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As an aside, I have a ton of these entries. Would you commenters be up for one on Saturday and one on Sunday? Or two on Saturday? Thoughts?
Paul Farrell stood by the French windows, long legs planted slightly apart, blue eyes narrowed against the light. He was scanning the garden beyond, looking for his friend Stuart’s fiancée. It was a rambling garden, slightly overgrown, and the girl was nowhere to be seen.
His friend called out from the kitchen. “She’ll be round by the fish-pond. Go and introduce yourself – she won’t bite!”
Paul reached an obedient hand to press down the door-handle. He had no real desire to meet the girl. His flight back from assignment in Tokyo had only landed that morning, he was jet-lagged and in no mood to conceal his dislike for a girl who could only spell trouble for his old friend.
Stuart was as trusting as a child, and the girl was up to no good, for sure. Photos of her and her dodgy, sharp-faced associates had been splattered all over their paper the day she’d been evicted from her squat. For Stuart’s sake Paul struggled to keep his mind open, but the truth was he’d lost count of the number of times he’d rescued his friend from the consequences of his impetuous actions. To get engaged to a girl he barely knew, and only seventeen, for God’s sake! Ten years younger than either of them.
He strode the long path to the end of the garden, the faint line deepening in his forehead. When he reached the corner where the fish-pond was situated behind a sheltering willow-tree, he stopped dead, his leather boots coming to a silent halt in the long grass.
Stuart’s girl was kneeling on the low stone wall of the fish-pond, blonde head bent over the water in an attitude of intense concentration, one slender hand slowly skimming the surface. The photos Stuart had e-mailed Paul whilst he was in Japan had shown a tall, androgynous teenager, strikingly good-looking if you liked that angular, boyish look, which Paul did not. The figure in front of him, however, had nothing of the boy about her. Paul fixed his eyes on the curvaceous rear and to his unwelcome surprise felt his heartbeat begin to quicken with a treacherous thud. He must have given some signal of his presence – drawn in his breath a little sharply, perhaps – because without turning to look, she spoke.
“I’ve fed the fish, but it’s no use. Every time, the big ones get all the food.” She rested her palm flat on the surface. “No matter what I do, the little ones never get their fair share.”
Paul stepped nearer, the long grass sighing beneath his feet.
“It’s called survival of the fittest,” he said, his voice harsh in the quiet of the garden.
The girl’s hand jerked with a startled, wet slap on the surface of the water. She scrambled to her feet.
“I thought you were Stuart,” she said. Her voice was another surprise. Deep and slow. And her striking eyes – a cerulean blue, reflecting the late afternoon sky above them – were level with Paul’s chin, even in her bare feet. She had presence, this girl of Stuart’s, and she was staring at him with a confident curiosity that belied her years.
“The bigger fish will always get the food.” He heard the cruelty thread through his words, but felt himself impelled to continue. “The smaller ones are pushed aside, and so eventually they will give up and die.”
He had thought his words might shock her, the teenager that she was, but her eyes widened and her careful gaze filled with a dismal understanding. Definitely not a child, he thought. She knew what it was to fight for survival.
And then it happened. Something the cynical Paul could not explain to himself, no matter how often he thought of it afterwards. There was a flash of something which hit her with equal strength. What was it? Recognition? Desire? Whatever it was, it hit Paul with extraordinary force, like a bomb blast he had witnessed on assignment. Years of experience made him stand his ground, not moving a muscle. The girl, however, let a small cry escape her. Paul watched confidence drain from her face. She took a step backwards, stumbling against the low wall of the fishpond, her long arms spread in panic. Before she fell, he caught her, pulling her slight body with ease into his arms.