Chapter Twenty Two
A/N Because I've had 500 views in twelve hours, and because it's the weekend - an extra chapter! Thanks for the comments, votes, views...appreciate you all!
“Will you forgive me?” He breathed.
Sophie was speechless, and she could only stare at him. The last thing she expected when she’d poured out her heart in that email was that Bill would drop everything and turn up here, at the launch. She could feel she was staring at him, he was a sight for sore eyes, her anger, her longing, her desire, her disappointment, more emotions than she could imagine were all combining in one huge assault, and she was struggling to deal with the reality of it. He came.
Bill had been watching her for a few moments from the door before he’d stepped into the gallery, and drunk in the vision that was Sophie Beck. He’d missed her more than he could ever imagine, and here she was looking unbelievably beautiful, the centre of attention, the whole room focused on her. He couldn’t have missed this for all the world. And she looked so stunning, her glossy hair piled up so seductively, her exposed slender neck that his teeth just begged to sink into, to taste and savour, and a dress that looked like it was made for her. He was reminded of a glamorous 1950’s film star, and it was the greatest combination. Their time together was so brief, and so long ago that as he observed her, he struggled to contain his ardour.
Smiling at Nick and the beautiful Sara, he reached for Sophie’s elbow, ignoring the jolts of electricity that erupted at the contact, then excused them. Leading her to the door, the man who he soon realised was the proprietor of the gallery tried to intercept them, but Bill shook his head.
“She needs a little fresh air. Give her two minutes.” It was an insistent and commanding comment and Michael faded away leaving their path clear.
A little along the street he released her elbow and turned her to look at him, “speak to me darling.”
Bewildered, that was how she was feeling. Sophie felt as though she was out of body, watching this happen from a distance. Lifting her eyes she finally met Bill’s.
“What are you doing here?”
He sighed, “there’s so much to say, I can’t even begin to apologise, but this isn’t my time it’s yours! I wanted to be here for you, and I was supposed to get in at lunchtime, but there was a flight delay in Malaysia. I hope I haven’t spoilt this for you?”
“Tonight?” She sighed, had this spoilt the night? She had wanted him to be part of this more than anything, but since she’d realised why he was so absent, since he’d let her down, this was the furthest from what she’d expected.
“I need to go back inside,” she finally managed.
As she made to turn, Bill held her back, “can I stay? Will you talk to me later?”
She nodded to both, “you look tired.”
“It’s been a tiring month. You on the other hand look edible!” He waggled an eyebrow menacingly and when she chuckled, he knew she was at least being civil towards him. She deserved to be angry, who could blame her? He watched her swish back into the gallery, that divine dress so perky, cheeky, yet attractive. He’d screwed up big style, and he knew it. He just hoped she’d forgive him. When he’d read that email a couple of days ago two feelings warred within him, the nausea, pain, anger at making such a ridiculous error in judgement, then the euphoria that she loved him, that he’d been her muse, that all this...he glanced up at the full gallery, the works of art, it had all been about him.
A twenty four hour flight was too long a time to dwell and stew over what went wrong, and it wasn’t until Bill had entered his home earlier in the evening to dump his bags, that he was hit between the eyes with a bolt of truth. Since he’d found out about his mother’s infidelity and that it was the reason for his father’s attitude towards him, he’d lost trust in everyone. Other than Sophie and Vincenza he’d not let anyone get close to him since he was a child, somehow, when he admitted he loved Sophie, more than anything else, she took a position of power in his life. He could see it all so clearly now. He had to make it right, he only hoped he wasn’t too late to apologise for letting her down.
Sighing, he moved towards the building only to be swamped by Vincenza, he’d missed the pocket rocket too, in such a different way, and catching her in his arms, he held her close for a while.
“What the shit have you done to her boy?” she finally asked as he pulled back.
Bill groaned, “I’m a tool Vin, I know that. Do you think she’ll forgive me?”
Vin squeezed his hands, “she’s lost without you, but learn from this Swift, it may be your last chance!”
Bill then had to work his way around the room, aware of Sophie’s every move. He spotted Nick glaring at him on occasion, and that was a conversation he wasn’t looking forward to, so he wove in a different direction through the crowds. He’d also been quizzed by Margo, someone he’d heard a lot about, but never met. She viewed him very sceptically and he felt that everywhere he moved he was being assessed and found wanting.
And he was so bloody tired! Jetlag and twenty four hours of travelling on top of the hardest six weeks of his life and the emotional trauma of the last three days all seemed to make him a physical wreck. Just when he needed to see the night out. The amount of talking they had to do meant he’d not likely sleep for hours. He groaned at the thought.
Then he froze, that was the piece she’d told him about, Blue Eyes. He stood transfixed at its intricacies. It told so many stories, was so cleverly created. Yet he was no art critic and couldn’t explain why or how.
“Think it resembles you?” Sophie had realised the moment that Bill had seen the picture that started all this off. Within it was everything that they shared, their friendship, their passion, but it was like the Mona Lisa...enigmatic, from a different view and to different eyes it was just random shades of blue. It was your own interpretation that brought out the depths, the options. She hoped Bill saw that, but there was a good chance he’d not ‘get it’.
“It’s perfect!” He let his eyes drift from it to her. “If this was the only piece you’d done you deserve this exhibition.”
“Really?” Her need for reassurance was always just below the surface, damn Nick Beck for making her so insecure.
“Yep. It’s warm, comforting, yet detailed, it’s got depth! I kind of feel this might be your swansong, that you’ll always be remembered for it!” He smiled, “and it’s me?”
She nodded, “every time I look at it I just...” Sophie suddenly realised she was talking aloud, to the man who’d run roughshod over her. “Well, I hoped to keep it, but it’s sold, so I’m going to have to make do with photos!”
Bill slid his hand into the pocket of his combats and pulled out a printed email, “I bought it.” He showed her the receipt, “I bought it unseen, I just had to have something so personal.” His eyes had drifted back to the painting, so he snapped back to stare at her. “Do you hate that it’s me that bought it?”
A tear slid from her eye as she shook her head, “I couldn’t imagine parting with it, at least now I can see it regularly.”
He hoped she saw it more often than that, but now wasn’t the time to push it. Fighting the exhaustion, he smiled, “you definitely can.”
“It was expensive!” She suddenly fussed, “you shouldn’t...”
He laughed, “I finished third in the race, that’s not much more than my winnings, and seeing as how it was coming home to you that pushed me to win...” He laughed, “we kind of level each other out, hey?”
“Third? That’s unbelievable! I’m so proud!”
She smiled, the first genuine smile that he’d seen from her since stepping into the room. And it pleased him far more than was healthy. Groaning at the sudden burst of energy in a certain part of his anatomy, he turned to her.
“You need to circulate, play to your crowd, ok?”
Sophie nodded then watched as he moved away from her. She could barely breathe when she was near him, but she had to see tonight through. She’d never have a night like this again. He asked if she was angry that he was there, he was a disruption, to her equilibrium if nothing else, but he was also the best part of the evening. She’d meant what she’d said, she wanted to share this with him, and he was there, her man, her friend, her muse.
After a few hours the crowd started to thin, her brother and Sara wanted to buy her dinner, but she was shattered, the pressure of the build up, the excitement of the night, it had all mounted and she felt complete exhaustion was only a few steps away.
Nick hugged her, “I understand, I just feel I have to eat a bit more humble pie!”
“A lot more!” Sara laughed, “but then I’m not going to let him forget his negative behaviour in a long time!”
Sophie hugged her, “thanks for coming; it was special to have you here!”
“We wouldn’t have missed it!” Nick insisted. “Come to dinner Sunday?” When she nodded, he gestured towards Bill, “and bring Boy Swift with you...”
There was an awkward pause whilst Bill overheard the conversation and both men glared at each other.
“Am I about to be tested?” Bill whispered after Nick and Sara left.
Sophie shrugged, “all depends I suppose, as to whether you’re in the picture come Sunday!” Then she gave him one of her world class smiles and flounced off! Bill shook his head, surely a flounce qualified as forgiven? Why would she flounce at him if she didn’t care anymore? His body surged with longing, just enough to keep his fatigue at bay.
He turned to Margo who’d limpeted at his side sometime during the evening, “you ok M? You look tired!”
Margo stifled a yawn, she’d hate for Sophie to know that the evening had exhausted her, “I’ll be ok William, don’t you worry!”
William took her hand, “let me see you home.” As she made to protest he leaned close, “I’m shattered, I haven’t slept in what feels like three months, be my excuse to let me leave?”
She smiled, she knew the boy really didn’t want to let Sophie out of his sight, not willingly, she’d be that excuse.
“You’re leaving?” Sophie rushed over.
Margo nodded, “do you mind? I’m tired, and I think I’m a good excuse for your gentleman. He’s asleep on his feet but not willing to give in!”
Sophie turned to glance at him, he was trying desperately to locate Margo’s coat from an overfilled coat stand. When he found it and looked up, euphoria on his face, she instantly saw the pale skin, the dark patches under his eyes. He needed sleep.
Coming towards her he smiled, “the old girl is knackered!” Margo swatted at him with her umbrella, but chuckled really. “Can we talk in the morning?”
Sophie nodded, “you go Bill, you look beyond tired.”
He sighed, “I’ve waited a long time to be in my own bed...” then he moved his mouth to her ear, “and it’s been unbearable the last few days, I’ve almost been jealous of my bed since your email!”
She’d told him she was sleeping in his bed, was this an invite? Did he want her to join him? She shook her head, SO not happening!
“You deserve rest!” ALONE she wanted to add, but didn’t. “We can talk tomorrow!”
He nodded, then took Margo’s arm and led her to the waiting cab.
Sophie and Vincenza moved onto a pub, then a club, they both wanted the night to last, but as they got a little tipsy, Vin admitted she missed Ed and Sophie that she couldn’t believe she’d let Bill go home alone. Hugging outside the club, they climbed into taxis and separated, both off in search of the man they missed more than anything.
The cute little house was in darkness when Sophie paid the taxi and strolled up the path. Inside the door she tripped over a dozen bags, literally dumped in the hall. Smiling she climbed the stairs, slipped into her pyjamas, then opened Bill’s bedroom door.
It was hopeless to think she could resist him, all she wanted, all she’d wanted since Manchester more than six weeks ago, was to curl up against his hard body, wrapped up in his limbs, protected, safe, warm...loved.
He looked angelic on the pillow, his blond hair had grown, and bleached in the sun, his face without the fatigue looked healthy and tanned in the low light, his nose, full lips, broad square jaw were all familiar parts of the man she’d missed so much.
Lifting the duvet, she lowered herself to the mattress; Bill stirred, only slightly, rolling on to his back. As she lay on his shoulder, sliding her arm around his naked waist, he sighed, eyes fluttering.
“Sshh!” she breathed, lifting to kiss his cheek. “Go to sleep!”
With a content sigh and a moan of pleasure, he wrapped his arms around her without opening his eyes, then a gentle snore, came from his throat.
Smiling Sophie closed her eyes, and fell promptly asleep.