Such is my aversion that I’ve even started to avoid newspapers this week, the one week in June that the Royal Ascot races take place. If I wanted to see photos of ridiculous hats and passed out drunk people on the lawn, I could’ve just bought a ticket and gone myself. But I don’t really care about horse racing, or showing off. I would much rather attend a music festival, if I had to brave the Great British Weather in inappropriate clothing anyway.
My neighbours tend to flee around this time of year, but unfortunately I can’t afford a holiday. With the way things have been at work, I’d better put every spare penny away for a rainy day. At least tonight will be the last time this year I’ll have to deal with this mess, tomorrow is my day off and I don’t intend to venture out onto the roads at all until next week when normality has returned.
I’m already looking forward to my quiet long weekend, focusing on nothing but my paintings. All I have to do is get there.
Slowly I make my way through the various traffic control measures set up seemingly to hinder the flow of traffic rather than improve it. I suppose it all makes sense to someone. It takes me an hour to get onto Blacknest Road, which in ordinary circumstances would be about five minutes from home. But these are not ordinary circumstances.
As my car creeps along in its spot within the tedious metal conga line that has formed around me, all I have for company are my radio and my grumpy thoughts. And the occasional sympathetic smile from someone in much the same situation in the opposite lane.
I occupy myself by looking at the flash cars that slowly pass by. Nothing too unusual in this part of the world, various Ferraris, Lambos and of course the already mentioned Bentleys and Rolls Royces of all ages. I almost give up on seeing much variety when something small and dark blue catches my eye parked up on the verge ahead. Twin white racing stripes accentuating its curvaceous body, top down to reveal its cream leather interior. Absolutely beautiful. I wonder if it’s a real AC Cobra or just a good replica. And more importantly, what is it doing sitting in the muck next to this busy road?
Traffic creeps ahead and I get closer, there’s a man in the driver’s seat, arms folded and head resting against them on the steering wheel. He is sporting the accepted race-going uniform; grey waistcoat with a matching hat and coat on the passenger seat beside him.
I don’t know what possesses me, but I leave my coveted place in the traffic queue and pull up behind him. Just to see if he’s OK—I tell myself—or at least to get a better look at his magnificent car.
Stepping out has me cursing under my breath immediately. Of course I managed to position my exit right in the middle of a patch of sticky mud left behind by this morning’s early summer showers.
“Excuse me, are you having car trouble?” I ask. He lifts his head off his forearm which is still resting on the steering wheel. “I was wondering if you need help...”
His pale blue eyes stand out against his face and particularly against his dark hair which is starting to grey around the temples. If I had to guess I’d say he was in his late thirties or early forties, and the salt and pepper look is really working for him. Something seems off, though. I remind myself he’s probably just had a few too many glasses of champagne or whatever it is they drink at the races.
“I wanted to leave, but thought I probably shouldn’t be driving. So I pulled over.” His voice sounds friendly, if a tad uncertain. Everything about him suggests money, from his accent to his clothes. Perhaps the car isn’t a replica after all.
“You’re probably right, I suppose you shouldn’t be driving. Where were you headed?” I ask.
He averts his eyes downwards before answering. “I don’t know.”
“Right. Where do you live?” I try.
“I can’t go there.” There’s an awkward silence after his response, and he grips the steering wheel with both hands and rests his forehead against his knuckles.
I think for a little while and look around. The traffic jam heading away is still going strong, but traffic moving in my direction has started to thin. If pulling over wasn’t already weird enough, what I say next actually stuns the rational part of my brain completely. The impulsive surge inside of me is simply impossible to fight, causing my lips to utter certain words before better sense prevails.
“What do you say, you come with me and we’ll figure out where you should be going after reaching my place?”
When he looks back up at me, there is not a hint of suspicion in his eyes. It doesn’t seem to register with him that only a reckless lunatic would invite a drunk stranger home. What the hell am I thinking?
“That would be nice. Thanks.” He tries to smile but instead his face twists. “Oh God, I feel ill.” I hurry around the car and open the car door to pull him out by his arm.
“Believe me, tomorrow you’ll really regret it if you throw up in that nice car of yours!” I warn him.
He walks a few steps away from the road and leans against a tree. I can’t help but stare. He looks fit, about six feet tall, broad shoulders. Any other observations would be pure speculation though, plus it would be difficult for anyone not to look good in formal wear.
I still can’t believe I’m doing this. There’s something special about him, tempting even. Something that makes him appear trustworthy and harmless. Still, I’m sort of aware of the possibility that it may all be a clever act on his part and I’m about to let an axe murderer into my house.
Walking towards him now, I can see he has his eyes closed and is just breathing in the fresh air away from all the traffic.
“Never mind, I guess it was a false alarm,” he mutters.
“Well then, let’s go,” I say, “I don’t think your car would be safe here, though.”
“Mine, on the other hand, nobody would touch if I abandoned it here for weeks. And since you’re not fit to drive just now...” I continue.
He doesn’t say a word, simply places the car keys into my outstretched hand and opens the passenger door for himself. Looking at the gorgeous car, I decide then that even if I end up hacked into bits and buried in my own garden tonight, it will have all been worth it.
After grabbing my handbag and locking my own vehicle, I sit down next to him. His expression has hardly changed, he shows no sign of concern that he’s letting a complete stranger drive his car. I have to conclude he’s not all there. I turn the key and the engine purrs to life with a deep, thundering rumble which can only mean one thing: under the shiny, curved bonnet, there lives a huge beast of an engine.
“Why so distracted, did you lose big at the races today?” I ask while checking over my shoulder for a gap in the traffic. It occurs to me that my attempt at small talk is making me sound like a cabbie.
“I don’t gamble. But yes, in a way.” He sighs.
I’m intrigued but don’t want to probe too much. The car behind me flashes its lights, allowing me to merge. After a moment’s silence, he takes a few deep breaths.
“My wife...” His voice trembles ever so slightly while he speaks, “and someone I’d considered a friend...”
My question unintentionally cut right to the core of the matter, it sounds as if he lost hope rather than money.
“Wow, I’m sorry. That’s terrible.” I’m not sure I want further detail but I can’t take the question back now.
He shakes his head. “I should’ve seen it. But I guess I wasn’t around enough, working long hours, sometimes Saturdays too..” He turns towards me and when the traffic stops again, I get the chance to study his face. Perfectly symmetrical, high cheekbones and a sharp jawline. He is gorgeous, perhaps even more so because he looks so lost.
“But it was all for her! I wanted to give her the life she deserved. Why didn’t she see that?” Tears are starting to blur those magnificent eyes of his. “Instead, she fucking replaces me.”
Well, that’s one mystery solved. I guess posh people do swear.
“You’re right, she should’ve understood,” I say.
The traffic starts moving again and we get just a little bit closer to our destination.
“It was all for nothing.” He looks out at the trees and houses passing by, lost in thought again.
Nothing more is said for the rest of the drive; fifteen minutes or so. I pull up into the cul-de-sac on the hill where I live, the three surrounding houses are unoccupied while the neighbours are on holiday. The setting is secluded, idyllic but the actual house is modest by most standards. It makes me wonder what his home would look like, the exact opposite I bet. The gravel makes a crunchy sound underneath the tyres as I park the car under the rustic wooden carport which is always smothered in pink clematis blooms at this time of year.
Right at this moment the clouds break apart, letting through the pleasantly warm evening sun. I hand him the keys and we both get out of the car. Rather than head for the door, he distractedly takes a few steps towards the fence that surrounds the driveway.
“Beautiful.” He’s right, but it’s been a while since I really appreciated the view myself.
Perhaps I should try my hand at painting a landscape this weekend.
Tall trees line the fields that cover most of the hill below. The lush green leaves on the trees as well as the long grass glisten in the golden light, giving everything a warm glow.
Meanwhile I open the low gate and enter into the garden that runs along the side of the house. There’s a large wooden table and bench set up against the wall, overlooking the same downhill aspect. He follows a few steps behind me.
“Make yourself at home, I’ll just go inside and get some cushions.” I turn the key and enter the cosy living room through the patio door.
While I’m inside already, I might as well cobble together a meal of sorts. Rushing to pop some pre-baked bread in the oven, I raid the fridge for cold meat and cheese.
I vaguely wonder why I’m bothering to hide the Aldi packaging, or arrange everything on a nice plate. After all, my bluff is pretty much called already, the classiest bottle of wine I have probably wouldn’t have cost more than five pounds. Must’ve been a gift that’s been languishing in my kitchen for much too long.
It annoys me that I even care, I never pretend to be something I’m not, why start now?
I first started writing because I craved to see more of “my kind of books” on the shelves. In any scenario, you’ll find me rooting for the underdog. The (emotionally) scarred hero who hasn’t really had much (or any) luck in love. The shy office worker who wants to pursue the man of her dreams, but hasn’t quite mustered the courage yet. All my characters are beautifully flawed and messed up, in a way that makes them perfect for one another.