From a Distance and Face-to-Face by phoenix.writing

7 Feb

The first time I met Karen Nichols, she struck me as the kind of woman who ironed her socks.  She was only nineteen, but she had more poise, grace, and control than most adults I knew.  There wasn’t a hair out of place, and those socks were wrinkle-free and clearly would not dare to slouch, not on her.

We’d been in our first year of university for almost two weeks by then.  She was quiet, brilliant, studious, and the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.

I wasn’t the only person who thought so.  Although I was too shy to approach her and a little bit in awe, I guess, there were plenty of guys who wanted to show her a good time.  There was a vague air of incomprehension that went with her disinterest, and the rest of us watched from the sidelines as she continued to ignore every effort made to get to know her.

I got paired with her on projects from time to time.  She was unfailingly polite, continually reserved, and clearly completely uninterested.  By third year, classes were rather small.  Karen started sitting next to me more frequently.  She’d still rarely speak to me unless spoken to—and I tended to obey those “do not disturb” signals—but it looked as though the fact that I didn’t bother her was a selling point.

When she fell in love, it wasn’t immediately obvious.  But for the first time that I had known her, she sometimes looked a little bit dishevelled.   When I saw her kissing Mark Phillips, everything was immediately clarified.  Hard to be completely immaculate when someone’s tongue was stuck down your throat.  But I was going to be mature and reasonable about this; it wasn’t as though I’d ever expressed my interest.  (All recitations of how my eyes had soulfully declared how I felt could be safely dismissed as my friends being assholes, I was sure.)  I moved on with my life.

This lasted for one month, three days, and about, oh, sixteen hours until Karen called me at three in the morning.  She was kind of hysterical, but I finally worked out that she needed me to come get her.

Upon my arrival, I found that she looked completely undone; she had mascara smudges and tear tracks on her face, a torn dress, only one shoe, and hair falling out of its arrangement.  She didn’t want to tell me what had happened, just insisted that she was fine—only she didn’t want to go home, didn’t want to be taken to my apartment, didn’t want to be seen.

I realized she was terrified about being found and made a mental note that Mark was going to have to die at the earliest opportunity.

When I promised that I’d take her somewhere where she’d be safe, she followed me.  I spent the cab ride trying to figure out what I was going to say when we got there.  Karen burrowed up against me, shoulders shaking.  I held onto her while nothing particularly brilliant came to mind.

I paid the cabbie and let myself in, guiding Karen quietly with only the dim light from the hall.  There was always a chance that—

“Patrick?”  Called from the bedroom, from the sound of it.

Karen ducked behind me, clutching at my wrist.

I sighed, though I’d known that she was a light sleeper.  “Yeah, Gran, it’s me.  Just crashing for the night.  I’ll make tea for all of us in the morning.”

There was a barely noticeable hesitation.  “That sounds lovely.  Good night, dear.”


It was rare that I spent the night, but I was really the only likely contender apart from thieves, and now she wouldn’t be surprised by Karen’s presence in the morning.

Karen’s grip had not lessened on my wrist.

“You brought me to your grandmother’s house?”

I nodded.  “Safest place I know.  You can get cleaned up.  I’ll, uh, make tea.  Let me know if you need anything.”

She considered for a long moment, and I tried to look as reassuring as possible; she slowly let go of my wrist and moved in the direction I indicated.

By the time I’d got the mugs out and the kettle on, I could hear water running in the bathroom.  I set a couple towels outside the door along with a t-shirt and pair of pyjama bottoms which wouldn’t really fit but which I was certain Gran wouldn’t mind donating to the cause of making Karen feel more comfortable.

Gran wasn’t a big woman, but Karen looked small in the borrowed clothes when she appeared in the kitchen with wet hair and a clean but too-pale face.  She accepted the tea gratefully and had to wrap both hands around it to stop them shaking.  We moved to the living room and settled on the couch.

I removed the mug from her hands when she nodded off and made sure the blanket covered her.  She clutched at me in her sleep, and I wrapped my arm around her and reflected that there were more important things in the world than being the one women fell for.  I’d like for her to be in love with me, of course, but she’d needed someone tonight, and she’d known she could count on me.

That was what mattered.  We’d be able to face everything else in the morning.


7 Responses to “From a Distance and Face-to-Face by phoenix.writing”

  1. ingridfnl February 7, 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    This was beautiful. I’m so glad that she met Gran. (I love this story connection. Love it.)

    • phoenix.writing February 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

      Thank you very much. I had trouble deciding who I wanted to link back to for this story, but suddenly Patrick hit me, and then I couldn’t resist adding in Gran. ^_^

  2. jadamthwaite February 7, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    Me too! And I’m pleased to see Patrick again: I really like him. I really liked the line There was a barely noticeable hesitation. “That sounds lovely. Good night, dear.” because I could feel the hesitation that was there, albeit accepting and slight.

    • phoenix.writing February 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm #

      Thanks. He suddenly appeared in the story about Margaret (I’d had no idea she had a grandson when I started writing), and I’m rather fond of him as well. Margaret is also very fond of Patrick, and while I’m sure that she’d accept just about anything he did, suddenly knowing that there’s a stranger in the house in the middle of the night would be a little disconcerting. I wanted to show that she acknowledged that as well as trusted Patrick. ^_^

  3. Parenthesized February 11, 2010 at 9:00 am #

    There are so many different emotions evoked by your writing. I love it.

    This line amused me: “All recitations of how my eyes had soulfully declared how I felt could be safely dismissed as my friends being assholes, I was sure.”

    • phoenix.writing February 21, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

      I’m delighted you think so. Glad you found the line amusing. The length was getting away from me a bit, but I wanted some way to share that Patrick’s crush was a well-known fact at least amongst his circle of friends, so that’s the line I settled on to hopefully express it adequately. ^_^


  1. falling-out by phoenix.writing « the character project - April 18, 2010

    […] Links to Patrick: Cobwebs and Connections and From a Distance and Face-to-Face. […]

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