Excerpt for A Blue Bear by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

A Blue Bear

by Sandra Powell

Copyright 2017 Sandra Powell

Smashwords Edition, Licence Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and may not be re sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favourite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Chapter One

Pushing through the darkness, the image misted and blurred through the sheets of persistent October rain, and the fever I was surely developing, I saw the bright lights of a lorry heading my way. The rumble of a heavy diesel engine echoed into the night and I felt the slightest vibration on the tarmac beneath my feet. It was the first lorry I had seen in hours. Hours I had spent stumbling along a road leading to who-knew-where, planning to end it all.

My car, or the car I’d stolen yesterday, was in a ditch somewhere behind me, the victim of poor driving skills and terrible concentration given my current condition. I’d been walking ever since, a car rug wrapped around me, but not doing much to prevent me getting soaked through.

I stopped, leaned against the rough trunk of a tree and let my sodden backpack trail on the ground. Turning my face up to the skies I let the rain cool my burning cheeks. I was so cold, wet through and scared to death. The past few weeks had been more than I could take. I had nowhere to go, nobody to go to for help. At this moment in time, with the bitter rain pouring down on me, there was only one way out of the hell I was in. And this lorry was it. It would be quick, I was certain of it. One step into its path. Just one step and the driver wouldn’t have any time to stop. Blissfully unaware of the lethal plans I had for his vehicle, he wouldn’t see me until it was too late, and by that time I.............well, I just wouldn’t care anymore.

My legs shook from both fear and exhaustion as I pushed away from the tree and towards the road. My chest was tight and heavy as I struggled to breathe and my eyes burned as I looked back at the glaring headlights. I was unsteady, almost watching myself as if I was in a dream and not actually doing this. I took another step.

One more. Just one more.

Dizziness overcame me as in one quick second I reverted to rational thought and tried to step back, bottling out at the last second. Scared of living, but scared of dying. I was scared of everything. I swayed as I turned to see the huge machine bearing down on me, closer than I had expected. Much closer. It started me. A scream started in the back of my throat, but no sound came from me. My heart hammered in my chest, my knees buckled and I was falling.

The noise was like nothing I’d ever heard before or wanted to again. Air horns blared mournfully into the night. Screeching, squealing, all these noises combined in my head as I hit the ground and stayed there, eyes tight shut, the rain beating down on me. I couldn’t cry, couldn’t make a sound.

Then everything was suddenly quiet. A strong smell of diesel and burning rubber hung in the air and clogged my throat. For a few moments I stayed there, my mind no longer even trying to work out what was happening. I didn’t care. I wanted to sleep and never wake up. I heard the sound of a door open and close, then footsteps coming towards me.

“What the fuck! Do you even know................fuck! Fuck it! I nearly didn’t..........get the hell up, you stupid.................”

I was grabbed by the arm and tugged at until the blanket fell away.

“Jesus, get up…..oh, bloody hell!”

The last obscenity, I assumed, was as he saw my swollen stomach. Instead of the tugging, he let go of my arm, gripping me under my arms instead, lifting me to my feet. When I swayed he held me against him, wrapped an arm around me protectively. I began to cry as the baby, seven months inside me, started to kick relentlessly until I felt sick with it. Why, oh why, did it want to kick me like this? Did it really hate me that much?

“Where were you going?” he was shouting in my ear. The rain was still coming down in icy sheets and he put the blanket back over my shoulders. “Can I take you somewhere?” He didn’t sound as if he really wanted to, but then there was no reason he should when I had virtually thrown myself in front of his lorry. It had probably shaken him just as much as me, or more, since he hadn’t been expecting it.

My knees buckled again and he held me tightly. I hadn’t done it after all. Here I was, as big a failure as ever, still alive, with all the same problems, plus one more in the shape of an irate lorry driver. I didn’t say anything. My whole body felt as if it were on fire, despite the cold rain. I craved sleep, nothing else.

“Can you hear me?” he was shouting. “Tell me where you’re going and I’ll take you there.” When I made no sound he swore loudly and picked me up, ungraciously. I was taken to the lorry and half-pushed, half –lifted inside.

“Sit on the bunk!” he ordered. “I don’t have time to mess about, sweetheart, this truck is blocking the road.” He shoved me through to the back of his cab where a bunk was made up with a pillow and a duvet. It looked inviting. He was already in the driving seat, shunting the lorry until it was parked on one side of the road. When an impatient motorist blared a car horn at him he swore loudly and shouted obscenities at the retreating tail lights before turning to look at me.

“Answers,” he said. “I want to know what the hell you thought you were doing. Don’t you know better than to look before you try and cross the road? A five year old would know better. I don’t fancy the chances of that kid when it’s born.” He raked his fingers through soaking wet hair, rubbed his face and shook his head. “Shit! Oh, shit!”

I buried my face in my hands and sat on the edge of the bunk, deeply ashamed at what I had done. He was angry and had every right to be, but all I had accomplished was to make my own situation worse than ever. He shouted at me again and I jumped, wondering if he would hit me, or threaten me. Connor had hit me a few times and I didn’t want more.

“I haven’t got anywhere to go,” I blurted out.

“That helps me a lot, sweetheart.”

He was mocking me. I lifted my head from my hands when he switched on a light inside the cab, and turned what must have been a blotched and tearful face towards him. He was as wet as I was and was shivering. All he’d had on when he came to my rescue was a denim shirt and jeans that hadn’t stayed dry for long in this incessant rain. His hair, straight, dark and too long, was clinging in strands and hanging over his eyes, and those eyes really drew my attention to him. I had never seen such blue eyes. My own were blue, but not like his, they were a deep blue that I imagined would shine when he laughed or smiled. They didn’t shine now. Now he glared at me as if I was something not long crawled out from underneath a rock, and thinking about it made me realise that was probably what I resembled right now.

“So?” he asked as he stripped off his shirt and threw it to the floor at my feet, repeating the procedure with the faded navy tee shirt that had been underneath it. “What is it you suggest I do with you?” He leaned towards me and I shot back as far as I could on the bunk, pressing myself into the wall, but rather than reaching for me, he pulled a holdall from underneath the bunk and took out a clean shirt. He glared at me as he pulled it on, and I wished I had clean, dry clothes. Even the small amount of clothes in my rucksack were soaked through, and I began to cry again as I wished I had taken more care in what I’d packed.

“Jesus,” he said, irritably. “Don’t you ever stop crying? You realise how lucky you are I managed to stop this thing? You’d have been mincemeat on that road. It’s bloody hard to stop at that distance.”

As he said it he looked down at the road in front of his cab and I swear he shivered slightly at the thought of it. I was suddenly remorseful at the thought I had so nearly made him a killer, and yet I felt I had left something unfinished.

“I’m tired,” I said, quietly. I yearned for the darkness of sleep, where my thoughts could settle and stop bombarding my already aching head. I was so drowsy. I hadn’t been in the best of health for weeks, even months, since Connor decided the baby wasn’t his, and that he didn’t want either one of us. The realisation had shocked me into a deep depression and I’d not eaten properly or looked after myself since then. As a result I was tired for much of the time. How was I supposed to know where I wanted to go when I was unable to even think straight? It wouldn’t make a scrap of difference where I went, anywhere was better than the place I’d left behind.

“Tired huh?” He turned back to the steering wheel and sighed. “Ain’t we all! I’ll take you to the hospital in Truro.”

“No!” I snapped the word out quickly because the last place I wanted to be was in a hospital. The impending birth was something I refused to think about until I had to.

“You fell. You should go and get checked out, make sure the kid is okay.”

“Not to a hospital. Please, don’t take me to a hospital.”

Turning back to me and pushing the hair from his face, he leaned against the back of his seat. “Sweetheart, you gotta go somewhere.” He said it in a lazy, patronizing manner that mocked me, and I wished he wouldn’t

“I need to sleep,” I cried. “Please? Just for a little while, let me sleep?” It occurred to me that I was begging to sleep in the bunk of a man I had never met before, and who could be anybody, including a serial killer of the south west. He could murder me as I slept, he might try and rape me – no, that was a stupid thought. Looking like I did at the moment I was probably the last person on earth he would think about raping, even if he was inclined towards such evil ways. And if he tried to murder me in my sleep – well, that was what I wanted, wasn’t it? Hadn’t I just tried very much the same thing myself?

“A motel, then?” he suggested.

I felt my face burn further and looked at the sorry looking rucksack at my feet. It contained my purse with a solitary twenty pound note inside it. I hadn’t even thought to bring my cheque book or bank passbook with me, although they wouldn’t have been much use. Connor, for all his family’s wealth, had cleaned out my bank account just to prove a point. “No money,” I managed to say. “Please? I’m so tired.”

“Fuck!” He reached back into the holdall and dragged out another shirt, this time throwing it at me. “Put that on first, I don’t want you in my bunk with wet clothes on.” He turned back to his steering wheel, and although I didn’t catch most of what he muttered to himself, I gathered that the last thing he needed right now was a pregnant woman using his cab as a bloody hotel, although his version was slightly more profane.

I clasped the shirt, a brushed cotton, heavyweight one, against me. It was soft in my hands and I wanted it on. I wanted to be out of these wet clothes, but that meant I had to undress in front of him and I hesitated.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he said, sarcastically, when he realised why I wasn’t carrying out his bidding, and he snatched a curtain across to separate the front of the cab from the back. “Pregnant girls aren’t my thing.” He started the engine. “Get some sleep if that’s what you want. Truro is still a few hours away and I’m short of driving time. We have to stop somewhere soon.”

“Truro?” I peeped through the curtain. “Isn’t that in Cornwall?”

“Boy, do you know your geography,” he gritted. He turned to see me looking around the curtain. “That’s where I’ve got to drop this load I’m carrying. Got any problems with that?”

I let the curtain fall so he couldn’t look at me in that derisive way of his. “I wasn’t sure which way I was going,” I said, and heard him sigh.

“Why am I not surprised?”

As the lorry juddered into movement, I took off my wet clothes in the darkness behind the curtain and tried to spread them out wherever there was space in an effort to let them dry off a little. His words echoed in my mind. ‘Pregnant girls aren’t my thing’, and I recalled the pain of those words as Connor had had told me exactly the same on hearing I was pregnant. Tears pricked at the back of my eyes and I tried to shut out the thoughts. I wouldn’t be seeing Connor again, and didn’t want to.

The shirt felt soft against my skin and I slipped between the covers of the bunk, relishing the feel. My head sank into the pillow and I made out the faint smell of him in the bed, the smell of a man. Pulling the covers up around my shoulders to shut out the cold, I closed my eyes and the droning of the engine was quick to send me into a dreamless, restless sleep.

Chapter Two

I didn’t feel any better when I reluctantly woke up. My head still ached terribly, my stomach growled loud protests about the lack of food for the last two days, and above all else, I was desperate to use a toilet. The lorry wasn’t moving, although the curtains were still drawn across and it was dark. I didn’t hear the driver and wondered if he had taken the chance to sleep for a while. Having no idea of the time I got awkwardly from the bunk and tried to stretch out some of the aches and pains in my lower back. The baby kicked me as I did so and I glared at my stomach, only barely covered by the borrowed shirt. A prickle of terror went through me as thoughts of the impending birth invaded my mind, and quickly I pushed them out again. I didn’t want a baby, not alone.

I pulled on a pair of damp socks from my rucksack, about the only things to have kept relatively dry in there, and tried to decide which of the two pairs of maternity jeans were the driest. As I dragged one pair on, huffing and puffing in the confines of the cab, I heard the door open and somebody climbing in. Hurriedly trying to get the jeans done up, I was looking for my trainers when he peered through the curtains.

“Finally!” he said. “I tried to wake you earlier.” He sounded almost accusing.

“Sorry,” I said, pulling a face as I slipped my feet into wet trainers. “What time is it?” I swiped hair from my forehead, feeling the heat on my face, the burning heat despite the cold and damp of my clothes. Even though I’d slept so soundly for a couple of hours, I was still tired and longed to be comfortable in the bunk again, or as comfortable as it was going to get in there.

“Almost midnight.” He pulled the cab door shut behind him and flopped into the passenger seat with a huge sigh. “I have to get some sleep myself. This load has to be at the factory by nine in the morning and I don’t want to be late. It’s a damned good contract for me and I’ve no intention of losing it. I’ve already been held up for longer than I wanted to be.”

I nodded, clearly understanding that I was the cause of his being held up, and that he didn’t appreciate it. “Is there a toilet anywhere?” He was at least a bit more civil than he had been earlier, so I thought it a good idea to ask the question. I cringed when he sighed again.

“I’ll take you.”

“I can go on my own,” I protested. I wasn’t sure exactly where we were, but the idea of racing off into some nearby bushes and having him stand over me while I relieved myself, didn’t appeal.

“I’ll take you,” he repeated, and got down to help me from the cab. It was cold outside, freezing cold, but the rain had stopped for a while. The lorry was parked in a long line of others and relief flooded over me as I caught sight of a toilet block about fifty or so metres away and realised he was in a service station. While I was desperate enough to have used the nearest bush, I was also glad of the proper facilities. He walked along the line of lorries with me, his hand on my elbow and pushing me along, his general impression that he wanted to get this over with as soon as possible. He was actually greeted once or twice by drivers returning from the late night café not far from the toilets, but he merely grunted a quick reply and marched me on without stopping.

When we got there he let go of my arm and gave me a gentle push. “I’ll wait here. Don’t be too long.”

“I don’t see why you have to wait,” I protested. After all, I was twenty one years of age and didn’t need a bodyguard to take me to the toilet. “I can find my own way back.”

He put his face close to mine. He hadn’t shaved for a few days and was dirty and dusty from his labours of the day, smelling faintly of oil. There was a forced grin on his face as he gave me a little shake. “Not all of the drivers in here are as nice as me. Get it?”

I got it. I used the toilet quickly, not sure if I was more fearful of him or the thought of the worse drivers, then returned to the lorry with him. He was definitely embarrassed to be seen with me, walking quickly so that I had difficulty keeping up with him, and as we neared his lorry he put a hand on my lower back to push me faster.

“Hey, Jack? I didn’t expect you to be in here tonight.”

We were stopped by a man stepping out suddenly in front of us. It was dark and I couldn’t make out his features, just his teeth as he grinned at my lorry driver.

“I didn’t either. Got held up a couple of times today.” He still had the pressure on my back and he wanted me to move along.

“Everything okay?” the other man asked. He was looking at me as he asked and I knew I was the reason for his question as he dropped his gaze towards my stomach, which stood out even in the darkness. I hated it.

“Everything’s fine, Dan. Will you be home tomorrow?”

“I’d better be. Ginny says she’ll divorce me if I’m not. It’s our wedding anniversary and she has a special meal planned.”

“I’ll see you for a drink one evening, then.” Obviously he wasn’t going to attempt to explain my presence, for he pushed me in the direction of his lorry. The other driver didn’t give up though.

“Thought you’d given up picking up hitch-hikers years ago, Jack. Especially young girls.” He was still grinning, I noticed.

Jack, however, didn’t look pleased. “If I was going to pick up a girl, I wouldn’t choose one this pregnant. She was in some sort of trouble and I said I’d give her a ride as far as Truro, that’s all, so don’t you go telling Ginny any tales about me. She’s on my case enough as it is.”

His reply was met with a laugh and a called goodnight as Dan faded back into the darkness and I was pushed back into Jack’s lorry, feeling more than a little depressed at having been discussed in such a way. Since Connor had refused to have anything to do with me I had hated the way I looked. I felt fat, miserable and unloved with it, and Jack’s reply hadn’t helped. I was close to tears again as I sat on the bunk and wondered what I should do. I supposed I was safe enough for the time being. If he were going to murder me in my sleep he would probably have already done it.

Jack was sitting on the passenger seat unlacing heavy black work boots, throwing them into the foot well, followed by his denim jacket. He yawned and stretched.

“You can have the bunk back now,” I offered, although I didn’t like the idea of trying to sleep in one of the front seats all night. It was his bunk though, and he was tired.

“You have it,” he said. He reached underneath the bunk for a spare blanket and wrapped it around himself. “I’ll be fine just here.”

He didn’t look fine, but I didn’t argue with him. Slipping off my jeans I slid back into the bunk and let my head sink into the pillow. A bolt of panic shot through me as I remembered him saying he was going to take me into Truro and drop me there. What would I do, and where would I go? I didn’t know anybody there, in fact, I’d never even been there before. I began to cry again, unable to help it, but trying not to sniffle in case he should hear me, since I had already annoyed him enough for one night. I needn’t have worried, however, for soon I heard the heavy breathing that accompanies sleep and knew he wouldn’t hear me anyway. I shut my own eyes and tried not to think about the morning, but in fact that was all I did, so when morning came he might as well have had the bunk, since I had been awake all night.

It was just beginning to get light when I heard him groan and stir. I pulled on my jeans as quickly as I could and cursed the fact that I was desperate for the toilet again. When he heard me moving he pulled the curtain aside.

“Sleep okay?” he asked, and I nodded, too frightened to tell him otherwise. He grunted, threw his blanket on the bunk and arched his back, rubbing his fists into it to ease the ache. Then he reached for his boots and dragged them on. “We’ll get breakfast over there,” he said, nodding towards the café. “Only don’t eat slow, we have to be on the road pretty soon.” Not waiting for an answer he opened the door and jumped down. Shivering against the bite of an early morning frost he grabbed his jacket and put that on before helping me down. I was frozen by the time we had walked to the café and regretted not having brought my coat from home.

“I need the toilet again,” I said, hurriedly as I pulled my arm from his grip on my elbow. There was an alluring smell of bacon and sausages cooking and my stomach immediately began to tell me that it hadn’t had anything for two days and was starving. Jack nodded but didn’t speak, just pushed me towards the women’s block and headed for the men’s himself.

When I came out feeling slightly refreshed from the opportunity to wash my hands and face, he was already inside the trucker’s café and beckoned to me as he saw me looking for him. In front of him were two plates piled high with bacon, sausages, eggs and fried bread, along with a mess of everything else usually associated with a cooked breakfast. Any other time I would have turned my nose up at it, not tending to like for greasy meals, preferring to watch the amount of fat I ate, but today I was starving and I slid into the seat opposite him. He pushed a large mug of tea towards me.

“Hope you take sugar,” he said. “because I put some in there.”

“I do,” I said, gratefully, and I did, although I would have said so even if I didn’t. “You must tell me how much I owe you.”

“Forget it. We don’t have much time,” he warned, attacking his own plateful. I started on mine, and oh, I hadn’t realised just how hungry I had been until I had seen this. It wasn’t the best meal in the world, but I couldn’t have cared less and we sat eating in silence.

I made a study of him across the table while I was eating, without making it too obvious, and I had to admit, despite his aggressive attitude, I did like the look of him. His hair was thick and dark, the fringe almost hanging in his eyes most of the time so that he had developed the habit of keep pushing it back, or of flicking his head slightly so that the hair cleared his eyes. I would put him roughly at about thirty years of age, possibly a year or two more, but I was useless at trying to guess ages. His face was dark, but he looked as if he might have the sort of skin that stayed tanned all year round, something I was envious of. At the moment my skin was sallow and very pale, although before getting pregnant I’d been healthy enough. His eyes were what attracted me to him the most though. I had a weakness for a nice looking man with blue eyes and he was certainly that. He had a strong face, appeared to be a capable sort, one that wouldn’t be messed with, and yet there was also a darkness to those eyes that I wondered about. I hadn’t seen him smile but found myself imagining what he looked like when he did. He was almost a head taller than my five foot, seven inch height, and his build tended to be on the wiry side. He was certainly strong enough. I remembered the way he had picked me up from the road yesterday, and his arms holding me upright.

He finished his plateful just before I did, then he sat back with his mug of tea and stared at me until I felt uncomfortable under his gaze. “Tell me what you were doing out on the road last night,” he said. “You scared the crap out of me when you appeared in my lights.

“I was just walking,” I lied. “My car had broken down.”

“How far back?”

“A long way.” I’d been walking since midday yesterday.

“Why didn’t you tell me that? I could have gone back and looked at it for you.”

“It wasn’t my car.”

He looked surprised. “You don’t look much like a car thief.”

“I’m not. It belonged to my ex boyfriend.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You must really hate your ex.”

“It was his favourite car.” I met his gaze. “A Porsche. I never really liked it.” I liked his sudden grin.

“You hated him enough to dump a Porsche in a ditch? Remind me not to get on the wrong side of you, sweetheart.”

“He deserved it,” I snapped. “Anyway, it wasn’t deliberate. I wasn’t feeling well. I lost control, it spun into a ditch.”

“Yeah, I bet. Where were you going?”

“Nowhere. I was just driving.”

“So where is home?”

“A long way away.” I thought briefly of the little Derbyshire village I had left yesterday and never wanted to see again. It was a small place, the sort of place where you couldn’t hide from people and Connor’s family had several businesses there. He’d been rich because his parents were rich and he was the boy who had never grown up properly, so that when word got about that I was pregnant, people believed his denial of the baby being his rather than me. He’d been my boyfriend for more than a year, but I became the village slut overnight and on top of all his other problems my father hadn’t been able to handle it. For three months Connor’s friends followed me everywhere, calling me names, spitting at me in the street and generally making my life a misery. When dad had his breakdown he’d thrown the rucksack at me, told me to fill it with whatever I needed, and then to leave him in peace. He’d frightened me with his ranting and raving, and with the things he had called me, his face bright red as he’d thrown anything he found of mine at me. It wasn’t the dad I had grown up with for the last twenty years. I’d done as he said, gathered things together and gone as quickly as I could. I had taken Connor’s car when I found mine with a brick through the windscreen. “I’ve no wish to go back there,” I said.

“What happens when I drop you in Truro?”

I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak. At the moment I was feeling much better for having a full stomach, and was enjoying the hot, sweet tea.

“Then where did you think you were going to?”

Now I wasn’t sure if he was mocking me or genuinely concerned for me, but I was well aware that all he wanted to do was get rid of me because I was a problem for him. Guilty conscience, I supposed, because he wanted to drop me in a city where I had nowhere to go.

“I’ll find something,” I assured him, wishing I felt as confident as I sounded.

“You’ve got nowhere,” he pointed out. “Where’s the kid’s father?”

“Doesn’t want to know.” Even as I said the words I felt the tears spring up. The humiliation had scarred me deeply and I still couldn’t come to terms with the fact that he had turned his back on me so easily. “My mother went to Australia with her new boyfriend after twenty-five years of marriage, my father is going quietly bonkers because he can’t face life without her, and my grandparents are all dead. I have a sister who went to live in Scotland to get away from the rest of us and a brother I haven’t seen in ten years because he didn’t get along with my father. No, I haven’t got anywhere to go, but there’s bound to be a refuge or something.” I tried to brighten my voice so he wouldn’t feel guilty about it. After all, he wasn’t obliged to take me anywhere and had been good enough to me already. I was surprised when he put down his mug and gave out a long sigh.

“And I thought I had problems,” he said, irritably. “I can’t leave you in Truro.”

“Why not?”

“If you weren’t so bloody pregnant then I probably would, but I can’t. Anyway, Ginny would climb the walls if she found out what I’d done, and she’ll ask questions because Dan will tell her he saw you. That’s the sort of sneaky bastard he is.”

“Who’s Ginny?” I asked, but he didn’t reply. Instead he finished his tea and stood up. I followed him quickly, not wishing to annoy him any further by holding him up.

Out in the lorry park some of the vehicles were already on the move, slowly pulling away, heavy diesel engines pumping thick smoke into the early morning frosty air. Now that it was light I saw Jack’s lorry clearly. Lorries weren’t something I’d ever taken much of an interest in, other than the fact they were usually in my way when I was trying to reach a destination quickly, or they pulled out in front of me on the motorway when I least expected it. This one looked fairly impressive, painted in two tone blue with red and white striping details, and the curtain-sided trailer matched. His name stood out in bold lettering both across the top of the cab, on the doors and down the length of the trailer. Clayton Haulage, I read as we neared it. It gave a mobile telephone number and an address in Yorkshire, which surprised me since I’d got the impression Cornwall was his home. He had a definite slow Cornish accent, so it surprised me that his address was in Yorkshire.

Last night Dan had called him Jack. Jack Clayton. So that was his name. In the state I had been in last night it hadn’t occurred to me to wonder about his name, or even to offer mine. I opened my mouth with the intention of introducing myself, but he opened his cab door and pushed me inside before I had the chance to speak.

I sat in the passenger seat and looked around the cab while he went to check the trailer. He obviously made a point of keeping the cab tidy for there were no muddles anywhere. Not like my car, with sweet wrappers on the floor, CDs slotted anywhere I found a space and the usual array of maps, raincoats and umbrellas muddling the back seat. I saw, with interest, that he had a blue teddy bear fixed to the dashboard and it surprised me. He didn’t seem the type to bother with such things. It wore a little tee shirt with the words ‘Love is forever’ printed on it and I wondered who might have given it to him. Was he married? Probably so, and that was why he was so keen to get rid of me. He was hardly going to roll up outside his home with me in tow.

He climbed in a few minutes later, slammed the door and started the engine. Fiddling around with the controls on the dash, he then glanced at me. “There’ll be some heat in here soon.” Then he was on his way, waving a farewell at the man who had stopped to speak to us last night.

Jack pushed a CD into the player and the cab was instantly filled with a sad country song, Dolly Parton if I wasn’t mistaken. Then he reached across to push a button and flick it onto the next track, a more cheerful one. When he saw me watching he shrugged his shoulders. “Not in the mood for sad stuff. You like country music?”

I nodded, not having listened to that much of it, but I didn’t mind it. I wasn’t a big music fan anyway, just preferring anything with a cheery beat to it. Once I had liked to sing along to the music in my car, but that had been before Connor. Before this bloody pregnancy!

“Good,” Jack said, “because country music is all I got.” He didn’t speak for a long time after that, but concentrated on his driving. Once he reached to straighten the tee shirt on the blue bear and I pretended not to notice. Instead I kept my gaze on the scenery around me, but the further we got into Cornwall the more I was beginning to panic, feeling it rise inside me, taking over my whole body until I felt sick with it and was barely able to breathe. A few tears rolled down my cheeks and I tried to wipe them away before he noticed, not wishing to antagonise him.

After an hour of driving he pulled up outside a factory and shut off the engine. “I have to make a delivery here,” he said. “Stay in the cab!”

I did as I was told. In fact I went one step further and went to sit on the bunk where I wouldn’t even be seen. If Jack had been embarrassed by my presence last night then he would be again.

He backed the trailer up to an unloading bay, then got out and stood talking with a group of men while his trailer was unloaded. I was just able to see him from my seat on the bunk, but I was taken aback by the change in him. He laughed and joked with the men on the dock and once I saw him drop a wink to a pretty girl who came to collect his paperwork, openly flirting with him. He was so different when he laughed. If I had thought he was nice-looking before, then he was more than ever now. A pang of jealousy hit me and I was surprised by it. As if I was ever going to see him wink at me that way!

I leaned against the pillow and closed my eyes for a while. Would I ever mean anything to anyone again? I thought I had loved Connor with all of my heart, that nothing would tear us apart, and he had told me he felt the same way. I had believed him. Pregnancy was a mistake – we hadn’t planned it and a course of anti-biotics had wiped out the effectiveness of the pill I was taking. It had happened and I had been devastated at first, until I convinced myself that Connor loved me enough to stand by me. I had honestly believed he would eventually marry me. We had even gone as far as talking about setting wedding dates, just hadn’t got around to doing it, but in the end I had been horribly wrong. As soon as I told him about the baby he became cold and distant. I’d given him time, thinking that he just needed to get used to the idea as I’d had to do, and that he would prepare himself for it, but it hadn’t worked that way. Instead of giving me support just at the time I needed it and my own family were breaking up around me, Connor had announced he was no longer in love with me and already had another girlfriend. Looking back on it now I should have known that he’d probably been two-timing me all along, but I’d been blind to it all. I’d ended up alone.

Jack interrupted my thoughts when he climbed back in and started the engine. “All done,” he called back to me. “We’ve got about another hour and a half to go.”

“To go to where?” I asked, crawling back to the passenger seat. Dolly Parton came over the speakers again.

“My place. Ginny can sort you out.”

Sort me out? I blinked back more tears at the idea I needed sorting out. He could have sorted my life out by just not stopping the truck in time. “You can let me out here,” I said, trying to muster up the confidence I needed. “I wouldn’t want to be any more of a burden than I already am.”

“It’s not much of a place,” he continued, apparently not having heard me. “I’ve only been there for a month.”

“Look, I don’t want to cause any trouble between you and your wife,” I blurted.

Jack grunted. “You’ll hardly do that. I live on my own.”

“Oh?” I looked across at him and any pleasantness he had extended towards me appeared to have gone. Now his face was dark, moody, his jaw line set hard. He concentrated on his driving and didn’t offer to say anything else. Neither did he stop the lorry to let me out. I leaned back in my seat, too tired to argue with him. I had nowhere else to go.

It was getting on for midday when we stopped again. We had just passed through a small village called Pengarlden and he had told me this was his home. I had looked with some interest across a large, open village green on which several boys played football despite the heavy, drizzling rain. A public house was glaringly obvious at the end of a long row of terraced houses, looming large above them. It had a large car park in front of it, but I doubted it ever saw enough customers to fill that many car parking spaces. It was called the Happy Man, but didn’t have a very cheerful facade. More like it needed a new coat of paint. Another row of terraced houses formed an L shape with the first, lining another side of the green, and behind that were several more rows. I saw a small school, a newsagent that served all needs from post office to greengrocer, and in the distance was a tower belonging to the village church. It looked like a nice place, an open sort of place. Here and there were dotted larger, more modern houses, and it wasn’t so far removed from the Derbyshire village I had left behind. I wondered if the people here were any more understanding that those I had grown up with, and who I thought I could trust instead of them turning their backs on me. At the end of the day the people there had needed their jobs, and Connor’s family owned most of the business in the area. It was easier for them to forget about me than it was about their jobs. It still hurt me a great deal.

Jack had driven on past the village for a mile or so, then turned off into a lane, and I held my breath in case anything came the other way, as the lorry took up all the road. Then he turned into a driveway, which, I assumed from the uprooted hedge and wooden gates lying flat on the ground, had been widened to allow the truck and trailer through. From the entrance was a gravelled driveway leading through a large expanse of grounds and eventually to a cottage. Jack backed the trailer onto what had once been a lawn, and judging by a pile of uprooted trees and bushes off to one side, they too had given way for the truck to be parked. He turned off the engine. For a moment we both sat in silence and looked at the cottage.

I felt decidedly uncomfortable, not at all sure I should have let him bring me here. He seemed okay, a bit bad tempered here and there, but he did seem as if he wanted to help me, but I still didn’t know much about him, and even if he wasn’t the serial killer of the south-west, he might still have evil intentions. But I was desperate and I needed somewhere. This seemed my most likely option of gaining a bed for the night. The next night after that might be a lot harder, but it did buy me some time.

“It looks like crap at the moment.” Jack surveyed the garden and the cottage nestled into the overgrown garden, the rueful look on his face telling me there was a lot of work yet to be done and he didn’t exactly appreciate the thought of it. “It was left to me by an aunt. I’ll probably sell it, or turn it into a haulage business.”

“A haulage business?” I repeated in amazement. “Why?” I could only stare at the cottage and wonder why on earth he would want to convert it into anything other than what it already was – a home. It was big for a cottage, probably built to somebody’s specifications, and I thought it was beautiful. Run down, unloved for a long time, but with a coat of white paint and a good deal of attention in the garden, it would be beautiful again. I wanted to hold my breath as I looked at it, imagining the rambling roses in summertime, and the overgrown borders in various shades of colour when everything came into bloom. Conifers surrounding the cottage on either side had grown to double its height and needed cutting back, and even though it was October there were some winter pansies dotted here and there, having survived the frost and the rain. “It’s wonderful.”

“Wonderful?” He said it mockingly. “You’d have to have been living in a pig sty for the last ten years to appreciate this place. It’s a dump.”

“Only because it hasn’t been looked after,” I protested, not letting on that the home I had left hadn’t been much more than a pig sty since mum had gone. “It must have been lovely when it was cared for and the gardens were looked after properly.”

“Yeah.” He sat back in his seat and I watched his gaze roll over the property. “When Bryn was alive she looked after it, until she got old anyway. I don’t think she ever loved the place much, but she tended to it, looked after the gardens.”

“I doubt she’d have wanted it turned into a haulage yard then,” I said, not thinking about what I was saying. He turned to glare at me.

“Well, that’s not something you need to worry about,” he gritted. “It’s my place, my decision.” He opened the door and jumped down, then came to help me out of the cab. I gripped my rucksack tightly, folding my arms across my chest as the chill hit me after the warmth of the lorry. “Don’t expect too much when we get inside – I’m no bloody housekeeper and there hasn’t been time to do anything with the place.”

He caught hold of my elbow again, pushing me towards the cottage door, which was built back into a porch that jutted out from the building and finished off with an apex roof covered with the same interfering ivy that seemed to be invading the rest of the cottage. As we approached I couldn’t help but scream as a figure rose suddenly from the tiled floor of the porch. Jack snatched me back against him, obviously taken by surprise himself.

It wasn’t more than a few seconds before the figure took flight, but he appeared to be a tramp. A large round face was almost hidden by the brim of a stupidly large floppy hat. He wore a trenchcoat over layers of ill-fitting clothing, given him a short, dumpy appearance. His feet were in boots that had seen better days and were probably four sizes too large for him, but it didn’t stop him from sprinting to a wall a few metres away, and vaulting over it into the field beyond.

Jack let loose with a string of oaths that made me jump. “Jonus!” he spat.

He bent to grab several large stones from the gravel drive, then to my surprise he hurled one of them directly at the fleeing man. I started to shout at him, but he was completely ignoring me as he gave chase and threw another one that hit Jonus on the arm. I shivered as Jonus let out a long, shrill cry, but it didn’t stop him. Jack went as far as the wall, shouting and cursing as he threw two more stones, then he came back to me, a thunderous look on his face.

“Who was he?” I ventured to ask, wondering if Jack was prone to bad attitude and the quick loss of temper.

“Just Jonus, a tramp. Bryn used to let him inside the house and give him coffee and feed him. When she died he sort of stuck around, and now he won’t get the message that I don’t want him here.”

“Is he really that bad that you need to throw stones at him?” I asked, but was met with a shove towards the front door.

“It’s none of your concern anyway. I don’t want him here, I don’t like him and he doesn’t like me.” Jack inserted a key into the lock and pushed the door open for me to enter.

I stopped as he tried to guide me through the door, suddenly wondering if this was the right thing to do. “I’m not sure I should be here,” I said, hesitating.

“You wanna tell me where the bloody hell else you’re going then?” he asked, irritably.

“I mean.......I appreciate it, I really do.........but I don’t know why you’re doing it. I tried to.......well, tried to...............” I felt the tears rush to my eyes, burning hot and wet.

In return Jack raised his eyes briefly to the heavens, sighed heavily. “Christ sake! Get the fuck inside. You’re gushing. I can’t stand women that gush. I can talk to Ginny soon, get her to come over and help you out. She’ll know what to do because she’s good at that sort of thing. Me? I’m crap at it. Better at causing trouble than fixing it.”

He gave me another shove with a gruffness I hadn’t expected, and I entered the cottage hoping Ginny, whoever she was, was easier to get along with than this truck driver.

It was clear from the moment I stepped through the door that he wasn’t a housekeeper, and he most certainly hadn’t done anything to the place. The whole house felt cold and damp and I shivered as we stood in the dark hallway. From there I saw three doors leading from it and the staircase wound a curve upstairs. Pictures of flowers adorned the walls, lined with dust and cobwebs.

“I’ll get some coffee on,” he said, and disappeared through the last door. I started to follow him, but curiosity took over and I pushed open the first door on my right hand side and stepped into what must once have been a lovely dining room. An oak table, thick with dust, together with four matching chairs was still set for a meal by the French doors, candlesticks linked by cobwebs, and along one wall were three glass-fronted cabinets full of ornaments, something like my mother had kept all her prized trinkets in, away from small fingers. The carpet was so dusty it was difficult to make out the colour, and once again the walls held pictures of flowers and gardens. Bryn, whoever she was, had obviously loved her garden. Dirty cobwebs hung from the ceiling, and the room had a musty, unused smell about it.

Taking the second door I found it to be a sitting room, full of comfortable furniture, just as dusty as the last room. Armchairs, faded from sunlight and age, were arranged around an open fireplace, by the side of which were stacked several piles of wood ready for burning. A television was the only modern item of furniture I could see, the rest looking as if it had been there since the turn of the century.

I found Jack in the kitchen setting the kettle to boil. He must have heard me coming, for he didn’t look around, just said, “I’ve only got instant coffee.”

“That’s okay,” I said. To be honest anything wet and warm would do for now. The cold cottage wasn’t very welcoming, not as much as a hot cup of coffee was. I didn’t dare to tell him I preferred tea. I liked the look of the kitchen though, even if it was as dusty and as little used as the rest of the cottage. Jack obviously didn’t do much cooking for himself. A large wooden table was in the centre of the room with eight wooden chairs around it. One of the chairs had been used because the table top had been wiped almost clean just in that one place, so I guessed that was where he sat when he was here. The rest of the kitchen looked fairly new and not like I had expected it to be after seeing the other two rooms. Instead it had all new worktops and cupboards fitted around a washing machine, tumble drier and a cooker. The sink was of a modern design too, even if it couldn’t be seen through the dirt.

I couldn’t help but smile. He had been right about himself, he certainly wasn’t domesticated. I wandered to the window and looked out over the garden, surprised to see Jonus again, standing by the wall. He was watching us through the window and for a moment I thought of telling Jack, then decided not to. While I didn’t like the man who seemed to enjoy watching us, I wasn’t sure I liked the way Jack had treated him either.

“I’ll get a fire going in a minute,” Jack continued, opening a cupboard containing a jar of coffee, bag of sugar and four coffee mugs. Lifting down two of the mugs he then fumbled around in the sink, eventually locating and rinsing a teaspoon. “Ginny hasn’t been in, so there isn’t any milk. Do you mind black coffee?”

“As long as it isn’t strong,” I said, just grateful of anything warm. I shivered, and he noticed.

“Bryn never did get around to putting in central heating. She liked her coal fires. It’ll warm up in a few minutes.”

“You said Bryn was your aunt?” I enquired. In the windowsill I looked down into a box of cleaning utensils. Gels, liquids, creams, polishes and dusters, rags and floor mops, it was all in there, but untouched.

I turned to watch him finish the coffee and he nodded his head in answer to my question. Not looked after by anyone, I judged, by the way his jeans were so old and faded, and almost threadbare on the knees. He didn’t wash them often either, as there were oil streaks down both sides. His shirt was halfway unbuttoned over a white tee shirt and over both he wore the denim jacket that was in the same sorry state of repair as the jeans. Turning to see me watching him, he pushed the hair from his eyes and sighed.

“I’ll call Ginny, tell her to come over. Not that she’ll want telling if she saw me drive past the village green. Nothing much gets past Ginny.” He pushed past me to go and make up the fire and I picked up both coffee cups to follow him into the sitting room.

“Who is Ginny?” I asked, setting the cups down on a little coffee table and lowering my bulky frame into one of the armchairs. I was so tired, with so many aches and pains, that I didn’t care about how much dust was in there, it was just good to be somewhere comfortable.

“My sister.”

“You don’t live in Yorkshire, then?”

“What?” He threw a log onto the fire and swung round to glare at me.

“The address on the cab of the lorry says Yorkshire,” I pointed out, vaguely aware that I’d said the wrong thing again. His jaw set into a hard line and he shook his head.

“Not any more.”

“Well pardon me, I was just trying to make polite conversation,” I said, tiredly, half-expecting him to unleash a torrent of abuse. Instead he turned back to the fire and continued making it up. I decided silence was the better option and let myself relax in the chair, desperately wanting to close my eyes and sleep. He obviously thought Ginny was going to help me out of this mess I was in, but as far as I was concerned the only way out was to turn the clock back eight months, and that simply wasn’t going to happen. Whether I liked it or not, this baby was going to be born in a couple of months and the idea terrified me.

As Jack got the fire going, and the flames licked their way upwards, the room gradually warmed up and I started to doze as the warmth worked its way through me. I was twenty-one years old, much too young to cope with bringing up a child, I thought. A year ago I would have described myself as far too sensible to get pregnant at my age, especially outside of marriage, and I still firmly believed Connor loved me. Just as I was sinking into a pleasant, restful sleep I was brought crashing back to reality as the front door slammed and Jack let loose with a stream of obscenities that should have made me blush and find a place to hide. Instead I forced myself from the chair and went to peer carefully around the door.

Jack was in the hallway ripping a piece of paper into shreds. He threw the pieces to the floor and kicked angrily at them before snatching at the front door and wrenching it open. “You show yourself around here again, Jonus, and I’ll kick you so hard you won’t know what hit you,” he bellowed. Then the door was slammed shut again and he stormed into the sitting room and threw himself into the other armchair to stare into the flames of the fire.

Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-24 show above.)