Chance Encounter
Part Four


           It wasn't right.

           She tilted her head, pressed her body closer still to his, but it just wasn't right. The fireworks pointedly refused to soar, the trumpets she craved didn't sound. Duffy closed her eyes even tighter as she tried to will the feelings she was lacking to come, but it was no good. There was nothing wrong with Charlie's kiss, on some level she even enjoyed it, but it wasn't conjuring up the passion she wanted. It was nice, pleasant… but it was wrong.

           Behind her she heard the door to the balcony bang shut, and she was suddenly very aware of how public this kiss was. It was going to be hard enough explaining to Charlie that it was a mistake without having to explain to the rest of the hospital as well. She took the opportunity to invent an excuse and pulled away from him, perhaps a little too sharply.

           "What's wrong?"

           Like a rabbit caught in the headlights she blurted out, "Nothing!"

           "Duf?" His face crumpled into a picture of confusion, "Have I done something wrong?"

           "No, nothing, I just… um… The door, I heard the door close".

           He nodded, although was clearly none the wiser for her explanation. He glanced at the door, it was indeed shut properly, not like they had left it when they had gone outside, and he moved past her and tried the handle, pulling the door and opening it smoothly. For a second they were flooded by the music and chatter from within, and Charlie closed it softly again. Back to just the two of them.

           He shrugged, "Probably just the wind".


           "Why do you look so tense? Anyone would think that you're ashamed to be seen with me!" He laughed gently for a second before his brain caught up with his mouth, "You're not, are you?"

           "'Course not."

           "Good", he smiled, and she forced herself to reciprocate, "So, where were we?"

           She froze as he moved towards her, too many conflicting emotions colliding in her mind. The part of her that had put her in the situation was crushingly disappointed that Charlie had failed to excite her the way that Max had, but there was another part of her who still cared deeply for Charlie and couldn't bare to break his heart by walking away.

           She'd left it too late, and he was enfolding her in his arms again, the comforting scent of his aftershave mingling with her own perfume. It was pure instinct that made her wrap her arms around his torso. He still made her feel safe; he made her feel special. Would it be so bad to settle for that?

           Passively she let his lips close in on hers. He was a good man, kind, considerate. That was enough. At least he would never hurt her the way she'd been hurt so often in the past. So, there were no symphonic orchestras when they were together; that never seemed to last long in a relationship anyway…

           "Earth to Duffy".


           "You were miles away"


           He shrugged away her apology, still smiling. He seemed to be doing a lot of that. And it wasn't that funny smile he used a work that never quite seemed sincere; this was the smile of a genuinely happy man. A man who thought he was having a major relationship breakthrough. Duffy started to feel faint and vaguely ill.

           "Duffy… You know, I'm not sure that sounds right, right now. Maybe I should call you 'Lisa'?"

           "No" she interrupted sharply, "'Duffy' is fine"

           "Right, well, Duffy, I was wondering if maybe we should go somewhere a little bit more private. A nice restaurant or something. What do you think?"

           "I'm alright here".

           "But you must be cold?" Her dress was sleeveless, but although her arms were covered in tiny goose bumps, she had been too preoccupied to notice. Charlie's words seemed to trigger something though, and suddenly she found herself shivering slightly.

           "I'm alright"

           "Here," he slipped his dinner jacket off, and hung it over her shoulders, then lifted her hair out from under the collar, his fingers lazily running through it. "You know, you've made me so happy tonight. It feels like everything has come right at last." He paused, tracing along her jaw line with his index finger, lifting her chin so as to plant a light kiss on her lips, "I love you".

           If it had been anyone else in any other situation she would have laughed. Talking about being in love, after just a little bit of kissing? Ridiculous! But it wasn't anyone else saying it. She knew Charlie was sincere, and it made her feel even worse.

           It was obvious what he hoped she was going to say. Indeed, perhaps hoped was the wrong word. There was no look of silent pleading that she would vocally reciprocate. He expected her to repeat his words.

           She almost did. Almost just let them slide through her lips. It would be almost worth it, just to see him happy. And it would only almost be a lie - she did love him, just not in the way he meant.

           But almost wasn't enough.

           "I'm sorry. I have to go".

           And she thrust his jacket back at him, and fled back through the ballroom, vanishing into the crowd before Charlie could even work out what to say to make her stay.



           He felt crushed. He felt - he realised with some horror - exactly as Duffy must have felt when he dropped the Amanda bombshell on her. Not that the realisation helped any. Amanda was very much gone, but Charlie was most definitely not.

           He'd almost said something, but as he stood, watching Duffy get so close to Charlie that they practically became a single entity, he had been entirely lost for words. He'd closed the door behind him in an effort to close a door over the picture that he could still see too clearly in his mind. He wondered if they were still up there, shut off from the party, enjoying the privacy. He felt his stomach churn at the thought and he wished he'd brought his bottle of drink with him.

           It hadn't even occurred to him not to drive to the ball, he'd been so flooded with adrenaline after his fight with Amanda that he no longer felt drunk at all, but now the shakes were starting to settle in, his finer motor control was eluding him at the same time as his emotions were overwhelming him. He felt tears start to trickle down his face but he was next to powerless to stop them. He rested his forehead against the steering wheel of his car, as his body trembled.

           He only looked up when he heard the sound of a woman's high-pitched yelp. Using the wheel to pull himself up in his seat, at first he couldn't see where the noise had come from, but when he heard her cursing he not only pin pointed her location, but recognised the voice. Automatically he climbed from his car to go to her aid, but he had no idea what to say to her, how to react now that he knew what she'd been up to.


           He squatted down next to her. She'd plainly given up trying to stand, and had settled herself cross-legged on the dusty car park surface, her heel-less high heeled shoe in one hand, the offending heel in the other and a stream of tears running down each cheek.

           "What are you doing here?" Her tone was accusatory, even though her voice trembled as she spoke, and it made up his mind how to act. He felt the anger bubble up inside him, pushing through the hurt and the confusion. He stood up, towering his full height above her and she remained motionless on the ground.

           "I came to see you. Of course what I actually saw was you and Charlie playing tonsil hockey, which begs the question: just who was the biggest liar today?"

           He regretted it immediately.

           "You what?" She scrabbled to her feet, her tears forgotten as her eyes blazed with fury, and her teeth clenched shut. "What. Did. You. Say?"

           He wanted to back track, apologise, blame that little outburst on his gutful of alcohol, but his vocabulary failed him and he settled for trying to look apologetic instead.

           "Honestly, just when I start to think that today couldn't actually get any worse, I have to bump into you!"

           "Duffy I didn't mean that, I just, I thought, I don't know! You were kissing Charlie!"

           "Yeah well that makes two mistakes I've made today. Now would you get out of my way, I need to find a cab." She tried to move past him, but he sidestepped to stay in her path, spreading his arms as a barrier. "Max, please, today has been a disaster and I just want to go home".

           "Did he hurt you?"



           "Of course not! If anything I've hurt him. Now you, you on the other hand, you've hurt me - shouldn't you be back at home cosy-ing up to Amanda?"

           "We broke up"

           "Oh, well," she said trying to hide her shock, "I'm not surprised".

           "She knows we spent the afternoon together, and we fought and I realised that she means nothing to me compared to what you do. Duffy, it's always been you I've wanted."

           "Yeah, well you can't always have what you want, can you?"

           He nodded solemnly, "You'd rather be with Charlie."

           "I'd rather be left alone right now, so please would you just leave me alone?" Every fibre of her body screamed how exhausted she was, and his conscience dictated his actions.

           "I'll give you a lift home..."

           "You're not listening Max! I don't want to see you. Ever!"

           Silently he stepped aside, not even responding to her whispered 'thank you' with anything more than the briefest nod and watched as she hobbled across the car park and to the lamp lit street, hailed a cab and drove away from him for the second time of the day.



           Kate Duffin dabbed her eyes with yet another tissue as the credits to the movie finally ended. She must have seen it, and inflicted it upon her daughter a hundred times but it never failed to get to her. Celia Johnson's character walking away from the man she loved, who made her come alive and going back to her husband and children, it always put her in a flood of tears.

           The music stopped and the screen went black just as Kate heard the front door swing open and slam shut again. She eased herself off the soft sofa but only reached the living room door in time to see her daughter run up the final couple of steps and turn into her bedroom.

           She knew Lisa's behaviour by now, she'd watched her come home after good nights out and bad and this one had definitely been the latter. She turned off the television and the standard lamp in the corner followed Lisa's path up the stairs.

           "Lisa," she tapped lightly on the door, "Can I come in?"

           The old door creaked open to reveal Duffy hugging her pink fluffy robe around her, her dress a green puddle on the floor behind her and her hair falling untidily across her face but not managing to hide the tear tracks down her cheeks.

           She let her mother hug her, hook her hair back behind her ears and lead her to the bed, shutting the door for privacy should one of the boys wake up.

           "Are you going to tell me what happened?"

           "I'm an idiot, and everything is a mess, and I don't know what to do now."

           "It can't be that bad!"

           Too tired to laugh, Duffy's response was little more that a snort and a derisive look.

           "Okay, am I going to have to guess? Right, there'll be a man in this somewhere… Am I close?"

           "Close. In fact there are two."



           Kate wrapped her arm around Duffy's shoulders, apologetic for her outburst, "Believe it or not there was a time when I had men fighting over me".

           "I wouldn't say they were fighting exactly. Anyway, I don't want them to. It just all went wrong somewhere. It's my fault".

           "Who are we talking about here, or do I have to refer to them as Man 1 and Man 2?"

           Duffy smiled despite herself at the daftness of the idea. "Max Gallagher and Charlie Fairhead"

           Kate nodded sagely. She knew Charlie quite well, always imagining that there could quite easily be more between him and Duffy than either of them let on, and there had been a time after Peter's birth but before Andrew had reappeared when Kate had actively sought to get them together although it had never come to anything. There was one Christmas in particular when Kate couldn't have dropped more hints if she'd tried, but either Charlie and her daughter hadn't noticed or had deliberately ignored her. Max on the other hand Kate had only met briefly a few times since Andrew's death and whilst handsome and charming were obvious adjectives for him she knew nothing of his personality, or indeed his past.

           "And what's going on with them…?"

           "Max hurt me and I told him to get lost, kissed Charlie on the rebound and so now Charlie thinks that there's something going on between us and Max doesn't and I… well, I…"

           "Wish it were the other way around?"

           Duffy groaned with embarrassment, "See I am an idiot and it is my fault".

           "Well, maybe," Kate joked lightly, dropping a kiss on her daughter's forehead.

           "I thought you were supposed to be on my side!?"

           "I am, which is why I'm going to give you some advice. Whether you follow it or not is up to you, but Lisa I didn't get to my age without learning a thing or two."

           "Go on then," she said, tugging at a loose thread of her robe and feeling more than ever like a little child .

           "Whatever you decide to do about Max, you have to tell Charlie how you feel. It's not fair to string him along, it's not fair on either of you, and it'll hurt more if you don't do it sooner rather than later."

           "D'you want to hear the funny thing about all this? If I hadn't have bumped in to Max this morning I would have been pleased to have Charlie's attention. I really like him Mum, and he's great with the kids and if only he'd chosen a time before today to decide to tell me he loves me… What do I say to him now?"

           "I wish I could tell you, love. I really wish I could".



           Charlie sank into his favourite armchair without either turning on the light or taking off his jacket. He'd tried chasing after Duffy but it seemed like everyone had been out to get in his way and by the time he'd pushed out of the huge front door she was nowhere to be seen.

           He'd contemplated asking his taxi to take him to her place, but he knew that Kate was babysitting and the last thing that they needed was to have three kids and their grandmother watching from the sidelines as he tried to get her to open up and explain why she'd run away.

           Maybe he'd scared her by saying those life-changing three little words 'I love you'; in all honesty he'd scared himself a bit with the speed and certainty of them. He'd always loved her company, missed her when she wasn't around and of course he'd wondered what it'd be like to be with her, properly be with her, not just as friends, but she'd never seemed interested. Their kisses before had all been so different to tonight's. It was a big step, but although it was one he was happy about, perhaps Duffy just needed some more time.

           He wasn't sure he liked that explanation though. If after sixteen years she still needed more time it didn't exactly bode well for any possibly future for them.

           If only she'd explained herself rather than running away, but he cursed himself that after so long, after always believing that he could read her so well, he could end up so confused by her behaviour.

           He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket, tapping 'D' into his phone book and bring up her number in an instant, but as thumb brushed against the 'call' button he realised that he didn't know what to say to her now anymore than he had in the moment she had walked off. He cancelled her number but knowing that he couldn't sleep satisfied until something had been said he clicked his phone into text message mode and began the laborious task of typing his message.

           'Sorry if I upset you, I hope you know that I'd never intentionally do that. Text me & let me know you're home safe. Talk tomorrow at work? Charlie xx'

           The message sent he closed his eyes and tried to relieve the short time spent on the balcony with her, only to be interrupted by the insistent buzzing of his phone as it received his reply. He pressed the appropriate buttons, and sure enough the incoming text was from Duffy. He opened it expectantly.

           'Am home safe. Will talk tomorrow. Your place, 9am'

           It was less than he'd expected and to him confirmed his worst fears. Their kiss had been a mistake, and she hadn't felt anything of what he had. Angry at his own foolishness he tossed the phone onto the coffee table in front of him and stared impassively as it skidded across the surface and thudded onto the carpet below.

           "As if she'd be interested in me."

Go to Part Five

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