This is the sixteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1260 words.
Candy smiled at Jack as she lifted the cappuccino. “I’ve been looking for you all day, you bugger. Just as well you spotted me, cos I would never have recognised you. I thought you were quite old, but you’re not at all. What’s with the clothes and smartening up then?” Jack put his cup down. Her accent had changed again. Pure London, and very natural too. He had been almost right. All those other ones were just for show, but he had never guessed London as her home town. “I decided to go home, Candy. Back to Bristol, give it another try. I’ve got enough to tide me over for a week or so, and might be able to get a job, live straight again. Can’t do another winter round here, can’t face it. Oh, and I am old, compared to you anyway. Thirty-two. Old enough. What were you looking for me for?”
She wiped the foam from her mouth with a paper napkin. “You don’t look thirty-two. Not anymore anyway. I was looking for you for the same reason. I decided to get off the gear and move away too. I can’t stay around all the old faces, or they will just drag me down”. I haven’t made my mind up what direction to head in yet, but wherever it is, it has to be a long way from here.” Jack watched her talk. She was calm, seemed older, and self-assured. Looked like she had made her mind up too, and wasn’t just spinning him a line. He was waiting for her to ask if he could give her some cash, but she didn’t say anything about money. He tried some more questions. “Where have you been anyway? I haven’t seen you since you went for those two coffees. And where did you get the money for that coat? Do you have enough train fare? How are you going to get by, wherever you end up? Candy drained the last of her coffee, and wiped her mouth again. “What’s with all the questions? I didn’t ask you where you got the money to clean yourself up, did I?” Jack blushed, and she reached over to touch his hand. “It’s alright, Jack. I went to see my family, and my Uncle Brian gave me some cash. Just about enough to get away, and buy this new coat. He’s solid, my uncle. The lie tripped easily off her tongue, and she watched as Jack relaxed.
“Another coffee, or a cake or something?” Jack offered. Candy shook her head, holding onto the bag on her lap. “Nah, better get going, if I am gonna be somewhere before dark. What station you going to, Jack? Or are you getting a coach?” Jack moved his empty cup in a circle around the saucer, as an idea formed in his mind. When he looked up, she was still smiling, and her eyes were sparkling in the late afternoon light. I’m getting the bus to Paddington, then take the five o’clock train to Bristol. Be there in under two hours, and it’s not dark ’til after eight”. He took a deep breath before continuing.
“Why don’t you come with me? I’ve got enough for your ticket. Better than heading off on your own”.
Tash was fed up waiting around. They had finished their coffees, and were still chatting away. Acting like friends, or relatives. Who was that guy? Why wasn’t Candy making her move on him? Maybe he had offered her an all-nighter, sweet talked her into stopping over at his place. Her legs ached, and she moved from one foot to the other, trying to decide whether or not to just go over and confront her friend. The woman inside the shop had walked by the window twice now, and was giving her funny looks. But she was worried about the bloke with Candy. He looked too clean cut, the sort who might make a fuss, or kick off if he didn’t like someone else pitching up. Instead, Tash moved back one shop, wondering who wasted their money on all the fancy teas and teapots displayed in the window.
Jack was amazed when Candy didn’t hesitate. “Yeah why not, you can look after me down in Bristol, I reckon. We might make a good team”. He wanted to jump up and hug her, but knew better than to go over the top. “Great, let’s go down to Trafalgar Square and get a number twenty-three then. I will get us Oyster Cards from the shop on the way. Shall I carry that bag for you, it looks heavy?” Candy shook her head. “It’s OK, it’s not heavy at all. Just some old clothes I picked up from home. I can manage”. As they headed off, Jack couldn’t get the smile to leave his face. Candy turned and grinned back. “What?”
He shook his head. “It’s nothing, I’m just happy. Makes a nice change”.
Tash turned, and jumped in surprise. They had gone, and she had been looking at bloody teapots. She ran over the road between a gap in the moving taxis, and craned her neck along the side of the street the coffee bar was on. They were up ahead, she spotted Candy’s hair. Hanging back a bit, she kept the spiky hair in sight. Two streets later, they both went into a newspaper shop around the corner from Trafalgar Square, and she waited across the road until they came out. They carried on walking, until they suddenly stopped at a crowded bus stop. Tash had no option but to wait until they got on a bus, and jump on at the last minute. She might get a chance to talk to her on the way, pretend to the bloke that she just had bumped into an old mate by chance. Maybe even grab that bag, and jump off before they could stop her. Fishing the stolen Oyster Card from her jeans pocket, she held it in her hand, and waited on the corner.
They didn’t have to wait too long for a bus. Candy jumped on first, beeped her travel card against the module, and walked upstairs. Jack followed, and saw that she had found a free seat where they could sit together. She shuffled across to the window, put the bag on her lap, and looked out. Tash waited until everyone else had boarded the bus, and ran in before the doors closed. She pressed the Oyster Card against the module, but it made a double beep. The driver turned to face her. “Sorry love, no credit left on the card. You will have to charge it up with some more money”. She couldn’t believe her luck. The Dutch bastard had used all the credit up. Thinking fast, she showed him the camera dangling around her neck. “Take this mate. Look the other way. I really need to get this bus”. He shook his head, eyeing up the smelly, dirty girl. “No can do. For all I know, you might have nicked it”. He pointed up at the CCTV camera. “Better get off, love, don’t make me radio for the cops”.
As the bus pulled away, Candy placed her hand over Jack’s, and put her head on his shoulder. Bristol might not be so bad. And she would let him buy the ticket.
No need to let on that she still had the best part of five grand. Not yet, anyway.