Lara closed the shop door behind the customers and watched the young, well dressed couple walk to their car. She leaned with her hands against the door, her nose close to the window glass, her breath casting a misty shadow. They drove off with a spurt of gravel from the BMW’s tyres. “Can’t get away fast enough?” she thought. Typical day tourists they were, couples mainly, who cruised the roads skirting the hills, sampling the small valley’s offerings of artisan cheeses, alpaca jumpers and amateur pottery.
They had moved quickly about the shop, picking up the occasional object and whispering to each other. Lara thought she had heard a faint snicker at one point. They had bought nothing. “Not good enough for big city folk?” Lara asked herself, “I guess not.”
She walked back past the shelves where her hard work of many months was represented. Pottery and paintings, by herself and others. “Was it actually any good?” she asked herself, “some I hope.” She opened the cash register and contemplated how little it held, sighing, she closed it quickly.
Her eye landed on a window sill where a small porcelain statuette stood, a young boy offering grass to a calf. It had been here when she moved in, sitting alone in the empty room. Probably left behind accidentally, it had seemed like a messenger from the last owner. Not wanting to disturb any possible Karma, she had left it in place. One more knick knack to dress the place up, or down depending on your taste.
Leaving the shop through a curtain took her into the small residence in the back. She pulled open the fridge door and took in a scene not much different to the cash register. “The cupboard is a little bare” she said out loud. There was a bottle of tomato sauce with dried remnants crusted around it’s neck, a very limp bunch of celery and an almost empty container of yoghurt. “Looks like celery risotto with a fragrant Heinz tomato sauce for dinner.” To a lonely bottle of beer in the door she said, “You, I’ll keep for a special occasion” and then grabbed the container of yoghurt and sat down at the kitchen table.
The idea had seemed great, take the small settlement she had received from her divorce, move to the country, buy this small home and live the artist’s life. The reality had been predictably disappointing. The cliché of the starving artist was 99% reality it turned out. This particular area seemed to boast many more starving artists than tourists. Definitely far more starving artists than tourists willing to open their wallets for art.
Staring into space she spooned the last of the yoghurt into her mouth slowly, and in her mind, totted up her financial situation. She almost owned the house, a small two bedroom shack with a shop on the front herself. The bank still had its claws on about a third. Thanks to the depressed economy, interest rates and her repayments had stayed low. Unfortunately even low repayments were impossible when you have zero income.
Like all of her finest decisions, she had bought it on impulse. Another success story in a long list of stupid impulsive decisions. She had fallen hook line and sinker for the “Potter’s life”, or at least the idea of it “as seen on TV”. Unfortunately, so far, the public had judged her work unworthy and any self doubts she had had at the beginning were now of mountainous proportions.
She had broken the news to her mother and father on the day the divorce from “Dick the dickhead” was finalised.
They had sat her down. Her mother had started: “You’re twenty seven, Lara. It’s time to get serious about something and it’s not some hippie life in a mud house!”
“It’s brick, mum.”
“You need to look at some serious options. Maybe you should go back to school. We’re not talking a law degree. How about something useful like hair dressing?”. Her mother had always been a realist. Her father who was a lawyer, stared at the air just above her head, his face tight, visibly choking down his criticisms, his disappointment.
“I’m going to be an artist.” she said
Her father had twitched once but his eyes hadn’t wavered.
“You’re joking darling,” mum had said.
“No I’ve always wanted to do pottery”
Mother had looked to father, “Is pottery even art?”
She had left soon after, fully conscious of the absurdity of her reasons but committed to rebelling. Her famous stubbornness stopped her parents from further discussion. They knew that when Lara got her mind on something, she couldn’t be stopped.
It had been the same when she’d come home with Dick, her now ex husband, a sleazy insurance salesman who everybody could see was no good but Lara. She had sat Dick down in the lounge of her parents house, making dove eyes at him while her parents struggled to be friendly. Dick didn’t notice their disapproval. He couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he scanned his surrounding, mentally estimating the net worth of Lara’s parents.
Now, a year after the divorce, with her savings almost gone, Lara, was well past knowing she had made a mistake. It had been a disaster.
She had just about given up hope of making even a bare living at selling her own pottery. What she saw as art, others saw as lacklustre and misshapen. Quickly she had progressed to selling the artworks of other struggling artists from the local hills. They were many and few of these had the luxury of their own gallery. Her location on the main tourist drag had helped but so far, not enough.
Now she was just hanging on, her stubbornness in full bloom as she milked the last essence from the idyllic life she had hoped for.
A noise outside caught her attention. A crunch of gravel and then the sound of movement against an outside wall. “Strange,” she thought, “I didn’t hear a car”. But even then, her kitchen was at the side of the house. A customer for the shop would not come around the back. If it was someone on foot, they had no business poking around back there. The noises continued, scraping sounds, right by the window. A wild animal maybe, leaping about? Lara stared hard at the wall from behind which the sounds came. A scrape then a clunk, a scrape then a clunk. This was no animal. A small chill of fear went through her body, she was alone after all but after the past months she had come to trust her isolated neighbours, trust the woods.
Edgy and wary, she stepped out of her chair and towards the window. Inching along beside the sink she tried to spy through the window without revealing herself to anyone outside. As she brushed by the sink her jumper caught on a cup dragging it off the edge. She caught it with her hand before it plummeted to the stone floor but her elbow banged against an open cupboard door banging it shut. The noise outside stopped. Lara held her breath and the cup, then a moment the rhythmic scraping banging noise began again.
Consumed by a mixture of curiosity and anxiety, anger and irritation she edged forward more bravely to peer out the window. Her view was blocked by the stove chimney jutting from the wall. What she could see was a wheel barrow on the path and the hand of someone stacking wood in it. Someone was stealing her firewood!
Freed of fear she went to the kitchen door, threw it open and marched to the corner.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing!”
A man stood there about her own age, dressed in scruffy work wear, a beanie and at least a three day beard growth.
“Dave?” he said.
“No,” Lara said incredulously, “obviously not!”
The man nodded then shrugged his shoulders “Yes sorry silly question but this is Dave’s house.” He said it as if he was helping me to understand a fact I was missing.
“It’s not Dave’s house, it’s actually mine and has been for some time. Can you explain to me are you on my property, stealing my wood.”
He raised his eyebrows still smiling and then nodded with understanding “Oh think you’re confused.”
“I am not confused and you are a thief!”
“Hey that’s not very nice.” He held up both hands and spoke as if explaining something to small child. He pointed at the wood with the piece he was holding. “This is Dave’s firewood and he said I could take some whenever I needed it.” He smiled condescendingly and then reached for another piece of firewood.
“Stop that!” Lara yelled
“But Dave said…”
It’s not Dave’s house or his firewood!” Was this man simple minded?
The man stopped to think for a moment, staring at the ground and rubbing his hand against this thigh as if to brush off some unwanted thought.
Looking up he examined Lara one more time “OK” he said as if a decision was made. “I’ll be off then” he took up the handle bars of the nearly full wheelbarrow and started to roll it away
Lara couldn’t believe her eyes. “Stop!” She pointed at the wood in his barrow, her hand shaking slightly with anger. “Put the wood back!”
He looked down at the wood and back at her and then the wood again “Oh yeah,” he said slowly “I guess you’re right.”
He started putting the wood back one piece at a time as she she stood hands on hips watching him.
“Look he said, Sorry about this I didn’t know you had moved in. I’ve been overseas and I just got back. I live about three hundred metres away on Golding Rd. It’s my dad’s actually but he’s passed away. The house was empty and cold and you wouldn’t believe it but someone seems to have made off with my fire wood.”
“I do believe it.”
“Fair enough. Actually maybe I just ran out? I’ve been away for nearly a year. You have firewood, you don’t have firewood, it can change overnight.”
“Not in my experience.”
Lara was conscious of sounding very harsh, also, she didn’t get many visitors, even thieves. Seeing her wood going back in place and realising he wasn’t the threat he might have been Lara relaxed fractionally.
“Where have you been?”
“Oh South America mainly, Chile Peru.”
A silence fell as he placed the last pieces back onto the large pile.
“I’ll be off then”
Lara was starting to feel she might have overreacted, all of her troubles were making her emotional.
“Yeah ok” then she added “Sorry about the yelling, misunderstanding I guess.”
He began pushing empty barrow down the path, the sky was darkening for evening now the evening and a light drizzle had begun to fall. Maybe snow would follow she thought. Impulsively she blurted out: “I’m Lara.”
He stopped and looked back, nodding his head once. “Jake” The introductions sounded comical in the situation. He looked up at the sky and the drizzle fell into his face. He put the barrow down and zipped his jacket up higher, then paused and looked randomly about the clearing.
Lara watched. Was he being deliberately pathetic? Her lately acquired general mistrust of men kicked in, her husband had been a bastard and she took too long to realise. Old habits may die hard but new ones are pretty powerful too. She turned to go back inside.
“Bye,” she called over her shoulder. With one hand on the kitchen door knob she turned and saw him moving off through the trees down a path she had strangely never noticed, suddenly she changed her mind, thinking, “Don’t be such a bitch, Lara”.
“Hey!” she called after him, “Jake!” He stopped and turned. “Look, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m not being very neighbourly, you have no wood, I have wood, take some, your house must be freezing.”
He looked back at her silently for a moment then smiled, turned and dragged the wheelbarrow back to the house.
“Thanks” he said looking closely at her. “That’s really nice of you.”
This time, she helped him stack the wheel barrow up again, quickly as the drizzle was now turning to rain.
“You’ve really been away for a year?”
“So what was the highlight of your trip?”
“Oh the mountains for sure. I’m into mountain climbing and that is the place for it. Did you know they are the highest mountains outside of Asia?” He kept talking, not waiting for an answer, “great people too, they are just enough not like us to be interesting.”
“We’re not interesting?”
He glanced at her, “Oh, present company excepted of course.”
She laughed to herself, a charmer she thought but not very skilled. “How do you pay for all of that?” she said, then straight away apologised “Sorry that’s none of my business!”
“Hey, that’s ok, I’m in IT, I have an understanding boss who lets me go but the whole time begs me to come back. Seems I’m the only one who can fix the unfixable.”
“They let you take an entire year off?
“Yeah well this was different.” a little hesitation in his voice, “I needed to get further away, had a bad experience.”
“What?” Lara bit her lip. “Oh sorry! there I go again, pushy and nosy all in one package. My mother said if I kept my mouth shut I’d have more friends, these days, I think she’s right.”
“Nah.” he brushed it off, “It’s ancient history now. Just the usual, a relationship that went bad. best thing was to get away.”
“I know the feeling.” she said to herself.
He looked at her, still shifting pieces of wood, “You too?”
“Maybe.” she laughed weakly.
She placed another piece of wood on the now teetering pile of wood. In talking they had loaded up the wheelbarrow to a mountainous level.
Happy to change the subject, she said, “I think you’re done, anybody who can get this lot home with out losing one deserves a good fire.”
He looked from her to the pile and to Lara there seemed to be a nervousness about him that she couldn’t help liking. Dave had been nothing but arrogant.
He looked back down at the wheelbarrow. “Yeah, it could be a challenge, but thanks a lot. Should keep me going until I can get some cut or even delivered.”
She wiped her hands on her pants to remove the wood dirt and then held one out. “Pleased to meet you Jake.”
“You too, Lara.” he said shaking her hand.
A slightly awkward pause followed, he broke it. “I’d better be off then.” and started to wheel the now full barrow away again. Calling over his shoulder, “Hey what do you do here anyway? The sign says pottery gallery, do you make that stuff?”
“Well I try to, not sure the buyers agree though.”
“I’ll come by one day, I need some stuff, the old cabin needs a little cheering up.”
“Ok, bring your check book!
“Will do” He smiled, nodding Weaving along the pathway and disappearing into the trees.
The next day found Lara sitting in her shop behind the counter, distracting herself with a book. She hadn’t really given Jake much more thought. He was just another thing in her life she could happily turn her back on. She was back in the mode which had been her companion lately, that of chasing distractions and generally avoiding reality.
Then the bell over the door opened, and there was Jake. He stepped in quickly closing the door behind him, his large boots clunking loudly on the old wooden floor. “Gettin’ cold out there, be snowing soon if I’m any judge of the weather, which I am.”
Lara found herself smiling, “You were serious.” she called from the back of the shop, “And you’re cheque book?”
“You betcha.” he patted his pockets busily as if looking for it, “Be here somewhere. Never leave home without it.” He looked up smiling and then gazed about the room slowly.
Lara said, “You know this place well? You said you’re friend Dave lived here. Plenty of memories I bet.
“Oh yeah,” he said, “a few.” A curious expression on his face, like mixed emotions. Then he brightened.
“I had nothing else to do anyway and I wanted to say thanks for the firewood. Trouble is, last night when I got a nice load burning in the grate, some of the wild animals that had moved into the house gathered around the fire with marshmallows, real familiar like.”
“Really?” Lara said, “at least you had company, was pretty lonely here.” Immediately Lara wished she hadn’t spoken. To herself she added “Don’t be pathetic Lara.”
Jake didn’t notice her unconscious frown, or pretended not too. He walked down the centre of the shop and stood before the cash register counter.
“So really,” he said sounding sincere and looking her straight in the eyes, “thanks for that firewood, it cheered the pace up a lot. I also want to apologise for the my bad manners. Turning up and basically trying to steal from you, a neighbour after all!”
Their eyes held together for a moment, he leaning against the counter and she still rocked back in her chair, forgotten book in her hand. Jake had shaved since yesterday and she became acutely aware of how handsome he was. Sparkling brown eyes and genuine dimples.
“I’m getting a delivery of wood this afternoon,” he said abruptly, “so I can pay you back.”
Lara, who realised she had been holding her breath. Suddenly she wanted to put some space between them. “Don’t be silly, consider it a gift.” she said a little loudly.
“My mum said not to be wary of gifts from strangers.” he said with mock suspicion.
“Well she never mentioned firewood specifically.” He said slowly, scratching his chin. “I guess I’m safe.”
Jake turned away from the counter telling himself to quit the corny charm and leave the poor girl alone. He last thing she needed was a loser like him hanging around. He shook himself mentally and started to look around the shop, its walls covered with of paintings, shelves stacked with pottery and small glass sculptures.
Lara also tried to retrieve some of her balance. “He’s a guy,” she thought, “and that means trouble. Even if he’s not, there was no room in my life for anyone right now. I’ve taken the pledge and my own company is just fine.” She slipped into her best shop owners persona. You never knew he might buy something and she needed customers more than men.
Suddenly she blurted out: “Ten percent off for locals!” and then rolled her eyes at herself.
He moving quietly about, with nothing but the sound of the local radio station playing country music in the background.
Unable to keep her mouth still, she heard herself say, “So this is a temporary home you say? Not staying in town? I guess you have to get back to work.”
“No. I’m back,” he said looking at an abstract oil colour painting of something that might have been a fish. “I’m work remotely. If I can get on the internet I’m in business. You gotta love that modern technology, even out here. “
He picked up a slightly wobbly glazed pot at looked at it “Which of this stuff is yours?”
“Ah well said Lara, “that’s the mystery, obviously it would be the really good stuff” Something stopped her from owning up to her own work, was it shyness? Normally she would jump at a chance to promote her own work but with Jake she held back.
“Obviously,” he agreed.
So not this one? he held out a mug with it’s handle glued crookedly to the cup
“Yep that’s mine, a crooked mug for crooked people.”
“Yeah I can see the class straight away, custom built for that one special owner. Someone who likes drinking sideways in a wind storm.”
“You’ve met him? If you see him again can you send him around? It’s been on the shelf for a while.”
“Will do.” he said eyes still scanning the shelves.
He looked carefully back and forth, eyes squinting “So, what else is your stuff?” He pressed.
“Oh a lot of the pottery,” Lara said praying he wouldn’t ask for specifics.
“Damn,” she thought then slapped herself internally. “Have some guts Lara, why do you even care what he thinks, maybe he’ll buy something. You do want to eat this week?”
“Well that bowl is mine” she pointed at her favourite piece, a ceramic serving bowel decorated with delicate leaf patterns.
He picked it up hey that’s really nice!” he said he turned it over “Seventy dollars? Too cheap.”
A car pulled up outside. A woman, came into the shop, late forties, well dressed. She started working her way anonymously around the shop. Lara was about to ask her if she wanted any help when Jake winked at her and ambled over to where the new customer was eyeing a painting.
“Nice things hmm?” he said. The lady, a little startled but pleased with the attention of this handsome man, lost her poise. A smile cracked her hard face.
“Well,” she dithered picking up a small item and replacing it again immediately. “I don’t know, I was just passing you know and I have a sister who has just moved house. I thought maybe I could find her a house warming present.
“Looks like we’ve both come to the right place jack said reassuringly. “I need something for my sister too. I’m pleasantly surprised I must say.”
She was smiling widely now, unconsciously tidying her hair, “Well I was thinking of a nice water colour?” A question as if now Jake was involved in the decision.
“Hmm.” nodding his head, “could be a winner. Something for on the wall in her house, a conversation starter.”
“You know what I think? he said leaning closer to her conspiratorially. The lady bowed her head unconsciously, prepared to listen. “Paintings are nice but why not something that’s also practical?”
The lady nodded slowly. “Something practical,” she repeated. “You know I hadn’t thought of that.”
Jake made a show of looking carefully around the store tapping the tip of his finger on his chin thoughtfully. His eyes came to rest on Lara’s bowl that he held a moment ago
“I know he said with conviction. “How about this!” he picked it up as if it was a museum piece of immeasurable value and offered it to her like a museum piece
The lady looked at it timidly, looking back and forth from the bowl to Jake for encouragement. “It’s beautiful?”
“It’s beautiful.” he affirmed. “Look at that brushwork, the depth and clarity of the glaze. Imagine it on your sister’s dining table. Your sister has a dining table?”
“Oh yes!” she gushed, suddenly seeing the opportunity to impress her stuck up snob of a sister.
With a glance at Lara, who had busied herself dusting behind the counter and was struggling not to laugh, he took the plate from her and turned it over slowly, mumbling conspiratorially to the woman, “I wonder how much it is?” The woman watched wide eyed as he theatrically revealed the price. “No way!” he said. “At that price, if you don’t buy it I will!”
“No” The lady said a little too loudly. Good looking or not, a chance to upstage her sister was more important. She put a hand firmly on the bowel, now they were both holding it “My sister?” she reminded him. He looked at her askance “You’re right, I’m sorry, what was I thinking, you saw it first, take it!” he thrust it towards her. “Take it now before I do!”
A moment later the door closed, the woman was gone, proudly clutching the bowl without a backwards glance at Jack.
As the door closed Lara laughed. “I can’t believe it!” that’s my first sale this week. seventy bucks! Think how many cans of beans I can buy with that!”
Jake laughed “Beans! Are things that bad?”
“Almost.” she laughed with him, “That was a pretty good show Jake.”
Any way I better get back to the house but first I need this, He held out the crooked mug “Matches my teapot”
Lara smiled, “Take it, as commission”.
“No way I pay my way” he placed money on the counter.
“Thanks Jake.” she said and then he was gone too. Lara sat silently watching herself observing her own feelings, Did she like him? The last thing she wanted was another stupid man in her life. Dave had cured her of love, maybe for life but god she was lonely! Jake was nice sure, and funny, and good looking, but he was a total stranger, possibly smug and a bit too charming to be real. The real Jake lurked back there and not as pretty. Bitter about the past, Lara pushed him from her mind.
With Jake gone Lara cast about the shop passing over the familiar objects, too familiar because they didn’t seem to sell very well. She loved the peace and tranquillity of the place but also knew the peace and tranquillity was sending her broke. Outside, she could here the birds that filled the woods, singing. The cold wasn’t bothering them and they certainly didn’t mind if she stayed or left.
She was about to put her gloomy thoughts aside when a tiny alarm bell rang in her brain, there was something wrong with the scene before her. What was it? Her eyebrows knitted together tightly as she stared, then she knew. The statuette of the boy, here favourite piece and memento of her arrival here was gone! She stood and walked quickly to the window and standing there contemplating the empty spot where it had been she thought back. It had been there last night, she remembered touching it, she looked about on the floor. If it had fallen, it would be in pieces there. “Who had been here?” she thought urgently, only Jake and that lady customer. Not Jake surely, that lady must have taken it, “Bitch!” she said out loud. It was a small thing but it infuriated her and worse made her feel that one more thing in a long list was going wrong. She stood hands clenched beside her, tears started in her eyes, her lips pressed closely together, staring at the spot where it had been. Suddenly she was crying freely, feeling the frustration and disappointment of her whole recent life. Nothing had worked, all of her dreams, every time she had tried to make something of her life, had seemed to either explode or fizzle out and cause her only pain.
Se went back to the kitchen and grabbed some tissues and took some deep breathes “Get a grip girl.” she said out loud. “You’ll find a way out. You’re luck has to turn.” Trouble is it hasn’t turned, almost broke and with no customers except thieves, it looked like this dream was broken too.
Despite the sale of the bowl, she made a decision. Sitting at the kitchen table she pulled her laptop towards her. “I need an estate agent. Time to put this place on the market.
Three days later, Lara was out walking the back roads near her cottage, the contract to list the cottage for sale was sitting on her kitchen table. The agent who came was the same one who had sold it to her. He had seen how excited she was when she bought it and now, despite his normal instinct to grab a listing, had encouraged her to think about it for a little while. Besides, the market was down, “Stick out another summer,” she’d said. “Things might look up.” He hadn’t changed her mind, just delayed what she now believed was inevitable.
As she walked she came level with a dirt driveway curving away behind the trees. Beyond them a house could be be glimpsed. Knowing the area well, she searched her mind for some memory of it. It couldn’t be new but she could not remember noticing it before. She tried to orientate where it was to where her own house was and realised with a shock that her house must be directly behind this one. Probably a good two hundred metres through he woods and invisible to her all of this time. Could this must be Jake’s house? Maybe this was where he disappeared to down that path with his wheelbarrow. Looking left and right, she took a couple of sneaky steps up the driveway to see more of the house. Could it be Jake’s? It must be. Should I visit? A girlish curiosity and sense of adventure overwhelmed her. Why not, I have nothing else to do, the shop was closed for the mid week break and the whole day lay before her. Looking again either side, she walked down the track with as much confidence as she could muster. At a turn in the drive she saw the house revealed, it was a sturdy country cottage common in the area, built of wood, with a veranda out the front and dormer windowed rooms upstairs. A little bigger than hers, and a lot more run down, the garden was completely overgrown. Once it had been quite elaborate but now stone edged garden beds were overgrown with weeds and the gravel drive sprouted not weeds but whole bushes that any car would have to swerve around. The only thing out of place was a shiny new Range Rover parked outside. “Looks like the computer biz is paying off Jake” she said under her breath. Keeping her chin up and knowing she was now in sight of anyone in the house, she marched up front steps to the door. With her hand poised to knock on the door, she heard a voice from within, maybe he had a guest, a girlfriend!
“Who cares Lara!” she chastised herself. “Why care if he has a girlfriend or a whole harem. It’s nothing to you.” For an instant she considered running and then stopped her. “Just a neighbourly social call,” she reminded herself. Before she could back out she knocked politely but tentatively.
The voice grew louder and closer and then it opened. Jake was standing there in flannel pyjamas and muddy work boots, a phone fixed to his ear and without a pause in what he was saying, widened his eyes with surprise at her presence on his doorstep. With a warm smile he waived her inside and motioned her into a comfortable living room. He then pointed at the phone and held up one finger, signalling her to wait for a moment and walked away down the corridor taking about something to do with security protocols and server configurations.
Lara stood awkwardly looking around the small but thanks to the open fire, cosy room. It was furnished with a mix of old and new possessions. She wondered if it was a mix of Jake’s and his parent’s possessions. A pedal sewing machine stood next to a wide screen TV, an old leather couch had an iPad stuffed carelessly down beside a cushion. Lara walked over to a bookshelf where the shelves were filled with english classics and non fiction books on bird watching. “Jake is a bird watcher?” she wondered. Must be his parents. Piled on top was a mass of climbing magazines, one cover she could see without disturbing anything featured a grinning man hanging over a cliff of terrifying height, rugged mountain peaks all around. There was something familiar about the face. “Was that Jake?” Lara wondered incredulously. Who is this guy? She turned to continue her survey but saw something that made her freeze. There standing on a coffee table by the couch, as innocently and naturally as if it had sat there for a decade, was her missing porcelain figurine of the boy and calf.
She took an involuntary step towards it. He took it! Jake took it! she thought. “You bastard” she said out loud and looked in red faced fury from the statue to the door where Jake’s voice was still drifting in from the back of the house. Then she stormed out of the room, down the hallway and out the front door, slamming it behind her. Furious, she was not sure whether to cry or scream and all she could think was why are men such shits? How could he have done that? Why would he have done that? Who comes in to someone’s house and steals their things? How could he smile and be friendly and then when your back is turned rob you!
The gravel crunched loudly and rapidly as she strode down the driveway and around the corner onto the paved road, steaming with anger she did not even hear Jake coming after her. He had ran down the drive to the corner of the driveway, he stood there breathing and called out
“Hey! Lara, where are you going? What’s wrong?” he added sounding a little desperate.
She did not turn and still did not turn as he ran after her until he was walking beside her.
“Lara what is it? You left so suddenly, is something wrong?” He tried to joke, “I know I’m annoying but I hadn’t had the chance to even say anything.”
She looked straight ahead, the wind whipping her long hair about her face, she walked faster and he had to increase his pace to keep up.
“Hey he insisted, what’s the matter?”
“Go away!” she said.
He stopped for a moment shocked and confused, then caught up and reached out to touch her arm but she shook him off screaming at him “Leave me alone!” She stopped and faced him, the cold winter wind puling at their clothes.
He stood with his arms spread incredulously. “What have I done? I don’t understand!”
She stared at him, anger and hurt in her eyes, her mouth was working as she struggled with her emotions.
“Jake, you seemed like a nice person. Can you explain something for me?”
“Of course! What is it?”
“Why do you people always have to spoilt things?”
“I don’t understand.” he said with confused.
She said softly and sadly “The statue Jake, why would you steal that, why would you do that? It such a silly thing to do, you have money. Why did you want to steal from me?”
Realisation dawned on his face and his eyes dropped to the road. “Oh that.”
“Yes Jake, that.” He looked at her, lost for words. “I can explain…” he said weakly, but then he didn’t.
“No , you’re right. I don’t think you can. Don’t come by again, Jake.” she turned off and walked down the road, he stood and watched her leave.
He walked slowly back to his house, went inside and stood staring at the statuette, the one that had caused all of this. He picked it up and wondered why he always managed to get himself into trouble. He could have tried explaining to Lara but it was a story that filled him with shame. He, just like her, had deep doubts about himself. Was he worth getting involved with? On balance he thought, probably not.
If he had told Lara the reason he had taken the statuette it would have made him appear even more foolish. Then again what did he have to lose. He was embarrassed by the whole thing and now he’d really ruined things. What had possessed him to take it. He thought back, standing there in Lara’s shop he had spotted it on a window sill. His stomach had tightened, it brought back many painful memories, ones he wished he could wash completely from his being.
What he hadn’t told Lara was that he had more than a few memories from Lara’s house, from before she had moved in. Memories he wished he didn’t have and that he didn’t want to share with anyone. The fact was he knew the place as well as his own home. He’d had many great times there, after all his best friend Dave had lived there until last year. He’d known Dave since primary school and he was the main reason Jake had gravitated to the area after drifting away from his corporate career. After his father died of cancer he had come to the empty family home to pack it up. The silence of the house had driven him to spend more and more time at Dave and his wife Sarah’s house, now Lara’s house. They had become a sort of new family to him.
Dave, Sarah and Jake had been inseparable during that time. The statuette was actually Sarah’s, she had bought it at an antique market in a another town nearby. Dave had thought it a waste of money, trashy old fashioned kitsch but Jake had liked it. Or thought he had until later he suspected he only liked it because Sarah did. Spending so much time with Dave and Sarah had made him appreciate their friendship a lot and, he realised later with a shock, appreciate Sarah a little too much. He’d hidden his feelings carefully, then one time when sharing a joke, Sarah and his eyes had met and held. He knew at that moment that she felt the same.
Jake and Sarah had managed their feelings by keeping a civilised distance between each other. One night though after too many wines and with Dave asleep on the couch, they had gone to the kitchen to clean up and found themselves in each other’s arms. They made love quietly and passionately on the soft grass outside the house.
The morning filled with regret and shame they tried to push past it. Dave though, not known for his perception, picked up something straight away. He caught something in their manner, a nervousness, eyes held down to the table top, and put it together. Sitting together at the breakfast table with the three of them, Dave just knew. He looked from Sarah to Jake wordlessly and their eyes betrayed them.
Jake had gone home straight after breakfast. As Dave saw him out the door, Dave had uttered the same words Lara had just then said to him: “Don’t come by again, Jake.”
Two days late they left town.
Standing in Lara’s shop a year later Jake had seen the statuette left behind by the departing couple and possessed by some kind of madness he took it. Not so much to own it as to remove it from existence. Now staring at it gripped by sadness, frustration and anger at himself, he wished he had destroyed it immediately. He picked it up turned and smashed it in the fireplace. Too late he thought.
Lara sat and contemplated the store, cluttered with offerings from friends and fellow starving artists, a mish mash of styles and mediums. Watercolours of local valleys, hunched next to wood carvings, which in turn butted up against blown glass and pieces of sculpture. So many styles, they didn’t make sense together, so many people she thought to her self, all so different, no wonder the world, and the people in it, live in chaos.
She had come back from Jakes in a fury. How could he have done that? She thought of the statuette and thought about what Jake had said when he had been here. He definitely had a history with the house and hadn’t wanted to share it. It must have been painful.
Well it didn’t matter he was a dick and just another example of men at their worst, or maybe it was their best. Turning on the charm and then rifling through her things while her back was turned.
But what had he really taken she thought. An old item no-one had looked twice at. Only she had developed a sentimental attachment to it. It had been in the house when she had arrived. For all she knew it might have been Jakes, maybe he had left it here!
Had she lost her cool too easily once again? Flying off the handle with suspicion and bitterness.
She wrestled with her thoughts and herself as she passed her day in the shop.
Around ten, a couple came in, bought a watercolour of an old elm tree and left. Lara was stunned. The painting had hung by the door all year. It’s price was in the hundreds, her commission was 30% and old Francis Dunstable, one of the most genuinely struggling artists in the valley, living literally from hand to mouth, would be elated.
Lara, sat behind the counter marvelling at how luck ebbed and flowed like the tide, one minute all was doom the next minute everything seemed fine.
She looked over at where the statuette had stood and made a decision.
Grabbing a piece of wood from the woodpile she tied a ribbon around it and without a coat she strode out through the beginnings of the first winter snow along the back road to Jakes house.
His car door was open and there was a suitcase and some boxes on the back seat, he was packing to leave. The front door was open and as Lara approached the step Jake came out with a large cardboard box in his arms. He saw Lara and stopped resting the box slowly on the veranda railing.
“Lara” he said “I’m sorry about before, I can explain…”
“No, don’t” she interrupted. “I don’t know why you took it and in fact I don’t want know why. I’m sure you have your reason.” She took a deep breath, he watched her surprised confusion in his eyes. “Jake, I like you. I don’t know you from a bar of soap but sometimes you have to go with your feelings.”
She held out the piece of wood.
“A house warming present.”
“But I’m leaving.” his eyes went to the box in his arms.
“Because of me?”
“No because of me.”
He sad nothing.
Lara broke the silence, “Look, I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life so I can’t judge you. Please don’t leave. Who cares about a dumb statue, I’ve got a shop full of that stuff. I guess what I’m saying is we shouldn’t be ruled by our mistakes, there’s got to be more to us than mistakes.
She held out the wood, he looked from it to her and reached and took it.
“So you won’t leave? At least not because of me?”
He looked at her, a smile creeping onto his face, into his eyes.
“I guess am a bit restless. Any way,” he looked up at the sky, “it’s going to snow and I don’t have nay snow chains.”
She smiled back him. “Good. Be seeing ya Jake.” and she said as she turned to walk back to her house
“Be seeing ya too!” Jake said smiling.