Worth Fighting For

By K.G.Smith

Romance, Action & adventure

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110
15 mins

 

It was an automatic reaction. Call the emergency services and start CPR. On the fifteenth compression, I looked down at my beloved Darren. A pool of blood had formed around my hands and with every compression, more blood pumped from the wound. It was a hopeless situation. I couldn't keep up the chest compressions and stem the bleeding at the same time.
In the distance, I could hear the sirens. Help was on its way, but Darren was beyond help. The police and ambulance would be here soon.
I stood up and looked down at what was left of Darren. It took some time to dawn on me: If I was still there when the ambulance arrived, people will know I was a witness. The man we came here to meet, the man who did this, was supposed to be a police officer. He killed Darren for what he knew; someone who could testify against him wouldn't last long. I ran back to my car and got out of there as fast as I could. As I left the car park, I almost crashed into a black van coming in.
Once out on the street I headed towards home. I knew I couldn't stay there, but I could at least get some clothes together before I got out of town. Flashing blue lights came toward me; the ambulance would be the first on the scene. I pulled over to let it through, then continued to our flat.
As soon as I opened the door, I knew someone had been there. It was still relatively tidy, but things weren't where they should be. I ran to the kitchen, opened the cupboard and reached in for the tea caddy. It was still there. The rainy day money I'd been saving was all still there in the tea caddy. I wandered into the living room wondering if I'd imagined having an intruder, when the same man who'd shot Darren stepped out of our bedroom.
I ran to the door and wrenched it open just as something whizzed past my ear and crashed into the door sending splinters flying. I slammed the door shut and ran out on the landing. No time to wait for the lift; I went straight to the stairs. My heart was pounding and my mouth was dry. I could hear him racing down the stairs behind me. I came to the final flight. Maybe I could get to my car and escape. The door below me opened and he walked to the foot of the stairs. I tried to turn back, but something was holding me. I started to fall.
The sheets were tightly wrapped around my legs and they held my arms tight to my body. I was wet with perspiration when I woke. I untangled myself, threw my legs over the side of the bed, and sat up.
'How many more times?' I asked myself as my breathing returned to normal. I'd been having this dream ever since the night Darren was killed. I’d thought I was over it but now it was back to remind me that it's not over.

*****

Chapter 1 A tall blonde stranger

With every minute that went by I got more frustrated. What is the point of paying extra for morning delivery when you still have to wait in all day because the postman no longer gets here in the morning? I’d already cancelled my hairdressing appointment, now I was looking for things to do to occupy myself until one `o’ clock when I could ring the online dealer and demand my money back. I couldn’t get the vacuum cleaner out, in case I didn’t hear the doorbell, I settled on doing some dusting, and maybe that is what sealed my fate.
With the duster in one hand I went along the shelf picking up framed photographs and polishing them. I hadn’t taken much when I left London, just these few mementos. I looked at mum and dad and wondered how they were, and if they missed me. Several times I’d been tempted to call them; tell them where I was, and that I was fine. Each time I came back with the same argument, it was better for them not to know.
I picked up the one photograph I had of Darren. I ran my finger over his face.
“Oh Darren, I really miss you. Why did you have to be so good, so driven?” I asked the man I knew would never answer.
I was just putting the photograph down, when the doorbell rang. I rushed to the door, and threw it open intending to give the postman a piece of my mind. Then I saw him. The sun from the landing window showed up his short blonde hair but the rest of him was in shadow giving me just a profile that I thought I recognised.
“Darren?” I whispered as my legs went weak and my vision faded to darkness. I don’t know how long I was out but as I started to recover and my eyes opened, I found myself looking up into the eyes of the man offering water. He had an arm behind me supporting my shoulders and held a glass of water to my lips with his other hand. He was sitting beside me with one leg tucked underneath him and the other out straight in front.
”I don’t normally have this effect on women”
“I’m sorry.” I said, “I mistook you for someone I used to know. Someone I never expected to see again.”
“And I look like him do I?”
“Well no, not really, not now I can see you properly. On the landing, the light was behind you and I could just see your hair and your outline. I’d just been thinking about him.”
Well I hope you’re not too disappointed. The important thing is, are you O.K? You didn’t hurt yourself when you fell, did you? I’m sorry I couldn’t catch you.”
I looked at the man now struggling to get up off the floor and saw that the similarities between him and Darren were only in his short blonde hair and his build. I watched as he reached for a crutch, and then used it and the wall to hoist himself up off the floor. I should have helped since he was obviously having difficulties.
From the floor, he looked enormous. He offered his hand, and without thinking, I took it and let him help me up. For a while, we stood there looking at each other. He was over six feet tall, broad shouldered with blue eyes, square jaw and cleft chin. ` Well’ I thought `I can think of a lot worse people to faint in front of.’
The stranger held out his hand again. "I'm Gordon Menzies. I just moved in to the flat across the landing.”
“Jenny Trenchard. What can I do for you Gordon?”
“Oh! Oh yes, I was going to ask you a favour. I’ve got a chap coming round to reconnect the phone line. He just called my mobile to say he was running late, and I have to be somewhere. If I leave my keys with you, would you let him in? I’ll put a note on the door.”
I noticed a movement behind him. The postman knocked on the open door. He gave me my parcel and I signed for it. As the postman left, I turned back to Gordon.
“I can do better than that. Now my parcel has arrived I can come over to your place and wait for your telephone man. You certainly don’t want to miss him; it will take weeks to get them back.”
I followed him back to his flat as he went back in to get his car keys. I could see by the way he walked that he was obviously in some pain.
“Are you OK? Are you sure you wouldn’t like me to drive you?”
No it’s OK. I’ve been sitting down too long. It’ll be fine once I’ve been on it for a while. Besides I need you here.”
He grabbed his keys. “Thanks for doing this Jenny. Help yourself to tea, coffee or anything else you fancy.”
I walked back in and started to explore his flat. A home can tell you a lot about its owner. The first thing I noticed was the furniture; good quality, real leather couch. No sign of any chipboard laminate cupboards. All solid wood and beautifully made. I couldn’t resist running my hands over them; nothing feels the same as quality wooden furniture.
He had a few photographs around the room, pictures of him in battle fatigues with a group of other men. Some others showed him in a more relaxed situation standing in what looked like a desert compound. Each man had a beer in his hand. Finally, I found a picture of two older people I took to be his parents. There was definitely a likeness between Gordon and the man in the photograph.
As I sat down on the large Chesterfield Sofa, I realised there was no sign of any woman in Gordon’s life. I got up again and looked at the pictures. There was no sign of any disability there and he was certainly a good-looking man. Something had obviously happened and whatever it was he had to handle it on his own. I was deep in thought about his injuries and how he’d come by them. When the doorbell rang it jolted me back to reality, and I went to meet the Telecom engineer.
When Gordon returned he looked exhausted, yet still he managed a smile. He held up a bottle of wine and waved it at me.
“A token of my appreciation.”
“I don’t need that, it was a pleasure”
“I’d still like you to have it”
“I’ll take it on one condition, that you share it with me.”
I took the bottle from him and went to the kitchen to find a corkscrew and wine glasses. When I returned with the wine I found Gordon sitting on his couch, eyes closed and fast asleep. I took off his shoes, lifted his legs up onto the couch and laid him down to sleep. I sat and drank my wine and was just about to leave when it happened. I heard him yell something that sounded like “Incoming,” and heard a thump as he rolled off the couch. I turned to see him lying in front of the couch with his hands over his head. His whole body was shaking. I rushed back and knelt beside him, shaking his shoulder.
“Gordon. Gordon.”
His arm suddenly came around me. “Get your head down, you stupid cow.”
“Gordon stop. It’s OK. Really it’s OK.”
His body movements stopped and he gave me a dazed look.
“What?”
“You must have been dreaming and rolled off the couch.”
He pushed himself up and rolled onto his backside.
“Well congratulations, now you know about me. Didn’t take long did it? So you’ve seen the show, you can go now.”
“Gordon, it’s not like that. I was trying to help you.”
“You sure you didn’t just stick around for the freak show. See the idiot who can’t leave the war behind. In case you hadn’t noticed I brought a reminder back with me.”
“I think I’d better go.”
Yes I think you had.”
At first I felt angry, who was he to judge me like that. Then I realised that he was embarrassed and his aggression was really a defence mechanism. He was angry for letting me see what he perceived as a weakness. I felt sad for him, living here on his own with a damaged leg and even more damaged mind. I wanted to reassure him, tell him that I understood; that it was nothing to be ashamed of. One look at his face told me that this was not the time.

*****

Chapter 2 Breaking through

For the next few weeks, I didn’t see much of Gordon. Occasionally I’d see him across the landing or in the foyer. We would exchange greetings or nod to each other but always there was an embarrassed awkwardness between us. I often thought about him but he had pushed me away and I had no idea how to break that barrier down.
Things changed the day the lift broke down. I came home to find him standing by the door cursing at the notice.
“Does this happen often?” he asked me.
“It’s the first time since I moved in here.”
“Oh well I suppose it will have to be the stairs.”
“Are you alright? Do you need a hand?” I almost didn’t ask that question for fear of the response.
“No, I’ll be OK thanks.”
I started up the stairs when he called out to me.
“Jenny. –I think I owe you an apology. I was very rude to you when you were only trying to help. I’d just like you to know that I’m really am sorry for what I said.”
I just smiled at him. “It’s all forgotten. Come on let’s get up these stairs.”
His leg was obviously getting better because with one hand on the stair rail and the other on his crutch he managed the stairs quite well. He couldn’t run up the way I could but he was certainly able to climb them. I climbed the stairs alongside him.
“You go on ahead. I’ll be alright.”
No I’ll stay with you. –Tell me to keep my nose out if you like but I was wondering what the problem is with your leg.”
“Shrapnel wound in Afghanistan”
“I used to be a nurse, I can see it’s your knee that’s the problem but I wondered just what damage was done.”
“Torn tendons, muscles and ligaments. I also smashed my patella. It will get better but my days of marching 20 miles across country with a forty pound pack on my back, are well and truly over.”
“Is that such a bad thing? I mean, at least it got you out of a war zone.”
He stopped and looked at me. “Jenny, I like you, I really do, and I don’t want to be rude again, but you really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to offend you I just know what I read in the papers. If it’s half as bad as they say, I would be relieved to be out of there.”
“Would you? How do you know that? Unless you’ve been there you can’t possibly know.”
“Then teach me. I know about night terrors and survivor guilt but you’re right I don’t understand what it’s like to be in fear of your life everyday
“Ha! That’s me all right I was afraid and I’m not ashamed to say it. What people at home don’t realise is that there are scared soldiers and dead soldiers. Oh sure, we joke and wind each other up about it, but deep down, where it matters, we’re scared, and that’s a good thing. If you’re not afraid, you do stupid things and get yourself killed.”
“I can see that, but surely it’s better to be away from all of that.”
No you still don’t understand. When you’re out there in the desert, living in the shadow of death, the only thing you have to rely on is each other, you become very close, like family, no closer than that.”
“And you miss them don’t you? You miss having people relying on you?”
Yes I miss them. I miss the ones that won’t come back the most. I don’t miss them relying on me. They never should have done that. I was supposed to protect them, keep them safe, not send them into harm's way.”
I was sad when our landing came into sight. I knew that Gordon was a deeply troubled man and now he was starting to open up to me and that had to be a good thing. As we climbed the final step, Gordon stopped turned and looked back down the stairs.
“That wasn’t so bad. Looks like it’s the stairs for me from now on. Of course it will be harder going down.”
He turned back and headed towards his front door. I gathered up all my courage and called out to him.
“Gordon, would you like to have dinner with me tonight? Sorry that came out wrong. I mean it’s just as easy to cook for two as it is for one, and I’d like the company. I’m sure I can rustle up something we’d both enjoy.”
“What time?”
“About seven okay?”
“Sounds fine. I’ll bring the wine”
As he went in and the door closed behind him, I turned back towards my own door and punched the air.
“Yes!”
Suddenly I had a thought, he’s bringing wine. Now I have to cook a meal that lives up to that wine.

*****

Chapter 3 Dinner for Two

I don’t know what it was that attracted me to him. It wasn’t just that he was so handsome, I’d met handsome men before, but they’d all been so in love with themselves that there was no room for anyone else. Gordon was just the opposite I wasn’t sure if he even liked himself. Maybe it was those broad shoulders or maybe his big chest but I felt he was someone I could depend on, and god knows there had been few enough of those in recent years.
I was just finishing the Boeuf Bourguignon when the doorbell rang. I was surprised to see he had dressed for dinner and held two bottles in his hand.
“I didn’t know what we were having so I brought red and white.”
“Boeuf Bourguignon.”
Well I’d better open the red and let it breathe.”
He walked in rather awkwardly and that was when I noticed he’d left his crutch behind.
“No crutch tonight?”
Well it wasn’t much of a walk so I thought I’d give it a try. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll trade it in for a walking stick.”
“Things must be getting better then?”
Yes the leg is improving daily.”
“Good, sit down, dinner won’t be long.”
I have to admit dinner was one of my better efforts and Gordon was very complimentary.
“What on earth is a girl, who cooks like this, and looks like you, doing on her own?”
“Well thank you kind sir. I guess I’m just too fussy. What about you?”
Oh you know how it is, army life.”
I nodded, but of course, I knew nothing about army life. Most of the girls I knew were turned on by a man in uniform; any man in uniform. I had no doubts that Gordon in uniform would have been a very attractive package indeed. I knew the army moved you about a bit, but the more I thought about it the less sense it made. A man who would turn female heads wherever he went, yet no wife and no girlfriend. `Perhaps he’s gay’ I thought, but the thought never lingered. I’d not seen him entertaining anyone, male or female.
“So what do you do now then Jenny?”
“Sorry! What?” I responded, pulling myself away from my thoughts.
“Earlier, you said you used to be a nurse, so now you must do something different. I was just wondering what it was?”
“Oh, it’s nothing special; I work in a call centre. I spend my days trying to convince people to change energy suppliers.”
“And that’s better than nursing?”
“No!”
“So it’s better paid than nursing, right?”
“Huh, I wish. I’m on minimum wage plus a small bonus if I reach my targets.”
“So you don’t like the job as much, and the pay is worse. I have to ask the question, why?”
“I needed to get away from London and when I came here the call centre was the only job I could get.”
“I go to the hospital 3 days a week for physio. Would you like me to see if they’ve got any vacancies?”
“No! If I want a different job, I can get it myself thank you”
He held his hands out in a defensive gesture.
“Whoa. I’m just trying to help out a friend here.”
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean it to come out like that. I know you meant well but I have my reasons for doing what I do. Still I’m glad to hear that we are friends.”
“Well I consider you a friend; I rather hoped it was mutual.”
I reached across the table and squeezed his hand. Immediately I felt it. I couldn’t tell you what it was, just a feeling that started in my hand and travelled up my arm into my chest. I reached out with the other hand and held his hand in both of mine.
“You know it’s mutual.”
At that moment, I knew for sure that I wanted to be more than friends I thought that he did too but for some reason he was holding back. Even so, we had a pleasant evening and when he went home, he kissed my cheek.
“Next time I’ll do the cooking and we’ll eat at my place.” He said as he left.
It may have only been my cheek that he kissed but it still burned. I could still feel it as I walked into the bedroom. I rubbed my cheek as I looked at myself in the mirror. I sat there on the bed staring at my reflection.
"My god woman," I said to myself. "How on earth do you expect him to notice you? You have seriously let yourself go."
Looking at the face without a trace of makeup and the blonde hair with dark roots, I could see that it was true. I'd spent almost two years trying to blend into the background and from what I saw in the mirror I'd done a good job. I tried to remember the last man who had asked me out. It had been over a year ago. I looked back at my reflection.
"Well Jenny, if you really want him, things are going to have to change."
I pulled my hair out of the ponytail I always wore and looked again.
" Well I'll have to do something with that; something more than just touching up the roots.
I searched out my makeup bag and put on some lipstick. I noticed an immediate improvement. I looked down at the breasts that Darren had always admired. Now they were all but flattened by the sports bra I wore most of the time. I pulled the tee shirt over my head and sighed as I released my breasts from their confinement. I supported them with my hands and looked back in the mirror.
"Well the material is all still there it's time to make better use of it."
That night before going to bed, I dug out some of the underwear that I hadn't worn since arriving in Newcastle. A tight fitting pair of jeans and a white blouse finished off the outfit. Darren always said I was a master of the no makeup look, so next morning I used just a hint of makeup. I didn't go overboard; I wanted a gradual transformation not an overnight change.
When Gordon came to my door to invite me to dinner at his place, he did a double take but said nothing. However, when I turned up for dinner wearing a flowing skirt and peasant top he couldn't resist saying something.
"Well, you certainly scrub up well"
I laughed and slapped his arm."
"You're not so bad yourself," I said as he escorted me to the dinner table.
That was the start of things. From that day forward, we spent as much time in each other’s flat as we did in our own.
Over our meals, we talked. I told him all about growing up in South London. He asked about my parents and my schooling. It was good for me to talk about it all. I’d had no contact with anyone from that part of my life for two years and I missed them. Growing up on a large council estate had been hard and my family were proud of what I’d achieved. Gordon listened. He was a good listener, better than any other man I’d met.
“So what brought you up here?” he asked. “Newcastle is hardly the first place a London girl heads for. Don’t tell me. You were following some man who left you high and dry. Stupid Prick.”
“NO! It was nothing like that. There was a man involved but it was nothing like you’re suggesting. --Let’s just say it ended badly and I needed to get away.”
“I take it your family didn’t approve of him? Is that why you don’t see them?”
“No, it’s nothing like that. It’s a long way from London to Newcastle, and I don’t like driving long distances.”
“There are these things called trains you know. You can get on one in Newcastle and three hours later, you are in London. If it’s a matter of cash, I can help you out.”
“It’s very kind of you to offer Gordon but things are more complicated than that. I think it’s time we changed the subject.”
I quickly learned that once I told him that I didn’t want to discuss something, it would never be mentioned again unless I brought it up. I couldn’t be like that. He made it clear that he didn’t want to talk about his childhood, but I continued to press him. I knew he’d been to a public school and I expected him to support them.
“No son of mine will ever go there,” was all he would say.
“It was one of the many disputes I had with my father. He said it would make a man of me. From what I saw it was more likely to do the opposite.”
I found the thing he would talk most about was his life in the army. It certainly seemed to be one of the happier times in his life.
Day by day, week by week, we became closer. We occasionally went out for a drink together, and every Saturday morning we did our weekly shop. I used every trick I could think of to get him to take it further. When I rubbed myself against him in the lift, I could feel that he wanted me, but still he held back.

*****




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