Rachel rounded the corner of the pub, eyes frantically searching for Melissa’s car – her getaway vehicle! She spotted the black Citreon and headed straight for it, praying that Eddie wouldn’t follow her, whilst simultaneously hoping that he would. She tried to breathe as she jogged towards the car, to calm down and remove all trace of her mixed emotions from her face. It wasn’t something she wanted to discuss with her sister.
A voice behind her stopped her halfway between the pub and the car. She smiled first, the part of her that had wanted this winning out, but then all her anxiety and fear about it returned and she swallowed hard. She looked at the car, seeing Melissa, turning round, no doubt having spotted her in a mirror and now wondering what she was doing. Then she fought the inclination to look behind her as she tried to decide what to do.
He had followed her, so talking to him was the least she could do, but that would mean admitting that there was something between them, opening herself to him, and she wasn’t sure she could do that.
The sound of his footsteps behind her made the decision for her. She could hardly run away now. She took a deep breath and turned around, standing up straight, mask of confidence firmly back in place.
“Eddie, I asked you to leave it.”
“Just talk to me,” he implored, his voice gentle.
“Because it doesn’t make a difference. Your past, your scars. They don’t change who you are.”
She could feel her resolve beginning to crumble already.
“Rachel, please?” he asked, reaching out to touch her arm.
She shrugged his hand away, taking a step backwards.
“We were getting somewhere, you and I – ”
“Rach, are you okay?”
Eddie looked towards the sound of Melissa’s voice as Rachel did. Her sister had clearly seen Rachel pull away from Eddie and was now standing by her car, ready to come over if necessary.
“I’m fine,” Rachel assured her, forcing a smile, “I’ll just be a minute.”
“You sure?” Melissa asked.
Rachel nodded. “Yeah.”
Melissa looked unconvinced, but she slowly got back into the car.
Rachel turned back to Eddie to find him looking at her, eyebrows raised.
“Friend of yours?” he asked, and she could hear the anger lacing his tone.
Though this was a distraction from the topic she wanted to run from, she wasn’t sure it was a welcome one. She knew he wasn’t going to be pleased when he found out she had lied about Melissa, and she really didn’t feel up to arguing with him.
“Eddie – ”
“You acted like you’d never met her before, and yet here she is, picking you up from the pub.”
“She’s my sister, Eddie. I didn’t tell you because I wanted - …” She paused, trying to find the best way to explain herself, and also wondering when it was she started to feel that he was entitled to her explanations. “I wanted her to get the job,” she continued, brutally honest. “After last year, I just wanted someone – ”
“Who would be on your side?” he interrupted her. “Who would stand up for you? Someone who would put aside their personal ambitions and say, ‘No. You don’t get to do this to Rachel.’?”
“I’m sorry,” she said, realising how ungrateful she sounded. “I’ve been all over the place these last weeks, and it just… Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“You’re putting your job in jeopardy again,” he said, quietly, taking a step closer to her. She was surprised by the sudden drop in his anger level and looked up at him, brow creased in confusion. “I suppose I should be grateful it’s not your life this time,” he added.
She looked away from him, unable to bear the anguish that she saw in his eyes when he spoke to her about putting her life in danger.
“Rachel…” He reached out and gently placed his hand on her cheek, to turn her to face him once more. “While you’re saving everyone else, could you let me take care of you?”
“Eddie – ”
His thumb slipped across her lips and silenced her protest. “It can work,” he told her, “It would work… And it would be brilliant,” he smirked.
Despite every effort to not give in, her lips quirked fleetingly into a smile at this.
“I saw that,” he accused.
She lifted a hand and took hold of his, freeing her lips from his thumb. “It would be complicated,” she told him.
“Isn’t everything?” he shrugged.
“It would be unprofessional.”
“We’d be discreet.”
“It would be a huge step for me,” she said, quietly and vulnerably.
“We’ll take things at your pace.”
“It would be – ”
He placed the fingers of his other hand across her lips this time, silencing her mid-sentence before dropping his hand back to his side. “It would be brilliant,” he repeated, a grin spreading wide across his lips.
Again she couldn’t stop her smile from surfacing. She was finding it very difficult to refuse.
He tugged on her hand, the one that still held his, pulling her closer to him as he stepped forward. “It would be brilliant,” he whispered this time, his other hand settling on her hip, holding her close as he leaned towards her.
Rachel’s eyes watched him as he came closer; they darted down to his lips then back up to hold his gaze as she found herself shifting forwards to close the gap between them. Her eyes slipped closed as their lips met; she wrapped her arms around his waist, pulling herself even closer to him, relishing the feeling of being in his embrace.
He tasted of the alcohol he had just drunk; smelled of that scent that she had come to know as ‘him’, that she had grown to find comforting; and it all felt even better than she had imagined.
When oxygen became a necessity, she pulled back slightly, resting her forehead against his nose, breathing rapidly and smiling uncontrollably.
“What did I tell you?” Eddie said, and she could hear the smirk in his voice. “Brilliant.” He moved to place a kiss on her forehead then tilted her head up so her eyes met his.
She still couldn’t persuade her smile to lessen, and rolled her eyes at his self-satisfied, ‘I told you so’ look.
They stood for a couple more seconds, just grinning inanely at each other, then Rachel reluctantly said, “I should go. Melissa’s been patiently waiting… And now she no doubt has millions of questions.”
Eddie nodded, “Okay,” and it touched her to know that he really was going to do this at her pace.
“Okay,” she echoed, then she leaned up and kissed his lips once more before stepping back.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.
She nodded and started to turn away, but she quickly turned back.
“Or you could come over later?” she offered nervously. “We could have that talk you wanted… Maybe have some dinner? Watch a film?”
Eddie smiled at her and she felt her insides somersault. “That would be nice.”
She smiled back. “Okay. Well give me at least an hour so I can get rid of Melissa and her inquisition without being too rude. Then come round whenever.”
Eddie nodded. “Okay. I’ll see you later.”
Heart fluttering rapidly she nodded back and turned to walk to the car. Only a second later she felt the need to glance back, and he offered her a small wave. She waved back and then turned back to where she was going.
This was crazy, she felt positively giddy and she was acting like one of her pupils. But it felt good. And when she sat into Melissa’s car and her sister looked at her with an expectant, amused smirk, she found she could only smile at her in response.
It hadn’t got off to the greatest of starts, but the school year had certainly redeemed itself. This year was definitely going to be a good one.