Tainted

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Chapter 4

Their meeting with Isobel’s childhood priest didn’t go well. At first Father O’Leary was warm and welcoming, explaining his role in Isobel’s early life to Jake with a touch of fond nostalgia. However as Isobel explained about their apocalyptic dreams the Father became more distant. Although he at least took Isobel’s plight seriously, even when she mentioned the black eyes, he couldn’t answer any of her questions except to say that it was possible and that God worked in mysterious ways.

Really helpful.

What had really upset Isobel though was their conversation moving on to talk of her mother. Myra was still attending Father O’Leary’s church, albeit only semi-regularly. From what O’Leary said her mother missed Isobel and wanted to see her.

The plates thrown at her head had given Isobel a different impression, but that had been five years ago. Maybe if she saw her mother now things would be different. Isobel doubted it, but part of her hoped it was so. She had also begun to wonder if her condition was hereditary; if so her mother might be able to provide some answers. Perhaps it was time for a visit. Isobel sighed heavily. Seeing her mother again wasn’t a prospect she relished. Especially since, according to Father O’Leary, her drinking had gotten worse. Myra had been an alcoholic as long as Isobel could remember and often the worst abuse coincided with her mother’s heaviest binges. Apparently she had been attending AA meetings until a few months ago, but had fallen off the wagon.

Again.

Isobel held out even less hope for her mum’s sobriety than for her own.

Despite the wonderful start to her day Isobel was upset by the time she got to work. Her mind was awhirl with unpleasant memories of her mother and concern about her current predicament. Isobel didn’t know why she cared, God knew she’d been given enough reasons not too… but she did. Angry, confused and a bit depressed, she poured herself a shot of whiskey, downed it, knocked back another and then served her first customer in a somewhat brusque fashion.

“You alright?” Dave rumbled in his gravelly voice.

“Fine,” she replied moodily.

Dave smiled, “You always say that when you’re pissed off about something.” He glanced at Jake as they poured pints of bitter. “I saw you two come in together.”

“So?”

“So yesterday you were drinking together. You looked cosy.”

“So?”

“So are you guys an item or something?”

“Having sex doesn’t make you an item,” she said shortly. She paused in what she was doing and closed her eyes, wishing to God she hadn’t blurted that out. “Please tell me I didn’t say that out loud.”

Dave laughed a hearty belly laugh, a booming noise that burst right from his gut. “Afraid so,” he grinned.

“Shit.” A blush crept into her cheeks.

Dave laughed harder.

She shot him a hostile look which only amused him more. He was still chuckling as he wandered away to serve a customer.

It was a busy shift, especially for a Monday evening. Business peaked around eight, then began to die off. At half past Isobel had a break and joined Jake on the same secluded corner table they’d shared the previous evening. He had been staring into the same half empty pint for almost two hours, only taking an occasional sip.

“Wow.” Isobel said, startling him out of his reverie. “For someone who just got laid, you look surprisingly morose.”

He blinked up at her then smiled softly, “Sorry.”

She shrugged and sat down next to him. “Brought you a fresh one,” she announced, putting a full, cold pint in front of him.

“Thanks.”

“You’ve been nursing that one for hours, it must be stale by now.”

“It is.” He took another sip of the warm beer. The soft smile on his face made him look younger, Isobel thought, more like the guy he might be if he wasn’t so tormented.

She reached her hand across the table and he took it, stroking her fingers absently with his thumb. A rush of heat shot through her and she had to glance down, her heart racing in her chest. Her feelings for Jake were intensifying dangerously fast, but she realised, sitting here holding his hand, she had been feeling them for a while. Sharing their dreams had simply deepened her attraction to him, it was a connection only the two of them shared, a connection as intimate as sex.

“I told Dave about us.” She regretted saying it instantly, but kept ploughing ahead, committed to the disaster her speech had become. “I didn’t mean to, it just came out.” She looked up at him, hoping he didn’t mind. His eyes regarded her mildly, no, not mildly… wonderingly.

“I wondered what had amused him. He’s been smiling at some private joke all night.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. Doesn’t bother me.” He leaned toward her. “I kinda want to scream it from the rooftops, y’know?”

She smiled, a genuine big girly grin, “Yeah. I know.” She looked him in the eyes. “I feel like I’m sixteen again. All excited that a boy likes me.”

“If only we were a normal couple.”

“We’re not. We can’t be.” As soon as the words were out Isobel regretted them, but she didn’t take them back. She recognised her defensive behaviour, the way she was trying to distance herself from the affection he offered. Her heart sank as he drew the hand she’d been holding back across the table. “Sorry,” she said, “I’m not very good at this.”

“I’m not trying to trick you Isobel,” Jake told her, his voice sounded careful like he was talking to a frightened animal.

Isobel resented his tone but she knew she was behaving irrationally. She didn’t want Jake to draw away already, but she was instinctively distrustful of love. It was an emotion that had betrayed her more than once. The last person who’d loved her had spent years torturing her.

“I know,” she said, still reaching across the battered wood to him. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he smiled.

Isobel smiled back.

His hand locked with hers again, though only lightly.

“The Father’s clearly fond of you.”

Isobel couldn’t help but smile at the irony, “Yeah, about as much as my own dad.”

He looked at her, “You don’t get on with him either?”

“I never knew him,” Isobel stared off, remembering. “He left before I was born.”

“God!”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“Didn’t you ever ask?”

“Of course I asked! God, Jake!” She withdrew her hand and slouched defiantly back in her chair, “I don’t want to talk about this.”

“I’m just asking my girlfriend...”

“I’m not your girlfriend,” she snapped, instantly wishing she hadn’t. “We just had sex.”

“And share apocalyptic nightmares where the world burns to ash.” Jake sounded cross, his cheeks twitched and Isobel realised she had really hurt his feelings.

Shit.

“And us along with it.” She sighed heavily and closed her eyes, wishing she wasn’t so messed up, that she could just enjoy being with him without spoiling it with her insecurities. She opened her eyes and smiled at him. “Sorry I’m being defensive.”

“It’s okay,” he sipped his fresh beer.

“It wasn’t just my mum who abused me. I was bullied. A lot”

“Really?” Jake paused, glass halfway to his lips.

“Yeah. It’s one of the reasons I started dying my hair, all the ginger comments. That, my mum, my dad… it’s fucked me up.”

“Fair enough,” Jake nodded. “I bet your natural colour looks sexy, though.”

“Nobody ever seemed to think so.”

“I can’t imagine you ever not being sexy.”

Isobel bit her lower lip, sucking in breath as their eyes met again. This time she didn’t look away.


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