This is the fourth part of a fiction serial, in 793 words.
The few years before I first met her were turbulent ones in my life. Then the years after I met her were even more turbulent.
My wife and I had split up. She returned to Scotland, the only place where she had ever been happy. Our son joined the army, much to our consternation, then took her side during the rather bitter divorce. The thing that saved me was my grandmother dying, and leaving me her house and considerable life insurance. The benefits of being an only child.
I had an agent sell the house, then made the move from Bristol to Norwich, with a new position at the UEA as a tutor and lecturer in History, specialising in Modern History. I bought a cottage for cash in the nice village of Bawburgh, and had an easy commute to my new job. It felt good to be in a smaller city, and to be working at a university that was more relaxed in attitude.
Those years in Bristol were behind me now, and unlike my wife, I had no desire to return to Edinburgh.
Marking time in Norwich, I led a rather uninteresting life, but I was content.
Then one day, I was working through a new intake on my course. Unfamiliar faces with familiar stories, and that familiar lack of ambition. A knock at my door. I called “Come in”, in a neutral tone of voice.
There she was. Gabrielle Parker.
If you had asked me five seconds earlier if I ever believed in love at first sight, I would have snorted with derision. I was never even sure if I loved my wife, let alone anyone else. Then I saw Gabby.
She breezed into my room, with her shocking cropped hair, pillow soft lips, and oozing confidence from every pore. Suddenly, I was on the back foot. “Hello, Gabrielle, I am Andrew Donaldson, and I will be your tutor”. Her smile could have melted an iceberg.
“Call me Gabby, and I wil call you Andy. Andrew is such a mouthful”.
In those few seconds, we exchanged conventional roles. She was in charge, not me. And I was in love with her from that moment.
If she knew what I was feeling, she didn’t let on. Lectures proved to be easy for her, and the work she submitted was of a good standard, though not exceptional. I started to look forward to any contact with her, though I was acutely aware that she would not be looking at me in the same way. After all, I was forty-six years old, and she was eighteen.
That made me twenty-eight years older than her. She was only five years younger than my army officer son.
At the end of that first academic year, she didn’t go home like all the others. I bumped into her one day when I was shopping in Castle Mall, and we went for coffee. I found myself inviting her to my house for dinner, and dismissed all the conventional alarm bells associated with that behaviour. Her reply stil rings in my head.
“That would be lovely, Andy. Text me your address, and I will get a taxi on Saturday night. I might have to stop over though, as it’s not easy to get a taxi home late at night”.
I have always been a decent cook, but I was so nervous that evening, I waited until she arrived and ordered a Chinese meal to be delivered. She was so naturally at ease, I felt as if I had grown up knowing her.
You can guess the rest. The wine flowed, I gazed at her as she told me her life story. When it was late, I showed her up to the small spare room, and the single bed I had put new clean bedding on earlier.
Then her hand was on my shoulder, and she spoke very softly into my left ear. “Oh I think we would both be more comfortable in your nice big double bed. Don’t you agree, Andy?”
Before I went to sleep I lay there listening to her breathing, without a care in the world.
She was already gone when I woke up the next morning. I didn’t see her in private again for over a week, and found myself looking at the crowds of students, hoping to spot her cropped hair. When we met again, she came straight to the point.
“Andy, I am struggling with the course work. If I can’t get on top of it soon, I will be dropping out and looking for a job”. I was about to reassure her, but she put up a hand to stop me speaking, and continued.
“You are going to have to help me”.