When Aderes had agreed to meet Lewis for lunch, she had intended to maybe buy a cheap sandwich and sit by the pier as they ate. She hadn’t pictured an expensive restaurant which only seemed to offer options with long Italian names, and she certainly hadn’t expected to be resisting Lewis’s efforts to pay for her.
“No, no, it’s fine,” she repeated for the fourth time. Lewis frowned back at her, face set into stubborn lines.
“No, it’s not! I took you here, let me pay.”
“Why don’t we just split the bill in half?” she suggested, stretching her lips into a smile. “We can each pay for ourselves.”
Lewis looked as though he would continue arguing, but caught the eye of the waiter tapping his foot impatiently. He sighed, falling back in his chair with a sheepish grin.
“Fine, fine. But I’m paying next time.”
She nodded absentmindedly, wondering when they had agreed upon a ‘next time’. The lunch had been nice, yes. They’d chatted casually throughout it, discussing both the old play and the new. The last performance had gone well apparently, and the blue light had worked perfectly. She allowed herself a smug little smile at that. But Lewis seemed almost to think that…wait.
“Lewis”, she began awkwardly, then took a breath and looked him directly in the eyes.
“Is this…is this a date?”
Lewis blushed bright red, but gazed right back at her. “I was under that impression, yes. Were you, um, not?”
Aderes sighed, leaning forwards on the table. God, this was going to be painful. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t have any idea. It’s not that you’re not a great guy and all-” she hesitated, thinking about how to word the next part “-it’s more that you’re not exactly…my type?”
His face crumpled, making him look even younger than he already did. “What makes me not your type? Am I the wrong height? Wrong personality?” His mouth turned down petulantly.
Lewis snapped his head up, staring at her in total amazement. “Wait…you’re a…you know?”
She tried to smile. “A lesbian, yes. Does it bother you?”
“Uh, no! No, not at all, I have a cousin who’s a- yeah, it’s just…you don’t look anything like one!” he blurted, immediately turning even redder. Aderes furrowed her brow in confusion.
“What does a lesbian look like? Should I carry a sign around reading ‘I LOVE GIRLS’?”
The waiter was hovering now, clearly trying to find an appropriate moment in the conversation to give them the bill. Aderes waved him over, sliding some money over to Lewis.
“Look, Lewis,” she began kindly, smiling at him. “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, but there are plenty of girls out there who are straight, you know? In fact, I think Liz’s assistant likes you.”
He just stared at her, still blushing slightly. “Amanda? The one always carrying the clipboard?”
“That’s the one!” she replied brightly. Aderes didn’t actually have any idea if Amanda even knew who Lewis was, but perhaps it would work out for them. She checked her watch and jumped up, cursing. “Shit, I’m due back for work in ten minutes. Can you take care of the bill?”
“Sure,” he murmured, seemingly recovered by now. He even managed a smile across the table, which rapidly turned to concern as she turned to grab her jacket.
“Shit, Aderes! What happened to your arm?”
Aderes glanced down, seeing the long red scratch. “Oh,” she muttered. “Nothing, just scraped it somehow this morning.”
“You should get that looked at,” he pressed, worry still evident on his face. “It looks nasty enough to get infected- that must have been a hell of a scrape!”
Aderes laughed it off and swiftly left, thanking him for the lunchtime entertainment. Nonetheless, she felt as though it would be some time before encountering Lewis again wouldn’t make both of them cringe at the memory of this experience.
She zipped her jacket up and stood at the edge of the seafront, shivering slightly. The last of the tourists were fading away now, leaving behind a faint scent of barbecued sausages and suntan lotion, and the seagulls descended on the remains with a triumphant screech. The sun was setting, streaks of orange coating the sky and melting into the yellowish horizon and solid black line of the distant ocean.
Aderes loved it here. She loved the smell of the sea, the tiny shops, the vibrant art scene. She loved the overfilled pasties, the sound of children playing, the crash of the waves as they scooped sand and stones up to the shore, only to drag them back again. But sometimes, it was just a little too far from the glass buildings and whirl of traffic and crowds that made up London. She’d considered taking a holiday back there a few times, but working as a rigger didn’t pay that well. And besides, the risk was too great. Not to mention that leaving Sandy for any length of time made her unhappy.
But maybe one day. If there was a cure-
Her watch beeped and she sighed to herself, abruptly turning and walking away. She could see Carl at the end of the road, closing up his shop for the day. She went in the opposite direction, heading down an alleyway and a few twisting roads. Before long, she was quietly collecting the keys from a nearby flowerpot and letting herself into Smithsons’ Jewellers.
Technically, Aderes had no official qualifications to be a security guard. But Smithsons’ were struggling financially, and the owner Jason had reached an understanding with her; they paid her enough to support her when the theatre ceased to run shows, and she worked the night shift whenever the usual guard, Tony, was away on his frequent travels.
They had laughed at her when she had first suggested that they took her on. Aderes might have been five foot eight and had a few muscles on her arms, but she also looked entirely harmless in her patterned sundress, with her pretty, heart-shaped face and big blue eyes. She’d had to put Jason in a headlock before he considered her offer, but it had been a very effective demonstration. And in the three years since, not a single problem had been raised during her shifts. She didn’t think it was really necessary to even have a guard at night; after all, how many jewellery thieves roamed the tiny towns of Cornwall? But Jason was paranoid, and she wasn’t going to complain about the extra money.
Smithsons’ at night looked less shabby than in the day, save for the gleam of diamonds in every corner. Aderes paced the floor restlessly, grateful for the cans of Red Bull she knew were still stashed under the counter. She’d been here for hours, and it was getting close to one a.m. God, she was bored. But she had never slacked off, and she never would.
A noise at the back of the shop suddenly reached her ears, and she whirled around. A cabinet door had swung open, right next to the small window she’d opened earlier. She relaxed, stepping over to shut it. It had only been the breeze.
Then the shadows shifted, and a man emerged from the back room. He was two feet from her and the first thing she noticed was the gun cradled in his shaking hands, pointed directly at her head.
Aderes suddenly became much less relaxed.
How had she not heard the lock being picked? This man didn’t look like much of a criminal, but the weapon was enough to stop her from moving. He couldn’t have been older than twenty, and even in the darkness, the sweat beads on his forehead were visible. But none of that changed the fact that his finger was firmly placed on the trigger.
“I wasn’t planning to”, she answered calmly, mind racing. She was in a plain dark jacket, T-shirt and jeans- in other words, nothing bulletproof. She’d become complacent in three years of inactivity, had forgotten that there were desperate people in every corner of the world. But a would-be killer? She wasn’t so sure.
The boy looked startled by her tone, but continued on. “I want the most expensive items here. Get me the keys, and you’ll live.” He was holding the gun a little steadier now, aimed squarely between her eyes.
“Sure, just give me a moment.” She allowed a tremble into her voice, and his body language eased slightly. She slowly moved towards the main cabinet, casting a frightened glance over her shoulder; and then spun around and knocked the gun out of his hand with one clean punch, so fast he didn’t even realise it was gone for a moment. He gasped and lashed out weakly, but she darted behind him and swept his legs out from underneath him with a single kick, leaving him sprawled on the floor. The gun, the gun, don’t let him get the gun, she chanted in her head, seeing his hand stretch out for it where it lay on the floor and stamping on his fingers with her full weight. He howled and fell back, cradling his hand, and she delivered a last strike to his head that knocked him out cold. The whole encounter had lasted thirty seconds, at most.
Shit, she thought as she reached for the telephone. I’m out of practice.
The police had taken her statement and Jason rushed down immediately, dressing gown billowing in the wind and eyes wild with panic. Aderes did her best to comfort him as the now-conscious gunman- who she had learned was called Kyle Buckett- was bundled into the back of a police car. He looked up and glared at her, and she felt a tiny twinge of pride at the spectacular bruise now forming across his face. Jason was babbling about changing the locks, setting alarms, raising her salary, hiring a dozen guards, and she decided to intervene before he increased the security to White House standards.
“Jay, it’s fine. I handled it. See?” She held up her arms. “Not even a scratch.”
“There’s a scratch there”, he objected, pointing a shaky finger at her arm.
“Well, yeah, but that’s not from tonight. I doubt that this kind of thing will happen again.”
“Jay, everything is fine,” she cut him off firmly. “I’m going to head home, OK? It’s been a long day.” She wasn’t lying. It was 3am now, and every part of her just wanted to sink into her bed.
“Are you sure?” Jason’s watery eyes peered at her over his glasses, as he anxiously twisted his hands. He wasn’t in the greatest physical shape, and the reluctance of his dressing gown to stay closed was giving her a fairly unpleasant view.
“Certain. Give me a call if you need anything, but I’m exhausted so wait until tomorrow if you can.” Her voice was clear and unruffled, and it seemed to relax Jason a bit. He shuffled his slipper-clad feet and nodded.
“All right, all right. And Aderes...thank you.”
She threw him a quick smile and left, walking briskly to the corner. Once she was sure that she was out of sight she slumped against the nearest wall, breath coming in shaking gasps. She bent over with her hands on her knees, attempting to compose herself as the adrenaline and shock of the last couple of hours caught up with her. It would have been disastrous to be anything less than utterly collected in front of Jay, who was known to have gone to pieces over requests for refunds before. But now, she let herself absorb the emotions she had been holding back.
It took a few minutes, but soon Aderes was able to stand and continue walking towards her house. The journey seemed to take much longer than usual, but at last she was home to her tiny apartment and the excited squeaks of Sandy. “Hey, there”, she murmured, poking her finger through the bars of the chinchilla’s cage. “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve gone through to earn your food tonight.”
Sandy seemed more interested in how her finger tasted than Aderes’s story, so she pulled her hand back before she got a particularly vicious bite and dragged on her pyjamas, not even bothering to brush her teeth. Her bed had never felt more welcoming, and yet it took her an hour to fall asleep, images of the barrel of the gun still facing her in her mind.
Her father. Cari. A news report. Flashing sirens. A notebook and a hand scribbling, stabbing the words out with such anger that the paper almost ripped. More sirens. Cari’s face, streaked with tears in the moonlight. Fire. Fire, fire, fire-
Aderes snapped awake, coughing. Why was she coughing? Her thoughts were bleary and disorientated. There was something wrong with the room, a haze of smoke hanging over it. Smoke. Smoke?
Eyes streaming, Aderes could just about make out the curtains at the window, flames blazing brightly along them. She would have sworn if she had the breath, and leapt out of bed, running to the bathroom. The bucket she kept by the shower filled up with water quickly, and she dashed out and hurled it all over the curtains. The left one was still smouldering, so she filled it again and again, drenching the window until all that was left was a sickly smell and a soaked carpet. The door to the main room was shut, and she prayed that none of the smoke had made its way to Sandy. A quick check reassured her that she had caught the danger almost instantly, and so only her bedroom was affected. She stood in the centre of the room and coughed again, wondering whether she should go to the hospital for smoke inhalation. But half an hour passed and she didn’t appear to be dying, so she decided to ignore common sense and sleep on the sofa. Tears pricked at her eyes, unrelated to the smoke. She’d stopped doing this six years ago, after being kicked out of three hostels. She’d assumed it would never happen again.
It took even longer to fall asleep this time. Even as Aderes drifted off, she was aware of her entire body shaking.
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