A/N - Sorry for the mixup in the last chapter! As I've tried to explain, when I first wrote this story the heroine was Naomi, but that was also the heroine of the last story I posted here. I changed it to Sophie but the last chapter disappeared so I used the original version and forgot to change the name. Much apologies, here's a quick extra to make up for it!
“So what did he say?” Sophie was waiting for Vincenza to come home from work the following day. They’d not managed to speak in the time she’d been in Manchester, so she’d cooked dinner and was waiting for her friend when she burst into the house.
Vin was all smiles, nervous smiles, but smiles none the less.
“Well.” She dumped her bag on the table, then turned back to her friend. “It was nothing to do with me, or the not sharing information with him - you were right. Not that it makes things any easier; I mean you can’t change who you are, and definitely not who your family are. I mean is it possible to get past that?”
Sophie grabbed her hands, “Earth to Vincenza Dorino...you, madam, are babbling. What the bloody hell happened?”
She sighed, “My daddy dearest is at fault! He bought Edward’s father’s business and then sacked all the staff, sold it off in little pieces...his life’s work. The coincidence, hey?”
“And if you used your father’s name he’d have had more of a clue?”
Vin shook her head, “I told you that name is a curse, and this just proves it more! Edward has been so worried that he now realises that he’s over his hatred of the Alessandro name. He loves me too much...he TOLD me that Sophie, actually said the three little words!”
Sophie jumped up to hug her ecstatic best mate, “that is wonderful. I’ve waited years to see you relax, be happy and find love.”
Vin laughed, “to misquote Meatloaf, three out of three ain’t bad!”
Sophie turned to the fridge and pulled open the door, then with a gasp turned back to Vin, “uh-oh! Mother Hubbard fridge! We are sans vino blanco!”
Shaking her head at Sophie's blatant mix of languages, she searched for her bag, “Argh! You dish up; I’ll fly to Asif’s for it!”
They were halfway into the risotto when Vin finally looked up with a shocked expression, “shit! Sophie! How did it go with Bill? I’m SO selfish!”
“He was furious at first, we left him that note, but I found it under the sofa, it must’ve blown down, so he had no idea where we were and thought we didn’t care.”
“Oh!” Vin immediately felt awful for Bill, the ultimate moment of his life and his two best mates were nowhere to be seen. “And then?”
Sophie felt her face curl into a smile, she’d relived every moment of last night in such detail, and she struggled to find fault, other than she’d not really told him how important he was to her, how much she cared, she’d wanted to avoid talking then, but now regretted it. But it had been so special, he was so...sexy! She felt herself blush at those memories...again!
Vincenza saw the blush and instantly knew what it meant, “you slept with Bill!!! Oh. My. God.! I don’t think I can ask how it was...it’s all a little incestuous to me!” When she spotted Sophie’s face fall, she reached for her, “No! I don’t mean that it’s wrong, just that he’s like my brother, I don’t want a girly breakdown of his sexual prowess!”
Sophie sighed, “We couldn’t resist each other, and we didn’t really talk. He said we’d talk when he got back, and he wants me as more than a friend.”
She nodded, “but I won’t see him for over a month, so much can happen!”
Vin smiled, “tell me this harebrained scheme for revenge is over!”
Sophie hadn’t thought about Miles Langley since he’d dropped her off over a week ago. Her insecurities had made her want revenge, but now that she was safe with the security of Bill and his feelings for her, the past had become just that...the past.
“I don’t need that anymore. Maybe I was a fool for even thinking it. If I hadn’t gone out with him last week...”
Topping up her wineglass she smiled, “Sophie, everything happens for a reason, and maybe taunting Bill in that way made him realise what he feels for you!”
“How are you so wise?”
Vin laughed, “It seems we are both better at interpreting each other’s love life, hey?”
Saturday morning Sophie was woken at six am by a text message. Grabbing her phone excitedly she gasped with joy to see Bill’s name on the screen. She hadn’t heard from him in the two days since they’d parted.
“At Heathrow, about to board plane. Wanted to speak to you, but don’t want to wake you. Miss you. Loved Wednesday, will remember it forever. Take care of yourself while I’m away, and look after Vin, Bill, xxx”
She smiled to herself then regardless of his warnings, she called him.
“I text cos I didn’t want to wake you!” His voice was a husky breath.
Sophie rolled on to her back, the phone plastered to her ear, a grin on her face, “I am more than happy to be woken by you! I called back because I figured that no coach could complain if I call you in the airport. I’m hardly disturbing your preparation!”
He laughed, “You are the most welcome of distractions even when you’re not on the phone!”
He was thinking about her or rather about them as much as she was, it made her grin even more, “I miss you already.”
Bill sighed, “I know. You’re making this a bittersweet trip, all I’ve wanted is the chance to prove myself as a cyclist, then you become all tempting vixen and I want to chain you to my bed and never leave.”
“That sounds perfect...we’ll just delay it a month or so?”
“We will...the ultimate rain check. Will you be ok?”
Sophie closed her eyes, tears welling and she refused to let them fall, “I’ll be fine; I’m really pleased for you, and proud. Do well ok?”
“Goodbye Sophie. I’ll try and email.”
And then he was gone.
And there was a huge, huge void in his place.
ARTistic was its usual quiet self as Sophie skipped in through the door. She was still euphoric from receiving Bill’s email. He was in Oz, had spent the first day acclimatising, and was now trying to beat jetlag. He missed her, wished she was there to share his excitement.
She’d replied with a tome, all about the sun shining through the autumn clouds, the colours in the trees, telling him how wonderful London was, but that she missed him beyond belief, but not mentioning the ‘L’ word. Never mentioning that.
The happiness from that outpouring had lasted down to Camden and right into Margo’s shop. But there was no sign of her friend. Sophie’s enthusiasm for life was taking over and she walked around the shop collecting supplies.
By the time Margo emerged from the store room, Sophie’s arms were loaded with paints, brushes, and her favourite paper.
Margo’s eyes were wide, “inspired?”
She nodded with the telltale grin that she couldn’t seem to wipe off her face, “very. I’ve been working on a wall size canvas for my niece, she wanted a fairytale forest, for some reason it all came easy, and it was better than I imagined, so when I finished it I just kept going. I’ve hardly slept! But I have a room full of my best work!”
Handing her her phone, opened to the pictures of the work she’d done, Margo gasped, there were scenes, still life, abstract. Such a variety, but as she examined in more detail, she realised in each one there was the representation of two halves, opposites, yin and yang. Looking up she smiled at the beaming face of Sophie.
“So you talked about the kiss!”
Sophie knew that Margo would read her, interpret her work immediately. That was what she loved about the older woman.
“We talked...and more. He’s away for a while now...and him not being here seems to have really inspired me.”
Margo smiled and reached under her counter for a photo album, “just after the war, when we first met, he had to debrief in a special camp in Yorkshire. I was still in Belgium, I still had a German passport and the surname of an SS officer, there was no chance of me getting in to Britain.” She flipped through the pages, “these are the works I created then, in that little house with the Resistance.”
Sophie looked at the pictures, wonderful images of love lost.
“These are wonderful Margo, you’ve never shown me them before.”
Margo grinned, “Would you have interpreted them differently before this tryst with your young man?”
Sophie looked at the pictures again, “are you saying that me feeling love makes me see it in your work?”
Margo grinned, “It’s what inspired my works, and I see the same in yours. There’s a quality to these pictures...” she gestured at the images of Sophie’s work, “that you’ve never had before. And remember I’ve known you since you were a novice.”
Sophie thought about that for a moment, “Does that make Bill my muse?”
“Yep! Just as Stanley was mine!”
Margo made them coffee in her ancient percolator, a silver wedding present from the late sixties that still worked today and made the best coffee that Sophie had ever tasted.
“This work is very well timed you know darling,” she handed Sophie a mug.
“It is?” she raised an eyebrow.
Margo was particular about her coffee, two brown sugar lumps then a precise splash of cream, she performed the ritual stirring exactly ten times, then looked up, “oh yes. Do you remember Michael Parker from college?”
Sophie nodded; the man had been a rather neurotic lecturer at her college, his nervous manner at odds to his jobs as both lecturer and manager of a small but exclusive gallery tucked away on Park Lane.
“The weird one?”
“Ah!” She chuckled, “he was not that bad. He has a brilliant eye for art, but is an anxious man...anyway, I digress. His gallery, you remember? Well he has an up and coming New York artist due to exhibit his work in four weeks, but the two had a blazing row. The man has pulled out in temper. Poor Michael is distraught. He has managed to get a replacement for the end of the month, but there’s a period of ten days when he has nothing to display. He’s asked me if I know of anyone who could take that small window to exhibit. There’s a grand opening that he can’t cancel, so it’d be a great moment. What do you think of your ‘Love’ collection?”
Sophie laughed, “Nice one Margo!” It was a ridiculous suggestion!
The older woman shook her head, “Sophie, these are really good. I think you could sell them easily; an elegant gallery will only boost the price. Isn’t this what you want?”
“I think I’m going to faint!”
Sophie didn’t really believe Margo, it all seemed like pie in the sky, but Margo had so much enthusiasm that she went along with her games, she had ten days to produce and organise her ten best pieces, Margo was setting up a meeting with Michael and then it was all up to him.
Vincenza had text her to say that she was meeting Ed straight from work and wouldn’t be home, so Sophie took peanut butter sandwiches and a glass of milk up to her room to sort through her work. Her favourite painting was the one she’d made first, at first look it seemed to be an abstract landscape, but Bill’s blue eyes and dimpled chin stood out a mile to her. Then there were the two gnarled old trees, hundreds of year’s worth of growth before the tip of their branches started to entwine, grow as one, and then they got more and more varied, vivid, and different.
Priming a new canvas, she pulled out the new oils that she’d purchased. She was no portrait artist, but she wanted to paint Bill, in some context. Pacing in front of the easel she struggled to envisage the right composition, how to portray him.
With a grunt she made for his room and more inspiration. He had the largest room, two large windows lit it with natural light, his wrought iron bed dominated the room, then there was the minimalist mismatched furniture typical of a single man. Walking to his bed she could almost see him sprawled across it, his laptop open, an image that was so realistic she almost took a double take.
His favourite hoodie, a dark blue one from a vintage surf shop hung on a bedpost. To Bill it was like his robe, he wore it if he was ever cold at home, rarely outside. Reaching out she touched it, it was soft, well washed. Lifting it to her nose she inhaled, then smiled, it smelled divine, essence of Bill. Slipping it over her head, she smiled, it drowned her, but she loved it. She’d have to make sure she didn’t get paint on it.
Back in her room she started on her piece d’resistance, the image of Bill curled up on the bed, with his come to bed eyes turned on the observer.
The beep of her phone finally dragged her from the work, she had no idea how long she’d been working, but looking at her bedside clock she realised it was five am. She’d been painting for more than eight hours. Now that she’d stopped her back hurt, her feet ached.
Stretching she strolled across the room to her phone, and smiled, an email, from Bill. Not wanting to spoil the moment reading it on a two inch screen, she opened her own laptop and found her email.
“Sounds like I’ve left the best place in the World behind! Capture the memories for me! We had our last light training today. I have loaded more carbs and drunk more protein shakes than I can throw a stick at, I’ve had my legs waxed - by God that hurt! I’ll stick to shaving in future!” Sophie laughed out loud, her and Vincenza had both laughed at him so much when they found out that he shaved his legs to cycle. He protested that it prevented infections when he fell and that it helped with aerodynamics, they’d both just called him gay for a few weeks after.
“Dave Parnell is a bastard, but he’s got 6 kilos off me, mainly in tears I think. But anyway, we’re approaching day one. I cannot tell you how excited I am! I’m typing this in the reception of our hotel before going to bed. Tomorrow is a 190km stage fairly flat and fast, but there are two really hilly stages after that. I might not get chance to email again until out rest day in a few days time as apparently we’re staying in some rather shady hotels! Not quite the Tour de France, is it???
“Hope you’re well. Wish I was there...actually I wish you could be here as I don’t really want to miss this. Love to Vin...did she sort out the shit with Edward afterwards? Wish I could hear your voice, but it’ll be over all too soon as it's my life’s ambition, but not soon enough to be with you. Billxxx”
Sophie swooned with happiness, he all but admitted his love, she was sure he loved her and she loved him. Glancing at the quarter complete picture of him she smiled, she was pleased with it, even if no one else appreciated it, though she could imagine Margo gushing over it already.
Smiling she hit ‘reply’ and started to type, all about Vincenza and the issues with her father and Ed’s family. Bill loved the gossip, she could almost see him chuckling as he read it in her head. Then she hinted at the chance she may have an exhibition, she wasn’t prepared to admit that one night of passion with him was all the inspiration she needed. That was a little too personal! But he’d love to know that she was surviving at least without him.