Paris, Paris, Paris.
Sophie looked up at the Tour d’Eiffel looming on the skyline in a dominant way and sighed. This was one of her favourite cities, and there was no better company that Vincenza. Her friend was sad, morose at times, she really loved Edward and the fact that he had rejected her was breaking her heart. Sophie was also still reeling at her conflict with Bill, as they’d left the house, they’d told him where they were going, invited him to join them via a scrawled message, but neither had heard from him, and that upset her, they rarely went on trips like this without him, and there was a gaping hole in their days. Not that Paris didn’t entertain! They’d were having a great time.
Currently Vincenza was in a designer salon having her dark hair lightened, cut, as well as all manner of waxing, plucking, primping and teasing. Sophie just wasn’t girly enough to join her, so she sat outside a small cafe drinking coffee and watching the world go by. It was a cold day, but bright and sharp, but she was glad of the heater above the cafe window that warmed her up.
Her school level French had improved when she’d studied art, and she’d spent a whole term in Paris studying at the various museums, so she could pick up a newspaper and just about manage to read the content.
When her phone rang she snatched for it, dying to hear Bill’s gruff chuckle on the other end.
“Hello?” She couldn’t hide the stress in her voice.
"Sophie!” The voice was more smarm than gruff...Miles. “Are you overseas?”
She realised the Europe ring tone and given away her location, “yes, I’m in Paris, something cropped up last minute.”
He sighed, “I was hoping we could meet tonight...for dinner.”
“Maybe when I'm back, I'm not sure when that’ll be...I’ll call you, ok?”
As he spluttered a response, she hung up, complaining of the terrible connection that their phones had made. In truth the line had perfect clarity, but the vocalised crackles hopefully backed up her claims. Once again in silence, her focus returned to the busy traffic and the colourful pedestrians that swarmed around Montmartre.
Her mind drifted to the same place it always seemed to these last few weeks. Bill. That weekend, the wedding, he’d been the perfect man, the perfect company...and one kiss had driven a rift on a par with the Grand Canyon between them. Picking up her phone, she scrolled to his number, this bullshit had to end now.
“Hi, you've reached the answer phone of Bill Swift...leave a message and I’ll call you back.”
She groaned, but couldn't hang up now, it was heart on the line time, “Bill...it’s me. I hate we’re not speaking, I know that shit has happened, but we’ve been friends for too long to let things ruin it. Will you please call me, or better yet, come join us in Paris. Nothing is the same without you...” The words ‘I love you’ hovered on her lips, but she couldn’t seem to spit them out. So hanging up she put the phone back into her pocket, praying he’d call soon.
Bill had never known exhaustion like this. He’d spent three days getting used to his team, nine guys from all walks of life who shared the same passion for cycling as he. But they’d all been meeting up regularly for the last six months, training for the race that started in nine days time. He was the only one not up to scratch. So he was playing catch up, learning tactics, team rules and identifying his best and worst features, trying to be the best team player possible. And it meant grafting fourteen hours a day, the work was almost more mental more than physical.
Neither of his housemates had responded to his emails, and as his exhaustion worsened, his links to the outside world became more and more distant. He had to follow his heart and do this 100 percent, that was all he could do for himself. He’d spent a long time making other’s happy...or unhappy if you listened to his family. But this was his one chance to seize the day, take this chance by the balls and make it all he wanted.
Sighing he pulled the duvet over him, Dan, his temporary boss had more than made him welcome, and Bill had responded well to his demand of working as hard as he could. His phone beeped, and as he scrolled through the messages, he was informed that Sophie Beck had called. He shook his head, it was all too much, and too intense. Pressing the ‘off’ button, he tossed the phone on the floor, he’d said in his email that he needed to work hard. Typical Sophie not to listen to his advice of ‘don’t try and contact me as I’m working really hard’, as usual rules weren’t made for her!
Five days they’d spent in Paris, and each one had been amazing, Sophie and Vincenza had had a wonderful time. As their taxi took them back from the station to the house, Vin finally turned on her phone, she’d turned it off after Edward had walked out, and despite Sophie’s protests that the man deserved a chance to speak, she had refused to succumb. The final evening they’d sat at a bar on a beautiful side street, warmed by the outdoor heaters, watching the world go by and Sophie had finally pushed Vincenza into a corner.
“Why won’t you turn on your phone? Or at least check your emails? He may have called you...”
Vincenza looked at her with tears in her eyes, “what if he HASN’T called? What if he rejects me all over again? I’ve never let anyone get close to me before Sophie, and it scares me!”
The wine was loosening her lips and Sophie was relieved that her demure and often introvert friend was finally sharing her stresses.
“Vin, if he feels differently because your father is rich, successful, then he’s not the man for you. But I met him, I could see how he feels about you. I bet he’s called you dozens of times. You NEED to turn on your phone.”
But Vincenza’s fears had won out.
Now as they sat in the taxi, Sophie could feel her friends tension. The phone beeped as message after message appeared on her screen. All from Edward.
Vincenza was silent as she scrolled through them, eventually she lifted her head, “he wants to meet me, to explain why he ran away. he sounds stressed.”
Sophie nodded, “we have been off the radar for five days! He’s probably going demented. I bet he’s given Bill a ton of grief!”
But the house was empty, cold, and several days worth of mail was banked up behind the front door. Suddenly they both realised that Bill hadn’t been there either. Sophie glanced at Vin, “where’s Bill?”
They turned on the heating, collected the mail and then searched for a note or message. Nothing. Vin phoned Edward who was more than ecstatic to hear from her, she agreed to meet him the following day. It wasn’t until Sophie was making them some dinner that Vin squealed an “Oh BILL!” Rushing into the lounge Sophie found her sat at the laptop, She pointed at the screen, an email, a hand covering her stunned smile.
“Guys, I’m off to Manchester for two weeks, I’ve been asked to fill in for an injured cyclist in a big International amateur race in Australia. It’s not the Olympics! But it is a dream come true. Didn’t get the chance to tell you all! It’s all been a real rush. So I’m kind of incommunicado for a while as I‘m being slogged into shape, I leave for Oz on the first of October, I’ll email updates when I can. The race starts on 5th Oct, you can check out progress on this website. www.GBcycling.co.uk/am-racing
Hope you’re ok, see you soon, Bill.”
Sophie felt tears appear behind her eyes, he was gone. And he’d had such great news and had no one to share it with. She should have been there to tell him how great it was, to hug him and tell him she’d always known he was capable of anything he wanted to achieve. Instead he’d left home with no pomp or ceremony. And he deserved more than that.
“Isn’t that just BRILLIANT!” Vincenza’s life was looking up again and her happiness for Bill was overflowing.
Sophie nodded biting her lip to stop those damn tears from flowing. She’d made it this far without getting upset, she couldn’t now. Going back to dinner she was stirring the pasta sauce thoughtfully when a voice interrupted her.
“What is it?” Vin asked. “Since you read that email you’ve gone as white as a sheet.” Sophie tried a nonchalant shrug but failed, “what is it? You and Bill have fought over something. He won’t tell me, neither will you...but it’s been awkward the last six weeks. I haven’t pushed you as I hoped you’d tell me...but you haven’t said a word.”
Sophie looked at her friend and sighed, “at the wedding, we were asleep, but we woke up kissing each other. It’s been difficult since, he won’t talk to me...”
Vin looked as thought she’d been hit in the face with a wet fish, stunned was not the word. “How the bloody hell did I miss that? I can’t believe it! Do you like him? Or was it alcohol?”
Turning back to the food Sophie fought those tears yet again. Her feelings for Bill had been so mixed up, she’d travelled a rollercoaster since the wedding. But what hurt now was the fact that he was about to embark on his greatest adventure, his life’s dream, and she’d not given him her support, not been there to whoop for joy with him. He was her best friend, she couldn’t bear the idea that he thought she didn’t care. Because she did. Too much.
“You love him!”
Vin was peering at her profile from the other side of the kitchen, and as Sophie turned to look at her she felt exposed, bare.
“Sophie Beck! You love Bill! Of my God it’s SO obvious now! Have you told him? Does he know?”
Then it came, the torrent of tears. Sophie literally broke her heart on Vin’s shoulder as she explained how Bill had avoided her since coming back, how he was always angry with her.
Vin nodded knowingly, “I know Bill, as well as you do. He’s not someone who would avoid you. He’d talk it through give you one of his world famous and inoffensively delivered ‘thanks but no thanks’ in typical Bill fashion and then you’d be back to being friends. He must feel the same. Maybe Bill has finally had his wings clipped!”
Sophie shook her head, “nice of you to say so Vin, but I think I have to realise that this is over, living here, our friendships. We can’t seem to get past this.”
Vin tried to protest, but Sophie was insistent that she was right, “the last time I spoke to him he was horrible to me. That’s not love!”
Vin laughed, “was that after you’d gone on a date with Miles? He hates him ANYWAY, but if he loves you, well that would pure crucify him!”
“He was anything but upset!”
Vin sighed, “what about Miles? Are you seeing him again?”
Sophie groaned, “this was my revenge, I wanted to ensnare him, make him really want me, then dump him publicly, just to make myself feel better.”
“That sounds dangerous, and It’ll only hurt you more in the long run, I can feel it...” VIn took her hands, “go find Bill. Tell him how you feel, if he doesn’t feel the same he’ll be gone for a while, chance for things to settle...”
Sophie shook her head, “I can’t do that Vin, I have to move on, find somewhere to live, get my head sorted...”
Vin shook her firmly, “don’t be so pigheaded. Has the Miles thing taught you nothing? Years you've wasted worrying about what might have been, and not wanting relationships through fear of getting hurt...the one thing you can guarantee with Bill is that he’ll tell you the truth. He won’t string you along, he won’t lie to you and he won’t humiliate you. Go see him! It’ll mean everything to him, and at least you’ll be able to sleep at night.”
Vin was right about one thing, Sophie didn’t sleep. So many scenarios and conversations were flooding her brain and she couldn’t switch off. In her brave moments she wanted to call him, speak to him, tell him how she felt. But if his phone was on he would hardly appreciate a four am wake up. So she’d turned over, punched her pillow and tried to sleep all over again.
Sophie tried to focus on her work, more illustrations, but it was futile, she was like a spinning top, wound up and ready to go...but without Bill she couldn’t expend all that energy and it was more than counterproductive.
At lunchtime she called Vincenza, who was terrified of meeting Edward after work, and was more than glad of Sophie's problems to distract her.
“Go! Get a train, go to Manchester...do it!”
By three pm she was en route to the Northern city. For someone who’d lived so frugally for so many years, the last week had seen her dive heavily into the advance for her illustrations. It was meant to last for months, she’d be lucky to still have money at Christmas.
Grimacing at the price of the ticket, she then had an expensive taxi ride to the National Cycling centre on the outskirts. There was a hotel a mile away which she checked into, grimacing again at another expense. But she was close to him, she couldn’t bottle it now, not after all this effort.
The receptionist at the velodrome was initially very unhelpful. No road teams were training in the venue. No help, no explanation and no answers. She felt like crying, she didn’t know how much longer she’d have the courage to confront him, as the moments passed, she felt further and further away from strong confident woman who’d made the decision to come here.
“Look all I know is I need to speak to someone training with the amateur road team, I really need to see him before he goes off to Australia. This is my only chance.”
Her half meltdown seemed to pull at a heartstring somewhere in this hard faced receptionist, as she smiled, “Dave Parnell is taking a team there on the weekend.”
Sophie nodded enthusiastically, “that’s it. How can I find this Dave?”
She shrugged, “I can’t give you his number sorry,” as Sophie’s face fell once more, she added, “though I can pass on a message.”
Nodding she scribbled the hotel and room number onto a piece of paper and Bill’s name, “can you ask him to give this to Bill Swift?”
Nodding she pocketed the paper and turned back to her work. Sophie was unsure whether she would contact the manager, but she could do nothing more.
Bill was shattered, hill climbing had always been a distraction to him, a place where torture replaced any mental torment, he’d used it to get him through school, family ‘incidents’ and so much more. But even the horrendous hills of Derbyshire hadn’t got Sophie out of his mind. She’d called him a few times, he’d not answered of course, he was trying to dedicate all his mental and physical ability to this race, to giving 110 percent, he’d realised that 100 percent was ineffective at the start of the week. She was a distraction that he didn’t need. But ignoring her wasn’t making her go away.
A hot shower and some of Dave’s wife’s high energy food was exactly what the doctor ordered. But the hot needles pummelled his skin, his face, his closed eyes, but Sophie’s vision was still there in the centre of his mind.
“Just got a call from HQ, someone’s left a message for you.”
Dave was sat in the dining room tucking into paella, his wife Erica was Spanish and Bill was fully appreciating her hospitality. But at the mention of a message he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Two people knew where he was, others knew he was away, but only Vin and Sophie knew he was in Manchester.
Taking the scribbled note from Dave he looked at the paper and groaned, Sophie’s name, then the details of a hotel a few miles away.
“Trouble?” Dave asked.
Bill shook his head, “just some...you know unfinished business.”
Dave handed him a plate, “if there’s something...” he winked, “or rather someone that you need to clear things with, then do it before we go away. This tour will be hell for someone as unused to it. You won’t welcome any disharmony or shit at home.”
He slid his car keys along the table, “after you’ve eaten head down there, sort it. It’ll do your motivation the world of good!”