“Friends & Lovers” chapter 7

It was Friday, Luke’s last day at school, and Meg  just couldn’t seem to cope with the demands this placed on her emotions. How do you say goodbye to something that you can’t even define? What was her relationship with Luke anyway? Were they colleagues, only to part with good wishes for the future, never to see eachother again? Were they friends, that should make plans to catch up again sometime? Or was there the promise of something more, a quick dalliance which you are supposed to enjoy, and just as quickly forget? Or the hope of something lasting, that demanded a commitment from them both? Meg was overwhelmed by the complexity of it all, certain of only a few things; her own all-too-fresh wounds, proven by Sam’s untimely visit; her mother’s suffocating expectations that she had battled against her whole life; and, of course, though she hated to face it, her own reticent nature that procrastinated to the point of total inaction. Though she never really believed in signs, life did seem to be throwing up a lot of obstacles in their path, not the least of which was the difference in their ages.
That was it really, Meg realized. She needn’t think about it any further than that. She would always be ten years older than Luke, and with that she sat down heavily on the side of the bed, as if a weight crushed all the youthful hope that had dared to raise its head again these past few weeks.
Luke had been busy all day working with Leonard and the kids, putting the final touches to the preparations for the dance that evening. Meg had only managed to see him at recess, over a quick cup of coffee, where he’d promised to catch up at the dance, warming her heart yet again with his radiant smile. Realizing she had come to depend upon that smile to make it through the day, an unreasonable panic gripped her at the thought of possibly not seeing him again. Desparately trying to remember how she had coped day to day just two weeks before, it was as if her memory had been erased, as if her life had only truly begun with Luke’s arrival. A shapeless darkness seemed to spread out behind and before her, and Meg found herself clasping the side of the bed for support. With great effort she pushed those crippling thoughts from her mind, and resolved not to think beyond that night. And just the thought of seeing Luke again in a couple of hours, was enough to propel her through her preparations.
The hot shower relaxed her, just as the warmth of anticipation was making her feel slightly intoxicated. Meg made herself eat something, although her nervous excitement would have been enough to sustain her. Slipping on her petticoats and skirt, the heaviness lapped sensuously around and between her legs. She arranged the frills and lace of her blouse so it sat just off her shoulders, her creamy white skin almost opalescent in the approaching evening light. The sparkling green and white stones of her necklace were cool and heavy against her skin, every new sensation recalling Luke’s touch…the weight of her skirts, the metallic coolness of the stones, the soft lace across her chest, even her own loose hair against her bare shoulders. “Oh, God help me!” Meg thought, taking a last deep, bracing breath before heading for the door.

The children had done a wonderful job of decorating the school gymnasium, and Meg recognised Luke’s creative influences everywhere. A large balsa wood galleon jutted from one corner, shipwrecked against some papier mache rocks, a tattered skull-and-crossbone flag hanging from its mast. Numerous treasure chests over-flowed with fake, but sparkling coins, jewels and tinsel. Rope and fishing nets hung from the rafters, and small wooden dinghys filled with bright cushions, doubled as seats for groups of giggling maidens, and far-from-marauding pirates. There was even some sand, and a random pile of old planks and driftwood where a few girls sat chatting, their long skirts tucked beneath them, as if waiting to be rescued. The lights flashing alternately red and green and blue, and the pulsating music were the only inevitable concessions to this century!
Pressed immediately upon arrival into serving drinks, Meg only had time to greet Luke with a perfunctory wave and a smile, catching only glimpses of him every now and then, reassuring parents and replenishing platters of food. With her feet starting to ache, Meg felt someone grab her hand, and Luke led her over to a couple of empty old barrels against the wall.
“Sit,” he said,and pressed what appeared to be a cold soft drink into her hand, which on the first taste, proved to be accompanied by a touch of something stronger.
“Thankyou,” she sighed, as Luke sat beside her, resting his head against the wall, taking two large gulps from his own drink. “You’ve done a fabulous job Luke. It looks fantastic, and the kids seem to be really into it,” Meg said. “How did you manage it all? I’m sure you’ve exceeded all expectations,” she added, reaching across to briefly touch his arm.
“Thanks, but the kids were amazing; we had a ball. I love doing this stuff,” he said, looking around him with obvious satisfaction. Meg’s heart was overflowing as she watched him, so happily exhausted.
“You’re an inspiration Luke McLaren,” she said, squeezing his arm. “We’ll miss you,” she added, suddenly bereft at the thought of him leaving. “And I’ll miss you,” she whispered, and at that, he turned to finally really look at her for the first time that evening.
His eyes travelled over her, taking in every detail, to finally rest his gaze at the base of her throat. Meg shivered, his gaze like a soft finger trailing across her skin.
“You look beautiful,” he said quietly, his eyes dark with promise. “This is about the time, when if  I was a true pirate I would well and truly ravage you.” he said, the smile on his lips not quite reaching his eyes.

“And this is about the time, well and truly overcome, I would have to succumb,” Meg answered, and they both finally laughed, easing the mounting tension.

Luke was wearing a red satin shirt with billowing sleeves, frilled down the front and left roguishly partly unbuttoned. A large leather belt was slung low on his hips, and his pants were tucked into a pair of  long black boots.

“You don’t look too shabby yourself,” Meg said, her eyes stopping at the hint of hair where his shirt was unfastened. He followed her gaze, meeting her eyes as she looked up, and Meg’s heart pounded with  the open invitation she read there.

“I’m not sure  if I’m a pirate or some kind of  Spanish dancer,” he said with a smile.

“Whatever you are, you look like you’re up to no good,” Meg said with a giggle. They both laughed before Luke raised his glass.

“Drink up m’lady,” he called. “You’ll need it before the night’s over,” he said. “Skull!” he demanded, and they drained their glasses.

Meg felt the warmth of the  alcohol spread throughout her body, her spirits lifted considerably from just that short moment spent with Luke. They did a slow lap of the hall, observing the frivolities, when Meg noticed a small group of boys and girls slip out of the door at the far end of the gymnasium. Meg caught Luke’s sleeve and pointed at the door, and they quickly made their way out into the school ground, but unable to see in which direction the group had gone.

“My guess is the breezeway,” said Luke. “It’s sheltered and it’s dark,” he added,with a raised eyebrow, and grabbed Meg’s hand as they headed into the darkness. A muffled giggle greeted them as they approached, and four shocked faces shone whitely out of the darkness.

“Well,well,” said Luke. “What manner of mutiny is this?” he added, holding out his hand to confiscate  a can of beer one of the girls was trying to hide in the folds of her skirt. She sheepishly handed it over.

“Any more contraband?” Luke asked, passing the can to Meg, and folding his arms across his chest.

“Nnn, no Sir,” stammered one of the boys. “It’s just one beer Sir. You won’t tell Sir?” he pleaded wide-eyed.

“By rights we should tell Mr. Carrington, and your parents,” said Meg, stepping out from behind Luke. With that, they all became very animated, jumping about like excited puppies.

“Oh no Miss, we’re sorry Miss!” they all chorused. “My dad’ll kill me,” said one girl desparately, and Meg noticed the tears standing in her eyes, shining out of the blackness.

Meg and Luke exchanged a calculated look, and after a lengthy couple of seconds, Luke let out a heavy sigh. “Alright then,” he said, and he was instantly swamped with a deluge of gratitude. “Seeing as it is my last day, I won’t make you walk the plank, this time,” he emphasized. “But there will be some hard labour, mark my words,” he added, as the kids ran off towards the gym, eager that he didn’t change his mind. Luke watched them until they were safely inside, then he emptied the dregs of the beer into the drinking trough, and threw the can into the bin, then they both laughed, their voices ringing  in the empty breezeway.

“Do you think I scared them enough?” Luke asked, linking his arm through hers.

“Oh yes, you were wonderful. I think you did just the right thing,” Meg said, giving his arm a light squeeze.

“They’re good kids,” he said. “No need to squash their spirit.”

“You’re a great teacher,” Meg said, suddenly aware of how  quiet and dark it was, with just the faint hum of the music from the hall.

“I hope so,” Luke answered.

Meg could hear the rush and rustle of her skirts as they walked, and the low deliberate crunch of Luke’s boots on the gravel, and slowly but surely every sense became intensely aware of their solitude. The satin of  Luke’s shirt beneath her hand was smooth and cool, and the light evening breeze was like a spectral hand across her shoulders. She shivered involuntarily, and without saying anything, Luke draped his arm around her shoulders, and she immediately felt the warmth emanating from his body. A small sigh escaped her lips. The rhythmic percussion of the distant music was like the thrumming of their own blood, echoing the containment of their mutual passion, advancing  irrevocably with every heartbeat.

“Maybe we should do a circuit of the grounds,” Luke suggested quietly. “Just in case.”

“Yes, just in case,” Meg repeated, unable to do anything but comply.

They moved off in complete silence, the velvet darkness swallowing them the further they moved from the lights of the hall, their steps quickening as they turned the far corner of the school building. Meg felt Luke slightly tense beside her, before suddenly pressing her against the wall, the surface rough and cold on her bare shoulders. His hand gripped the back of her head, his fingers threaded through her hair, as his lips sought hers. His breath was ragged, his mouth hot and demanding. Their were no gentle questioning kisses, no light tantalizing promise as his lips grazed hers, just the powerful foray of his tongue against hers, his hips pinning her firmly against the wall.

For Meg, there was no question of stopping, and she tugged at his shirt, pulling it free of his belt, her hands running hungrily across his bare back, so unexpectedly and wonderfully warm in the evening chill. Luke’s kisses took on a rhythmic plunging and drawing, that eventually scattered all resistance, his free hand lifting her voluminous skirts, until Meg suddenly felt his palm pressing against her inner thigh. His fingers kneaded her soft flesh there, asking an insistent question that she immediately answered with one small movement, allowing his fingers access, where all logical thought was parted from the silent urging of the flesh. He stroked her gently, slipping across the swollen mounds of her longing, until she could barely stand, the sound of her own soft cries finally rousing her enough to be aware of her situation. She pushed feebly against him, trying to retrieve the words from the back of her mind.

“No….Luke….stop….stop,” she gasped, strangely unused to the sound of her own voice, though only a couple of minutes had passed. Luke pulled away suddenly to stand at arms length, Meg’s skirts dropping slowly and heavily around her legs. His hand was still braced against the wall behind her, his head bowed, breathing heavily from the effort. Meg rested her forehead against his shoulder, and they stood in silence for a minute, the sound of the night slowly filling the space around them, that until a moment ago had contained nothing but their overwhelming need.

“I’m sorry Meg,” Luke whispered hoarsely, shaking his head. “I didn’t mean to go that far.”

“Don’t say that. It wasn’t just you,” she answered, aching at his distress, bringing her hand up hesitantly to cover his. He finally looked at her, trying to hide the need that still gripped him. “We better go back in,” she said, shyly straightening the blouse across her shoulders. They turned and walked silently back towards the gym, each trying to win back some composure with each step. They slowed to a stop just before they reached the hall, the soft strains of a rare slower song drifting through the closed doors.

“Dance with me,” Luke asked softly, gently pulling her into his arms. “I can’t go in just yet.”

Melting against him, Meg rested her head on his shoulder, wishing they could rock gently in eachother’s arms all night. “We need to steady the ship here,” Luke said quietly, gently stroking her hair, and she smiled against his shoulder.

“Then don’t do that,” she said, as his hand ventured to the small of her back.

“Sorry,” he apologised, as they slowly parted. “I guess we should just go inside.”

The light and noise as they entered the hall was a harsh assault on their senses after the muffled darkness outside. The night was drawing to a close, and the girls had insisted on a few slow songs, in the hope of encouraging the boys  to some innocent romance. A few couples rocked clumsily in the middle of the dance floor, but most of them sat grumbling on the periphery, sending dirty looks in the direction of the DJ. Meg had managed to avoid Leonard most of the evening, although she had caught him staring at her a few times, obviously finding her attire more than suitable. Her nerves still raw, and her senses heightened, she literally jumped when he came up behind her, his mouth disturbingly close to her ear.

“Ah ha! Miss Nash. I must insist on a dance,” he said slowly, sliding quickly in front of her. Leonard had chosen  to wear pantaloons, and a garishly brocaded jacket, and Meg almost laughed out loud at how he so suited the pompous and foppish style of the times, as unmanly as she always perceived him to be. Meg smiled as graciously as she could.

“No thanks Leonard. I’m not really feeling up to it,” she said, and turned towards the seats along the wall, suddenly feeling very weary. But she felt him grasp her wrist, causing her to turn back, disconcerted at his insistence.

“Oh, but I must insist; I know how you like dancing Meg,” he said quietly, a nasty smile across his pasty features. “I’d accept if I was you, you might like it. It might be a good career move, if you take my meaning,” he added, his watery grey eyes boring into hers, and his fingers biting into her wrist.

Meg felt the colour blaze in her cheeks, anger and fear rushing through her body all at once. The intense emotion of the evening, coupled with Leonard’s veiled words, threatened to take her legs from beneath her, as she shakily prised his fingers from her arm, and made quickly for the drinks table, spilling half her lemonade as she poured. When she turned again Leonard had gone, and she looked hurriedly around for Luke, but she could see no sign of him either. She quickly went outside as unobtrusively as she could, pacing in sudden nervous disarray. What was going on? Her feelings for Luke were threatening to swamp her completely, and now Leonard was hinting at things he could not possibly know. Or could he? She leant against the wall, pressing her palms to the cold stone, and closed her eyes, hoping to stem the emotional tide. Opening her eyes at Lukes approach, she managed  a faint smile.

“Are you OK?” he asked. “I saw you leave rather quickly; Leonard harrassing you?” he asked with an amused smile. His smile quickly faded when he saw the stricken look she couldn’t hide. Luke noticeably stiffened beside her. “What did he say?” he asked. “The little twerp!”

“No, nothing really…at least I don’t think so…I don’t know,” she answered, exasperated, putting her hands to her head, feeling the tension pulsing in her temples. Luke gently took one of her hands.

“Meg, what do you mean you don’t know?” he asked quietly but firmly. “What did he say?”

Meg took a deep breath. “He asked me to dance…said I should, that he knew I liked dancing,” she said quickly, knowing how silly it all sounded. She saw the puzzled look on Luke’s face. “He said it would be a good career move,” she added, watching Luke’s face, waiting for his encouraging reply. When he said nothing, she continued. “Luke, what does that mean? What’s it got to do with my job?” she asked, suddenly aware of how overtly desperate she sounded.

“Oh, this is ridiculous!” she said angrily. “I can’t believe I let him get to me!” But Luke seemed to be lost in his own thoughts.

“I think he’s watching us,” he said, a frown creasing his brow. “Just before, outside, when we were dancing.”

“What!” Meg gasped in disbelief.

“And he said something funny to me last week; I dismissed it as nothing, because honestly I didn’t think anything of it at the time. But in hindsight….” Luke said, his words trailing off as he turned briefly from her.

Meg ran around to stand in front of him, starting to feel more than a little alarmed. “What did he say?” she asked.

“He asked me did I have any trouble getting the gym mats out, but he looked kind of strange when he said it, you know, as if he already knew.”

Meg and Luke stared at eachother in stunned silence for a few seconds; enough for Meg to slowly replay the moment when they had landed tangled together on those dusty old mats, followed by the smallest click of a closing door, sounding in her memory like a cannon shot.

“I knew I heard a door!” Meg said in shocked recollection. She scrambled to put it all in order in her mind. “But that was just an accident,” she said weakly.

“And we were just dancing,” Luke said, trying to instil a tone of finality to the discussion.

“It’s all just coincidence and innuendo,” she agreed a little shakily, not quite convincing herself.

“…no matter what it looks like. Especially to that dirty little creep!” Luke said, and Meg could hear his anger rising.

“Exactly,” said Meg, taking Luke’s hand, then just as quickly letting it go, looking about her nervously.

“I’ve a good mind to say something to him!” Luke said, involuntarily clenching his fists. Meg flinched.

“No, don’t Luke,” she implored. “We don’t know what, or if, he’s seen anything. Besides, you’ll be gone, and I’ll have to deal with him.” The thought of dealing with Leonard’s hurt pride for the rest of the term, made Meg feel interminably tired. “…you’ll be gone,” she repeated quietly, hanging her head wearily. Luke rallied, lifting her chin gently.

“Don’t worry Meg. We haven’t done anything wrong. We’re probably just feeling a bit guilty that’s all. But the little prat can’t read our minds for God’s sake!” he said, the anger at Leonard flaring again. “We can’t get into trouble for something that we just wish we could do!” he said wide-eyed, and they both laughed, even though Meg’s mind wasn’t completely at ease yet.

Children were starting to filter out of the hall, and parents were crossing the car park to meet them. Meg straightened, ready to go back in, but Luke caught her hand briefly. “Why don’t you go home Meg,” he said reassuringly. “We’ve got this all sorted.” She really did feel exhausted and confused.

“But there’s so much to do,” she said, feeling tired just at the thought of it.

“Not your problem,” Luke said with a smile. “Not mine either, I’ve been told…if you cook the meal, you don’t have to do the dishes!” he said with a broader grin. “They’ve organized a crew to clean up, and they figure I’ve done enough, especially seeing as I’m not even permanent staff,” he added with a shrug. “Suits me,” he concluded.

Meg smiled at his efforts to make her feel better, and they both went back into the hall to take their leave. Two year ten girls met Luke as he came into the hall, wrapping their arms around his waist, nearly knocking him over with their exuberance. “Bye Mr.McLaren!” they chorused. “We’ll miss you sir. You’re the best teacher we’ve ever had!” they gushed. Luke patted them both on the head, smiling broadly at their enthusiasm.

“Thankyou girls. I hope I see you again. Keep up the good work!” he called after them, as they moved quickly out the open doors, giggling. Meg heard them whisper with adolescent glee. “He’s gorgeous!” one said, and the others giggled in complete agreeance.

Leonard’s terse, high pitched voice doused the joy of the moment. “You have been popular Mr.McLaren,” he said, with obvious disdain. “But I’m sure you have other places you’d rather be now,” he said suggestively, and turned on his heel dismissively. Meg saw Luke’s jaw tighten, and she put a restraining hand on his arm.

“Don’t Luke,” she said quietly. “You don’t have to ever see him again,” she said, and the finalityof her words made him turn earnestly to face her.

“But I need to talk to you Meg. We need to talk…” he said, more of a question than a statement. The uncertainty was mirrored in his eyes, though Meg knew it all couldn’t end right there, and she finally nodded, nervously clasping her hands in front of her. He smiled, barely hiding his relief. “I’ll meet you at your place…ten minutes,” he said, turning quickly, running head long into a group of noisy well-wishers.

Meg couldn’t help but smile at their enthusiasm, but her greater pleasure was due to Luke’s obvious success. It was that very joy for him that frightened her. Her heart pounding in anticipation of what lay ahead, she hurried to her car, wanting to be away from there, but also worried about being alone with Luke again. She knew she had to remain objective, but just the thought of all they had shared only an hour before, made her literally throb with a desire she could barely control.

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