By Elizabeth Darcy
Read Part One First!
The 18th of October: VE Day for Cindy. D-Day for me.
Cindy had skipped classes that particularly unattractive gray Friday owing to the evening’s festivities. She’d shown me her schedule for the day: beauty appointments booked solid from nine am clear through until four pm. So, I was to have the evening alone at the flat, which I was much looking forward to because it meant I could watch whatever I wished on the telly and listen to whatever music I wished on the radio. For one month solid, the only time I heard anything other than Beatles music was at pubs or when I went to the HMV store on Oxford Street. (Hey, I loved Beatles music like the next girl, but Cindy was really pushing it!)
But Friday was also the day my major project in my foundation drawing class was due and I hadn’t finished it. So it was just me, alone, in the art studio after class had let out trying desperately to turn the charcoal piece into something that didn’t look like a Picasso. I hadn’t planned for it to come off as tragically un-scaled as it now was.
“Oh yes… yes, it’s marvelous, my dear, so emotional, so moving!”
Nathan was leaning against the doorframe of the studio, with his hands in front of his face, framing my piece like an art snob in a posh gallery.
I laughed and called him a goon, and he came up to my side, peering over my shoulder. (Which wasn’t hard to do since I was a full head shorter than him.)
“Tell me, is this a new movement in art? This here, the massiveness of her left eye as opposed to her right?”
“Picasso made millions doing things like that.”
Nathan laughed, and his smile made me keenly aware of just what a state I was in: charcoal dust everywhere, under my fingernails, blacking over my hands, and surely it was on my face. Nathan confirmed this by pointing to my nose.
“You’ve got a little something there.”
“Oh, go away and let me be,” I said, attempting to sound cross, and turned my attention back to my charcoal piece… it was almost certainly as good as it would ever be.
“I can’t do that,” he said. “I’ve no one to go with down the pub.”
I laughed and pulled my finished drawing off the easel. “What about all your little disciples that follow you about campus all the time?”
“Ooh, cheeky are we? I’m being serious, are you coming down the pub with me or not?”
It was most certainly going to be the only time I would get to spend any time alone with him, and I was trying desperately to act cool as a cucumber during our entire walk to the pub.
I’d never been anywhere with a bloke, aside from my cousins. I’d always been so ridiculously shy in grammar and secondary school that they just didn’t bother. That and the fact that there were a million and one other girls who were surely much more worth their time and effort. I was an awkward looking, short redhead with long hair that tended to frizz and knobby knees capping off what my father called ‘chicken legs’. Which is why I hid them with trousers and denim all the time, and always kept my hair pulled back in a plain, boring bun.
So I’m hoping you can understand the panic I felt at not just any bloke, but Nathan Sloane opening the door for me and pulling out my chair at the table.
“What?” he said. “Why are you smiling?”
“It’s just… well… I didn’t know that blokes actually still did things like that. Opening doors and that.”
Nathan laughed. “Yeah, well, Mum was the most mannerly lady you’d ever hope to meet and she brainwashed us boys with chivalry.”
I smiled. “Well, you and your brothers are probably the last ones in the western world who still bother with any of that.”
“Do you know, I’ve never really given it a second thought. Cindy certainly never mentions it, so I just figured it wasn’t that important.”
“You’ve got to be joking. It’s so very sweet.”
The barmaid handed us our glasses, and Nathan started laughing at me yet again. “You are the only bird I know that, not only drinks Guinness, but drinks a pint of it. Most girls only get the half pint. And then there’s bird’s like Cindy who will only drink half of that.”
“Aye, well, that’s because it’s not good for the waistline. But I can’t help myself, I love Guinness so much that I would end up ordering two half pints anyway, so I figure I should just save myself four shillings and get the pint.”
“’Attagirl!” He thought this was wonderful news, and raised his glass to mine. “To Guinness!”
“To Guinness!” I took a gulp of it, which immediately eased my tense nerves and I relaxed into my chair.
“Are you going to pop in at all today to see Cindy? She wants you to see her in her new dress.”
His smile vanished entirely, and I kicked myself for bringing it up: Nathan was entirely against Cindy’s outing.
“No, I’m not. I’d rather like to pretend she’s not going to that bloody party.” He shook his head and stared blankly into the black of his half consumed pint of stout. “Now, I don’t mind so much that she lingers about his house with Margo because I like Margo and trust her. Margo really has her feet on the ground despite the way she chooses to spend her off hours. But it’s different with Cindy…” He shook his head. “And I’m not just saying that because she’s my girlfriend, I’m saying that because there really is something very wrong about her outlook on it. I know that deep down she is actually in love with this man and I know that she’d drop me in a heartbeat if she had a chance with him… and… well how do you think that makes me feel because I’m actually in love with the girl and have been for years.”
I leaned forward, unable to pry my eyes off the emotion storming in his blue eyes.
“She was my first serious girlfriend, right after I left secondary school, and we’ve been together four years. And this preoccupation of hers was fine at first, all the girls loved Paul McCartney, but it’s mutated into something else altogether since she’s been at University, living about five blocks from where he does. She’s really got it in her mind that they are going to fall in love, she really believes it! It’s… well it’s sick, if you ask me.”
“And of course you and Margo have tried to reason with her, that she doesn’t know him as a person—“
“Aye, and even if they do meet what if they completely clash with each other? What if he’s the bastard I suspect he is and fucks her one night, and the next she’s out on the front porch.” He looked furious now. “It means that she’d come crawling back to me, finally, because her better offer didn’t bloody work out. I’d be her plan B. Well maybe I don’t fucking want to be a plan B, maybe I want her to love me just the way I love her.”
“Which isn’t asking very much at all,” I said quietly, calmly. “And, if I may say so, a bloke as bloody thoughtful and attentive as you are to Cindy deserves nothing less.”
He took another swig of his pint. “You’re a smart bird, Charley. If only Cindy had a dose of your common sense.”
If only you thought of me the way you do Cindy… we’d
both be happy.
“I wouldn’t worry,” I told him. “Margo was talking to me the other night and we both agree that tonight will probably be very therapeutic for her. She’ll finally get to see him up close and personal, not through a gate, and probably get to talk to him… I mean… Nathan, I saw her pink dress too and he wouldn’t be a man if he didn’t at least notice her.”
Nathan’s eyes grew wide with horror and I was quick to smooth it over. “But nothing more than that, Nathan, nothing more than that. So she’ll meet him, they’ll chat, and that will be that. He won’t be interested and she’ll move out of the phase.”
“And what if he is interested?”
“He won’t be, Nathan. Think about it: what does Cindy always talk about? Him. Do you think he’s going to want a relationship with a girl who talks about nothing but him?”
Nathan laughed, weakly. “Yeah, that would be awkward.”
“Very awkward. So, Margo and I both agree, that tomorrow things will be back to just the way they used to be.”
At least, I was praying they would be.
Because I cared about him so very much, the last thing I wanted was to see him as broken as he was at that table, cradling his empty pint of beer with tears in his eyes. This boy deserved to be happy, and to be loved with all one’s being… and knowing that Cindy took him for granted infuriated me.
But it was Cindy that Nathan wanted, and it was Cindy that made him happy, so for that reason alone, I was hoping against hope that Cindy snapped out of it. Soon.
With that he stood up and motioned for me to follow him. “Come ‘ead, I’ll walk you to the Underground.”
He did, the two of us walking with purposeful sluggishness through the pretty manicured loveliness of Russell Square, and past the rising white stone grandness of the British Museum. Bloomsbury held a beauty that was deeply surpassing, the tall green hedges against the Victorian buildings; an entire world was sheltered under a canopy of trees whose beauty juxtaposed with the loud beeping of red buses and angry taxicabs chauffeuring wide-eyed tourists.
I wasn’t even saying anything, and Nathan seemed to feel precisely what I was thinking.
“It is beautiful here, isn’t it.”
“Yes. Lived here your whole life?”
“No, I grew up in Kent, in one of the very forgettable Medway cities. Pretty, but boring.”
“Yeah, that sounds like where I came from. Pretty, but boring. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Bedford.”
“Your family must be sad to hear that.”
“My family?” I laughed mirthlessly. “They’d never notice one way or the other. Oh we had a fantastic row before I left for University. They’d known for years I wanted to study art here in London, and for years they’d put it down. And when I got my scholarship, they didn’t even give me one ‘congratulation’. ‘What sort of a life is that,’ my Mum told me, ‘being an artist. You ought to make something of your life, something important, like your sister.’”
“What does that mean?”
“It means getting married at eighteen and pumping out a kid a year. She’s got four— spoiled rotten brats, the lot of them. And I told them that wasn’t what I wanted to do. To me art was important. And so when I left…” Did I want to cry? Did I want to laugh? “They didn’t even say goodbye. My final words were ‘I’ll see you at Christmas.’ And Dad said ‘we wouldn’t want you to trouble yourself with leaving London.’”
I decided to go with laughing… although there was nothing funny about any of it.
“They were just upset, Charley. You’re their daughter, they can’t have meant it.”
I raised my brow at him as if to say ‘oh can’t they?’
He did the unthinkable and put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me into a sideways hug: aftershave and peppermint filling my lungs like it never had before.
“Well then, let’s say bollocks to Bedford, all right? You’ve already started a new life here in London, and we’ll make this place your real home!”
I was blushing, powerless to stop it, and I nodded. “Yes, let’s.”
We’d been talking so long that by the time I reached my flat, it was already after six o’clock and everything was dark and quiet: Cindy had already left to live the moment she’d been waiting years for.
Heaven help Paul McCartney.
Night had settled in very permanently by the time I’d taken a shower (struggling to rid my fingernails of charcoal dust) pulled on my comfy pyjamas and put the kettle on.
And to fit my mood of unadulterated, sweet solicitude, the radio was playing “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” The song practically melted me into the sofa, and I closed my eyes— mind empty of everything else except for Nathan Sloane’s blues.
And then… from within the blissfulness of my serenity… an outside force was pulling me awake…
The stupid bloody telephone.
I climbed out of the sofa, my eyes bleary and my fingers fumbling clumsily for the phone. The clock in the kitchen read 11:42— I’d been asleep for over five hours!
“Charley? Thank God you’re awake, it’s Margo!”
“Margo, dear, having fun at the party?”
“Well I was. Listen, I’ve a huge favor to ask. There’s been a family emergency with The Price’s, that’s the family that I work for. Mrs. Price tracked me down here— it’s terribly important that I hurry up to their house and stay with the children. It’s Mr. Price— he’s quite ill and he’s at the Central Clinic as we speak and Mrs. Price can’t leave the kids at home… Charley, I have to go. It’s my job.”
It was starting to make sense. “And… that leaves Cindy at the party alone?”
“Charley… I can’t have her at the party alone, she’s had too much to drink. But the party is going to go on for a few more hours and she’s not leaving.”
“Right…” I shook my head, unable to believe this was actually happening. “So then how do I get there?”
“It’s number 48 Shaftesbury Avenue, in the upstairs loft at The Blue Room club.”
“What… what do I wear?”
“Darling, these people are so wasted on God knows what that you could show in pyjamas and no one would blink.”
She hung up the phone and, in a daze, I began to follow her instructions. I stared into the bathroom mirror, hating everything from my freckles to my frizzy hair to my groggy, lackluster brown eyes. I hoped Margo was right about not worrying about clothes because I had no fancy attire at all— the closest I got to ‘dressy’ was a plain gray pencil skirt and a white knit turtleneck, which is what I donned beneath a white trench coat that I’d nicked from Cindy’s closet.
Margo was waiting for me out on the city pavement, looking very chic, drenched in black, and she greeted me with a very tight embrace.
“I owe you the world, darling. Here’s my invitation so you can go right on upstairs to the party. And if I were you, I’d start hinting to Cindy about going home— she’s in the lounge by the bar, drowning her sorrows.”
“Why? Didn’t she meet Paul?”
“No one has seen Paul all night. He and Jane were at the premiere, but there’s been no sign of either of them.” She hugged me again and with a breezy ‘good luck’ she disappeared into a waiting taxi cab.
Breathe, Charlotte. No worries…
Except for the fact that the last party I’d been to was my own seventeenth birthday party, which consisted of cake, punch and a lot of family. This was… well…
The bouncer nodded to me as I held out my invitation and he opened the huge glass double doors. The loft to the Blue Room was glowing red: a dark, smoky red, and smelled of a million things I’d never smelled before. There were bodies fused together, dancing to “Incense and Peppermints” that broke through the muted haze. The good thing was that everyone was so consumed with their own conversations that I went completely unnoticed as I pushed through the masses. (A mercy, because I would have probably fallen flat on my face had I been able to make out their identities… every star under the London sky was almost certainly there.)
The bar itself was crammed with patrons, of course, and the smoke cleared somewhat over it enough so I could recognize a particular pair of long legs, crossed, and a flowing head of blond hair: Cindy, with her head laid on the bar, covering her face with her arms.
“Cindy? Cindy, it’s me Charlotte.”
“It’s Charley,” I said into her ear. “Margo left so I came in her place.”
“You needn’t have bothered,” she said in a muffled voice, “I’m fine by myself.”
“Right. You really look it.”
I pulled Cindy’s shoulders back so that she lifted her head: her eyes weren’t just red from drink— she’d been crying.
“He’s not here, Charley…” she said wistfully and closed her eyes in pain. “After all this time… he’s not here…”
I hopped up onto the stool next to her. “Cindy… maybe it’s for the best? I mean, maybe this is a sign. Since he’s not here, perhaps that means you aren’t supposed to be here… you’re supposed to be with Nathan and no one else.”
“Nathan,” she said, as though the word was foreign upon her tongue. “Yes… Nathan…” and then her eyes met mine. “But Charley… you just don’t understand…”
“Of course I understand,” I said, knowing perfectly well I probably didn’t. “You’re in love with this man you’ve never met, but Cindy there are different kinds of love. And the love you have for Nathan, now that is what’s special— that’s what really means something. It’s real, it’s tangible, and the best part is: it’s mutual. He loves you, Cindy.” He sighed and dropped my gaze to the countertop. “You don’t know how lucky you are.”
But I realized that Cindy had heard none of what I was saying. Her attention was rapt on something behind me. I turned around, slowly, with sudden apprehension of what I would find.
The bartender handed a drink into the hands of a slender, dark haired young man with large, droopy brown eyes, a round nose and pouting, full lips.
I’d never experienced it… the feeling of time actually slowing down to a pause… and it was singularly bizarre to have all sound and movement about me morph into delayed, distant reality— except for the incredibly good looking man at my side.
He was ever so much more winsome in person than in even the glossiest of magazines.
But my moment of stupor was short lived as I was literally pushed aside by the manicured paws of Cindy Stanley.
And I was forced to watch in horror as the worst case scenario unfolded.
“There you are!” Cindy was sloshed to say the least, and stumbled forward, grabbing hold of his shirt sleeve to keep steady. “I’ve been waitin’ for you!”
Paul McCartney looked as though he didn’t know whether to be alarmed or amused. He good naturedly picked the latter.
“Good to know somebody has been.”
She wasn’t letting go of his sleeve. In fact she took hold of his collar and pulled his body close to hers. “No, you don’t unnerstand… I’ve been waitin’ for you my whole life.”
He laughed, but with marked uneasiness and tried to delicately pull her fingers from his shirt. “If you’re willing to sign the prenuptials, then I’m all for it.”
“I’ll do anything you say, my love. Anything at all.”
And she did it. To my complete horror she did it. She planted him with a kiss, a hard and passionate kiss and threw her arms about his neck. (And I could smell the alcohol on her breath from where I stood, so the experience could not have been very pleasant for Mr. McCartney.)
Paul had to yank her arms from around him and his chestnut brown eyes scoured the lounge. “Who did this bird come with?”
“She’s with me,” I said dutifully, stepping forward and grabbing hold of Cindy’s hand. “And all I can say is I’m very sorry, Mr. McCartney. I’d blame it on the alcohol only I know her too well.” I pulled Cindy away from him. “Come on, we’re leaving. Now.”
“NO!” Cindy, twice my height, easily loosed herself from my grip and flung herself against Paul who toppled backwards a few steps in complete surprise. “You’re not taking me away from him! Not when I’ve waited this long! Paul!” She squeezed him, “Go on tell her, tell her that you want me to stay.”
I was mortified and Paul, his arms held upward as Cindy clung to him, looked down at me as if to say ‘do something’!
“That’s enough! Cindy, come on!” I grabbed her by her waist to wrench her apart from Paul’s body, and she tripped as I did so: her body went tumbling backwards and fell smack on top of me, sending me to the ground.
I heard a couple screams, some laughter, a lot of gasps and choruses of ‘oh my God’ and ‘holy shit,’ etc., etc. But all I could see was a great mass of blonde hair in my face and a barely breathing body on top of me:
Cindy had passed out.
My puny little frame was struggling to push from her off of me, when her weight was lifted, in an instant, by a frowning Paul McCartney. He lightly slapped Cindy’s face and she let out a low moan and her eyes slowly beat open.
I stood up and, adding to my dismay, found somebody’s scotch and coke soaking into the white fabric of my borrowed trench coat.
“Feeling better?” Paul said to Cindy whose eyes rolled into consciousness. And when they lay sight on Paul’s face she let out a half cry and buried her face into her hands.
“I’ve got her,” I said, taking hold of her hand. “I’m sorry again for everything, Mr. McCartney. “
“As am I,” he said, looking suddenly amused. “That’s a nasty stain on your coat.”
I paused, and his smile infected me with one. “Oh that’s all right,” I nodded towards Cindy. “It’s her coat, not mine.”
“Here, let me help— Eric? I’ll be back in a minute, mate.” And before I could protest, he had Cindy’s left arm around his shoulder and, following my lead, he walked the barely conscious body out of the loft.
“The two of you sisters?”
“Good thing she has someone like you to look after her.”
“She’s a nice girl, she’s just…”
“Off her rocker?”
I laughed again, unable to help it. “Among other things. And that last martini of hers didn’t help. I knew something like this would happen.” The image of her slapping Paul with a kiss was making me cringe with embarrassment. “I’m just so sorry about all that.”
“Well I’ll tell you a secret,” he said and bent down so that his breath was warm on my ear. “I’m actually rather used to that sort of thing.”
“Oh… right. Of course.”
My cheeks flushed at his schoolboy smile, and I felt as daft as I’d surely sounded.
I burst through the exit doors and hurried to the side of the pavement, waving down a taxi. The cab screeched to a halt at my bidding and I opened the back doors, turning back around to my surprising Good Samaritan.
He sat her down into the back seat, and my surprise allowed me to only say the cliché and boring:
“Well, thank you again.” I hurried around to the other side of the taxi and before sliding in I offered a friendly wave ‘good-bye’ that he actually returned— with a smile.The taxicab took off and I started in on trying to figure out what the hell had just happened.
Darcy lives in southern California.
She absolutely loves to travel (an expensive but rewarding hobby) write
(mostly historical fiction) paint (portraits, mainly) and of course spend as
much time as humanly possible listening to/dreaming of/thinking about the
Beatles. And speaking of the
Beatles, she feels that they are the only subject she is going to expound on
in this ‘bio’ because it’s probably the only thing you’ll find
interesting. She has been a Beatles
fan since November 1995, with the release of the Beatles Anthology and hasn’t
been the same ever since. Their
influence is the biggest one in her life, hands down. She shudders to think
how cold and empty her life would be if it hadn’t been for those four lads
and their music—the music that in effect, saved her life.
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