"You look happy today."
Duffy raised an eyebrow at Charlie's observation but continued to brush her hair in the small mirror inside her locker door.
"You have a problem with that?"
"Of course not. It's just nice to see you smiling."
She finished with her hair and shoved her brush into her large handbag. "So what you're saying is I usually wander around looking like a wet weekend?"
"Charlie Fairhead, if I wasn't in such a good mood I'd hit you!"
"Hey!" Charlie raised his hands in self-defence "You said it, I said nothing of the sort. I'm much too much of a gentleman."
"It was the tone of your 'well' that worried me. Anyway, forget that, how do I look?"
Duffy smoothed down the front of her newly acquired little black dress and fiddled with the diamond solitaire necklace that she'd unearthed from her 'things I never wear' drawer that morning. From his seat on the staff room sofa Charlie gave her a long look up and down, grateful that he'd been given permission to do so, and no longer had to pretend to be reading last night's football write up. He couldn't remember the last time she'd looked so stunning, but in the year or so since Andrew's death she'd regained her lost confidence and started blooming. He'd found that his gaze was increasingly drawn to her as she strutted around the A&E department.
"Not bad, I suppose. Quiet night in, is it?"
"Cheers, Charlie," she replied sarcastically, slipping on her coat and closing her locker.
"Seriously, you look... good. So, who is he?"
"What makes you think there's a 'he' involved?"
"Fair point, it's the twenty first century, could be a woman..." he teased.
"His name is Philip Brockly. You don't know him, and it's not serious anyway; just a drink together."
"A-ha. Well, be careful and remember you've got work tomorrow."
Duffy rolled her eyes at him, her mouth falling open in dismay, "Yes, Dad."
"Sor-ry! I'm just concerned."
"About me or the department?"
"The department," he lied with a broad smile. "Go on then, or the mysterious Philip'll think you've stood him up."
"Yeah. You sure this dress isn't too tarty?" The spaghetti strapped dress certainly showed off every curve and fell to a couple of inches above her knee, but among the list of adjectives that fluttered through his mind tarty wasn't one of them.
"It looks gorgeous."
Duffy beamed and did up her coat buttons. "See you tomorrow then!" She took a few steps forward and kissed him gently on the forehead before striding purposefully out of the door.
Charlie leant back into the sofa and lifted his legs onto the low table; a habit Duffy was forever telling him off about. His own shift over as well, he knew he should take the chance of the empty room to get changed before heading off home. He closed his eyes instead though, and allowed himself a moment of imagining that Duffy had been getting dressed up for him, not some random bloke she'd pulled God knows where.
He opened his eyes, made his way to the sink and poured himself some water. It didn't do anyone any good to be having thoughts like that and if he didn't stop himself now he'd need a cold shower, never mind a cold glass of water.
He wondered about her date, about what sort of man she'd chosen for her first night out since being widowed. He was probably younger than Charlie, all her boyfriends so far had been, and was no doubt also in some flash job, with a smart suit and a charming smile. Charlie took another slurp of the water and told himself he had no right to be jealous. He and Duffy were, as always, just good friends. He'd do anything for her, including trying to sound positive about her love life when his own was on standby until he worked out how to banish her from his thoughts.
Not for the first time in the evening Duffy's attention wandered and she found herself watching the various happy couples in the restaurant enjoy their meals. Her drink with Philip had turned into a meal before she knew where she was. However, the charming man she'd started the evening with had swiftly turned into a self-obsessed idiot and she wished she had some means of escape.
As he droned on about his work, doing something Duffy didn't understand in some office somewhere that Duffy had never heard of, she took a hefty gulp of the expensive red wine and tried to feign some interest in what he was saying. He'd already dismissed her own job as 'a good career for a woman', a comment that nearly made her choke on her appetiser. She had almost walked out on him there and then, but she hadn't because it would mean admitting that the whole idea of trying to date again was really as stupid as she'd feared. Besides, one comment does not a male chauvinist pig make. Three dozen of them do though, and she wished she'd gone when she'd had the chance.
Still, they'd soon be finished eating, and the minute he suggested dessert she'd make her excuses; surely an enlightened man like him would appreciate the need for the little woman to go running home and do the washing up. She downed the remainder of the glass, and pinched the stem between her fingers as if it were a voodoo doll; wishing he'd shut up for long enough to shovel the last few forkfuls of food into his gaping mouth.
"You're knocking it back a bit tonight, love," he said, calling her from her bored stupor.
"Hey, I don't mean anything by it, it's just that you've drunk twice as much as me tonight. I guess it's one of those work hard, play hard things, yeah?"
"Not exactly," Duffy replied trying to retain her calm, and therefore her dignity. "But I think you're right. I've had enough. Thanks for the meal, but I should get going now." She slid her chair back over the polished floorboards and stood up before he had a chance to say anything.
"But we aren't finished."
"I am actually. I have been for the last fifteen minutes." She really wanted to throw a handful of notes onto the table and storm off, safe in the knowledge that she hadn't accepted anything from him, but she knew that she only had enough cash to afford her taxi home. The thought of being back in the sanctuary of her own home called invitingly to her, even if it would be empty because all three of her children had been bundled off to her mother's place.
Philip stood up and looked at her as though she'd just admitted to being the tooth fairy, as the Maitre d' strode over to them appearing slightly flustered at the thought of their unscheduled departure.
"I'd like my coat please," Duffy asked.
"Certainly. Sir, would you like the bill?"
"Yeah whatever." Philip wafted a disinterested arm at the man, who promptly scurried off. "I suppose if you aren't enjoying yourself we should leave."
The word 'we' reverberated in her head. She had no intention of leaving with him whatsoever. Where the hell was that man with her coat?
"I'll be fine on my own, thank you." She turned on her heel and headed to the door, deciding as she went that she'd rather leave her coat behind than spend another minute in Philip's company. As it happened the Maitre d' reappeared just as she reached the exit and she snatched her coat off him and stepped into the cold night air.
The usually busy street seemed frighteningly quiet as she yanked her coat over her dress and stamped her heeled feet on the pavement, partly to keep warm, partly in frustration; there wasn't anything even remotely resembling a cab to be seen. She pointed herself in the direction of a bus stop, and sat on its uncomfortable sloping seat, sending up ever more abusive prayers that she wouldn't have long to wait.
She stuck her hand into her overstuffed handbag and tried to disentangle her mobile phone from the multitude of junk she carried around in case of emergency. When she heard an engine approaching, she glanced up hopefully.
Better than a bus, a maroon taxicab was coming up the road. She sprang to her feet, dropping her bag and sending a tampon, half a packet of Polo's and baby's dummy flying across the paving slabs. "Shit!" She grabbed at the bag and stuck her arm out to hail the cab, wrenching open the door the split second it had stopped. Jumping into the back she told the driver her address, and was just about to pull the door shut when Philip reappeared and got in beside her.
"I thought you drove here," she said icily.
"Yeah, well I'll pick it up in the morning. It's only a company car."
Duffy could feel the hairs on the back of her neck standing to attention. Philip was blocking the door and, as she dithered about what to do next, he slammed it shut. She made a lunge for the other side's door, but Philip's strong hand grabbed at her wrist.
"What are you doing?" he asked, as though the thought she wouldn't want to ride with him hadn't entered his mind.
"If you want this cab, I'll get the next," she answered feebly.
"Don't be daft, we can share." She sank back into the seat. At least they weren't alone together, although the driver seemed to by making a concerted effort to ignore them. Philip tapped on the Perspex screen and the driver obediently turned.
"You know Morley right? Just outside of the ring road."
The driver nodded. "I thought you wanted Woodfields, darling?" He stretched round to look at Duffy.
She tried to swallow her panic. She didn't want Philip knowing where she lived, but if she went with him to his place she'd be miles from anywhere.
"Yeah. Woodfields, it'd be easier to drop me off there first, wouldn't it?" The driver shrugged and pulled back into the road. Duffy turned to Philip. "You don't mind dropping me off first, do you?" she said trying to stress that it wasn't any form of invitation.
"Nah. I'd love to see where you live." He rested his hand on her knee, she shivered, it was cold and felt clammy. She brushed it off and squirmed away to the corner of the cab. It didn't deter him and as he moved closer, she realised she'd just trapped herself.
It took far too long to reach her street, but when they did she yanked her purse from her bag paying the full fare before stumbling out into the quiet residential street; the wine and her high heeled shoes conspiring against her. Philip got out and put a thick arm around her to steady her. She struggled against him but he was strong and she wasn't as co-ordinated as she could have been.
"I'd better look after her," he said to the driver who responded with a concerned look at the rough way he was holding Duffy. Philip dipped in his pocket with his free hand and pulled out a crisp reddish note, whispering so Duffy couldn't hear, "For your trouble." The driver, after a moments contemplation of the offer, took the money and drove away.
"Bastard!" Duffy yelled at the top of her voice at the retreating vehicle. Why couldn't he see the way she was being manhandled? She should have said something, she shouldn't have let things get this farů
Her mind was dizzily replaying events as Philip clamped his hand over her mouth. "Don't want to wake the neighbours now, do you?"
Philip hauled Duffy to her front door, then still holding her around the head he fished in her handbag for her keys and let them in; as she flailed about ineffectually, trying to fight him off. Once inside with the door shut behind them he wrestled her coat off her and pinned her to the wall, his hands like vices around the tops of her bare arms.
He pushed his face into hers, trying to force her to open her mouth, while his hands busied themselves trying to undo the zip of her dress. When the zip caught on the material, he changed tactics, reaching up under her hem.
She kicked wildly at his shin until she wrestled free enough to hit the mother load. Her knee made contact with his groin with all the force she could muster and he staggered backwards clutching himself and gasping for breath.
Pushing past him, she fumbled with the locks on the inside of the door. An image of Andrew proudly unveiling his new security locks fluttering across her eyes. Her sweating fingers couldn't grasp the catches and she beat her fist against the glass panel and shouted in an effort to get some attention from the deserted street.
Behind her she could hear Philip trying to pull himself off the floor, and giving up with the front decided that the back door might be a better option. She only made it as far as the living room before Philip caught her from behind, yanking her hair and stopping her in her tracks.
"You bitch! What the hell did you do that for?!"
He whirled her around and pressed her down onto the long low coffee table, her back making contact with the cluttered surface with a thud. In a swift movement he straddled her, pinning her legs with his body weight. She let out a piercing scream, momentarily stunning her assailant, and his grip loosened enough for her to reach behind her. Her fingertips scratched across the floor and encountered something hard. She grabbed hold and heaved her arm upů and then down across his head.
There was a sickening crunch as contact was made, the shock of which made her drop her makeshift weapon, and in one frantic terrified movement she pushed his limp body off hers, and onto the floor. It was only as she scrambled awkwardly to her feet that she saw the damage she had done.
Philip lay perfectly still, blood soaking through his slicked back blonde hair and dripping onto the carpet.
Trembling from head to toe she grabbed the first thing that came to hand, an old tea towel, and pressed it against the wound. It turned red beneath her fingers.
Too much blood, far too much blood.
She backed away from the body, unable to take her eyes off it, automatically wiping her bloodied hands down her dress to clean them. Her blood ran cold through her veins as she launched herself out of the room, grabbed instinctively at her bag, clawed her way out of the front door, and vomited in the flower bed.
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