Friends & Lovers….Chapter 2

Meg rose earlier than usual on Monday morning. She had been dreaming all night of fish; colorful fish, having grown an iridescent emerald green mermaid’s tail, waking with the distinct impression of feeling graceful and free. It had also served to make her feel restless in this inbetween world, this twilight zone that had been her life for the past year. She contemplated her reflection a little longer, hoping to glimpse a trace of that grace and beauty she had felt in her dreams. Stretching her arms above her head, and arching her back, her auburn hair dipped below her waist.
“Not too bad,” she thought. Meg had always been quietly proud of her complexion. As a teenager, other girls worked so hard to acquire a summer tan. She knew she couldn’t, so she eventually stopped trying, to finally realize her creamy white skin was the perfect foil for her waving auburn hair, and ultimately one of her best assets.
“My ethereal Celtic beauty,” Sam used to croon. She was only five foot six inches tall, but her long legs made her appear taller, and the fact that she had remained youthfully slim. But her mother’s words knocked uneasily at her consciousness…”for how long?” she wondered. Meg shook her head slightly as if to dislodge the thought, and slowly started to dress. Jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, in her favorite color green, to ward off the early morning October coolness.
But the Spring weather had been ushering in some warmer and sunnier afternoons, and Meg felt her mood lift. It was the last term of the school year, and the thought of the imminent summer always raised her spirits. She felt faintly hopeful, although she didn’t really know why, she had no plans for her summer holidays. Grabbing her bag and her keys, she thought it best not to dwell on it, and shut the door behind her.
The staffroom was empty, and Meg relished the thought of a quiet fifteen minutes with a coffee, sitting in the morning sunshine that illuminated one corner. Her mind drifted, purposefully avoiding any particular line of thought, just enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and the cup in her hand. She heard the footsteps first, and quietly sighed at the loss of her solitude.
“Morning!” she sang as she turned to greet one of her colleagues.
“Good morning,” said the young man, placing his knapsack on the table.
Meg found herself looking into a pair of the rarest green eyes she had ever seen, accompanied by a brilliant smile, open and friendly. Her surprised hello was quickly followed by an answering smile. She inexplicably felt a blush rise in her cheeks, an involuntary physical reaction, as if the sun itself had walked into the room.
“I’m Luke,” he said, offering her his hand. “Luke McLaren.” His eyes fastened on hers, and a surge of heat ran the length of her arm, as he clasped her fingers. Her own mind scrambled for the next thing to say.
“Luke,” she murmured. Even the sound of his name in her mouth sent another destabilizing wave through her body. “Who are you?!” her mind screamed. It felt like a missing piece of her puzzle had suddenly and decisively dropped into place, right in the depths of her being, as if she had known him before.
“I’m Meg….Nash,” she stammered, still not used to using her maiden name again. “English Lit.”
“Temporary teacher, English and drama,” he explained, taking a seat next to her.
“First year out,” he added. “Would I be able to make myself a coffee?” he asked.
“Sure,” she answered, nodding as he held up a cup for her approval.
Meg took those few seconds while his back was turned to calm herself, and to assess the new arrival. Luke was tall and athletically lean, dark curling hair brushed the clear olive skin of his neck. He moved with a comfortable grace, totally unaware of the effect he had on her in the space of a mere five minutes.
“You seem a bit older than most of the graduates I’ve seen come through the school?” Meg inquired. He had an easy confidence that usually only comes with age and experience.
“Twenty-three,” Luke replied, leaning back in his chair. “I did a few things on the way, but last year I finally finished,” he said smiling again, and again Meg felt her blood quicken.
“Welcome,” she said, and their eyes locked for a dangerously long few seconds. They both jumped as the staffroom door crashed open, and heavy, purposeful steps strode the length of the room.
“Mr. McLaren I presume!” declared Leonard Carrington, his voice shattering the rare atmosphere like an unwelcome gunshot.
“Leonard Carrington,” Meg said flatly by way of an introduction, and physically braced herself. Her reaction was not lost on Luke, and he gave a quick answering smile, catching the subtle roll of her eyes as Meg stood to take her leave.
“You’re with me young man. Let’s away and get organized before the hordes arrive!” he boomed, clapping his hands officiously.
“You will distract us Miss Nash,” he added, with an emphasis on the Miss, in a suggestively expectant tone.
Leonard Carrington had been Meg’s colleague for the last five years. An over-bearing, bombastic man, Meg had managed to avoid him for the most part. But on learning that Meg was newly single, his attentions had taken on a more amorously insistent bent, much to Meg’s discomfort. Meg guessed that Leonard must be about forty, although his lack of any fashion sense, and the fact he was slightly overweight, made it difficult to say for sure. Podgy and balding, he alternated various short-sleeved checked shirts under a navy blue woollen vest each day, as if adopting a school uniform of his own. His hair, suspiciously parted too much to one side, left a faint sprinkling of white on his shoulders. But what discomfited Meg more than anything, was his inability to respect one’s personal space, especially hers.
Watching Leonard and Luke walk away, she found herself suddenly amused by the total contrast in their physical attributes and demeanour. And as Luke turned one last time, he found Meg grinning broadly in his direction. He smiled back back just as openly, and Meg felt her skin prickle in the aftermath of an adrenalin rush, at once uncomfortable and exhilarating.
Meg found herself looking forward to recess a lot more than usual. She couldn’t get Luke’s face out of her mind, replaying his smile, his eyes, his voice, disrupting her lesson plan totally! Back in the staffroom she was disappointed not to see Luke there already, and she found herself checking the door surreptitiously every few seconds. Trying to come to grips with this unfamiliar and unsettling sense of distraction, she didn’t notice Leonard’s sudden presence next to her at the coffee machine.
“Miss Nash, how are we?” he said, with a suggestively raised eyebrow, leaning in just a little too close, his lips lasciviously moist. Meg felt her distraction turn instantly to annoyance.
“It’s Meg, Leonard…it’s always been Meg. What’s this Miss Nash business? For goodness sake!” she snapped in irritation, more annoyed she knew at not seeing Luke, than anything Leonard actually said. The bell rang for the end of recess, and she jumped, her nerves suddenly raw. Annoyed with herself now, she hurried towards the door. “You’ve known him for ten minutes, you silly girl. Get a grip!” She suddenly felt completely ridiculous and pathetic. Head down, berating herself for her foolishness, Meg ran head on into Luke as she turned into the corridor. She gasped with shock and pain, but still sharply aware of Luke’s firm hand around her waist, steadying her.
“Hey, gotcha!” Luke said, holding her still. “You ok?” he added, as she rubbed her cheek where it had collided hard with his shoulder.
“Oh, sorry…yeah, I’m fine,” she answered in embarrasssment, but also shaken by his close proximity. She put her hands on top of his, trying to back away, and another second passed that felt like an eternity, before he released her. The imprint of his hands still warmed her skin, even through her t-shirt. He smiled down at her, and she laughed nervously.
“I’m sorry, I should watch where I’m going,” said Meg, the words rushing out in a nervous gush.
“How’s it all going? With Leonard I mean.”
Luke gave a knowing smile. “He doesn’t seem to like anyone very much does he? Except you it seems,” he added, his smile changing to radiate a strangely intimate understanding. Meg felt some of the irritation she felt at Leonard, return.
“Oh, that will never happen believe me, but he’s annoyingly persistent,” Meg confided, oddly glad to share her chagrin with someone.
“I’ll try to keep him busy,” Luke said with a grin, and a hint of a wink. “Although I can’t blame him,” he added over his shoulder, as he turned the corner into the staffroom.
Meg hurried off, her heart beating like she had run a mile. What did he mean? Was he playing games? He could probably feel her attraction to him, and was having a bit of fun with her. Was she that transparent?
“Oh, come on Meg, he’s just being friendly. You don’t really expect…” Her thoughts were cut off by the wall of sound that confronted her as she walked into her classroom a few minutes late.

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