just go and wait for her.
Susanne was still sitting on the step when he got outside.
‘You going to take me for a ride on your bike, then?’ she asked looking up at him with one eye shut against the sun. ‘Now that you haven’t got to worry about making old green eyes jealous?’
‘Don’t talk to me about Christina’s eyes,’ he said. They’re the most beautiful eyes in the world, he thought.
‘Do you and her actually – you know – do it?’ she asked.
The cheek of her. ‘None of your business,’ he replied.
‘I bet she won’t let you!’ said Susanne. ‘I bet she gets you panting for it. But oh, no, Mummy’s little girl wouldn’t do anything disgusting – like sleep with a man, not until she’s old enough.’
Susanne stood up and sidled over to Jan. She put her arms round him. Jan gently but firmly pushed her away.
‘No, you ought to go with me,’ she said. ‘I’m not such a prude.’ She gave him another of her crooked little smiles.
‘Can you let me through?’ said Jan. ‘I’ve got things to do.’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ said Susanne. ‘I will if you make it worth my while.’  She undid the top of her shirt to reveal quite a bit of cleavage. She grabbed Jan’s hand and held it over her chest.
He flinched and pulled his hand back.
‘Anyway, if you don’t, I’ll tell her you’ve been feeling me up,’ said Susanne. ‘Well, you have to admit, your hand was just on my chest.’ 
‘What do you want?’ he sighed.
‘Sleep with me!’ cried Susanne, her eyes gleaming.
‘No way!’ replied Jan, trying again to push past her. He could get past, if he pushed her hard enough, though he didn’t dare hurt her. Knowing her and her family, that would land him in court.
‘Only kidding!’ said Susanne, laughing. ‘Just give me a lift on your motorbike up to the park. I fell like chilling out by the river all day.’
‘All right,’ said Jan. ‘Are you ready? I want to get going.’
‘I’ll be two minutes,’ replied Susanne.
He took the spare helmet out ready as she went into the apartment. Ten minutes later, she appeared, dressed in nothing but a bikini, a short skirt, flip-flops and sunglasses. She was carrying a towel, a book and a tube of sun cream. 
‘You’ll be cold, like that, on the back of the bike,’ he said.
‘Great!’ said Susanne. ‘It’ll save me getting too worked up, clinging on to you. It’ll stop me getting erotic feelings.’
They climbed on to the bike. He felt slightly nauseated as Susanne put her arms round him. Still, it would only be for ten minutes, then he could drop her off at the entrance to the park and make his way as fast as he could back to Christina.