Another look at Caught in the Web. I'm doing a book signing this evening at Arty's Pizza Bar in Knowle Village between 5 and 8 pm. It will be interesting doing this in the venue which is in the converted kitchen of Knowle Hospital - Knowle being the location of many of the chapters in the novel. Many of my old friends and colleagues may recognise some of my descriptions from their distant memories of what life was like at Knowle in the 1970s. Come along and say hello if you can. They also serve awesome Pizzas - and wine, etc.
'Another lager and lime, Karen?' Linda shouted over the noise of the bar to the group sitting by the window.
'Oh, why not?'
Karen was celebrating. After weeks of trying to break through with Evelyn, she'd succeeded in making some sort of relationship with her. Not only that, but she was going to train as a nurse! She had the right to feel happy and to have a few drinks with her friends to celebrate. At least, this was what she'd told herself when the morning shift had ended and they'd persuaded her to come for a drink in the social club.
Life at home was no better. Peter was often out when she got home. When he finally came in, he ignored her, sleeping with his back turned to her, cold and silent. At least he hadn’t followed through with his threats to collect her if she came home late. His indifference was somehow worse, however, and kept her feeling on edge, wondering what would happen next.
Karen admitted to herself that she'd been avoiding him and although she was delighted at getting a place on the training, she was dreading the moment when she would have to tell Peter her news. She wanted him to be pleased for her, but knew that would never happen.
It hadn't taken much to persuade her to celebrate after work. She decided to make the most of the moment while she could.
'There you go.' Linda placed the drink on the table. Karen was sitting next to John and still felt the glow she'd had when they were in the garden with Evelyn.
'Thanks.' Karen sipped the cold lager.
'Well done today.' John lifted his glass to hers. 'You were good with Evelyn. I think you'll make a great nurse.'
'Shut up.' Karen laughed. 'I didn't do anything much. It was you coming in the room that made her change her mind.'
'No,' he argued. 'It was you being there that did it. You just sitting with her, giving her space and time to feel O.K. about being with you.'
'I didn't think I did anything.'
'It was you she thanked,' John insisted.
'I've never heard her thank anyone before.' John swigged his beer. 'I know I've only been on the ward for a couple of months, but you're definitely getting somewhere with her, you know.’ Karen shook her head. 'It’s true. She's never reacted before the way she has to you. All that screaming when you first started work here and now she seems much more settled. You may have triggered a memory or something.'
There, it had been said. Karen had triggered a memory in Evelyn. Surely there must be something in it. She looked up at John.
'I've been trying to find out more about her past,' she said. 'I'd love to know what happened to her baby.' She wondered whether to tell him about her visit to Mrs. Chapman.
'Just don't get too involved though,' he warned her. 'You know about boundaries and patients.’
'No, of course I won't.' Karen looked away. 'I know what I'm doing.'
A short while later the crowd began to wander off. It was nearly three o-clock. Karen supposed she should catch the next bus home and mentally prepare herself for breaking her news to Peter. She’d make him a nice dinner, have a bath and put on something pretty to get him in a good mood before she showed him the letter.
But John had other ideas.
'Come to my room for a coffee?' They were walking to the bus stop.
'I can't.' She tried to ignore the excitement she felt. 'I have to get home, really.'
'Really?' John took her hand. 'You don't sound so sure. Come on, you can catch the next bus and still get home in good time.'
'I must get home. There's things I have to do.'
'Just a quick coffee, that's all,' he smiled at her. 'Please.' He stopped walking and pulled her back.
'Just one coffee then,' she laughed they turned towards the nurses' hostels.
John's room was small, furnished with a small wardrobe and desk, a narrow bed and a sink unit covered in clutter. Clothes and books, records spilling from album sleeves, were scattered on the floor. Dirty coffee mugs were stuck to the window sill and the walls were decorated with posters. Crumpled bedclothes were in an untidy heap on the bed.
'Sorry about the mess,' he apologised as he dragged the blankets across the bed making a space for them to sit.
He filled a kettle from the tap over the wash-basin, and prised two cups from the window sill. Rinsing them under the tap, he looked around for something to wipe them dry.
'Sorry, I don't seem to have a clean cloth in here.' He shook the cups over the sink.
'Don't worry. I don't mind a wet cup.'
John glanced at her and grinned. 'It's not very welcoming in here, is it?'
'It's O.K. What music do you have?' Karen sat on the floor and rummaged through a pile of albums. 'Can we listen to this?' She passed a record to him.
'Roberta Flack,' he said. 'That's nice. Have you heard it before?'
'I know “The First Time Ever I saw Your Face”. I love that track. And “Killing me Softly”.' She remembered dancing with him at the party.
'Good choice.' Soon the sweet sound of the soul singer's voice filled the room.
Karen put her coffee mug on the window sill and relaxed on the bed - allowing the music to flow over her. John sat next to her, his long legs stretched in front of him. He reached down to the side of the bed and took up a record sleeve. From the bedside table drawer he produced a tobacco tin.
'Do you mind if I roll a joint?' He looked at Karen. 'Only I won't if you do. Mind that is.'
'Oh, I don't mind,' she stuttered, wondering what she was getting herself into. She watched as he rolled the joint, lit it, and took a long drag before offering it to her.
'No thanks,' she said. 'I don't smoke any more.'
'You used to then?' John asked.
'I stopped smoking when I had an operation. The last one I had was back in March,' she explained. 'But I've never smoked that stuff.'
'Try some then,' he coaxed. 'You'll love it.'
'But I don't want to start smoking again,' she said.
'Just a couple of puffs on this won't make you start on the fags again.' He took another drag on the joint and passed it to her.
Karen hesitated, then took the joint, smiled at him and inhaled the potent mixture into her lungs. Suppressing a cough, she held the smoke in for a moment, then exhaled slowly.
'Oh my God,' she laughed. 'What am I doing?'
'You'll be fine,' John said as she offered the joint back to him. 'Have some more. It'll chill you down.'
'I'm already chilled,' Karen argued, but took another drag on the joint before handing it back to him.
She leaned back against the wall. John took another draw on the joint before placing it on the ashtray and turned to look at her. Taking her face in his hands, he looked into her eyes. His face was so close.
'You're so beautiful,' he whispered, his lips almost touching hers.
Karen was melting, letting go of all the tension she'd been holding on to for the past few months. Suddenly going home didn't seem like an option at all.
They kissed. A lingering gentle kiss, so different to the kisses she was used to. She found herself waking up to something that she hadn't known had existed before.
John's hands gently stroked her face, lingering on the curve of her chin, before exploring her neck and around her ears. She shivered slightly as he passed the point where she was most sensitive, her ear lobes. He stopped briefly, then his fingers reached further, stroking her breasts through her uniform dress. Karen felt her breasts swell under his touch, her nipples hardened as she longed for his touch on her skin. She moaned as he kissed her.
'Take it off, please?' he asked.
There was no doubt in Karen's mind as she peeled off her dress and sat there in her bra and petticoat, and no hesitation from John as he pulled her back down on the bed beside him. His hands on her half-naked breasts brought a gasp of delight from Karen and she felt herself arching towards him, full of desire. He reached behind her and unclasped her bra - his kisses moved down her body until his lips were on her breasts, tasting each one in turn whilst he caressed their nakedness with his hand.
Karen's longing to feel his skin against hers was overpowering. Her hands roamed under his rugby shirt, feeling his muscles and the hair on his chest, making her want to tear off his clothes and lie with him, completely naked.
John was touching her thighs now, his hands exploring under her petticoat. Karen felt a fleeting embarrassment, realising that she was wearing tights, thinking that this would put him off. Peter's voice was in her head. 'No man likes to wrestle with tights,' had been his constant complaint. But John didn't seem to mind.
'I'll take off my tights,' she offered and giggled to her feet nearly falling over as she struggled to take them off whilst still keeping her petticoat on.
John was on his feet, laughing with her as he pulled down her petticoat, allowing it to fall to the floor.
Karen stepped out of the tights and stood there as John slowly peeled off her pants. She unclasped his belt, feeling the urgency of his erection. He tugged his shirt over his head as Karen pulled off his jeans. Within seconds they were both standing naked, their bodies touching completely for the first time. She felt no shame in being here like this. It was the most natural thing in the world and when he gently laid her down on the bed again, it seemed the perfect thing to allow him to enter her. She floated in a dream of ecstasy as he gently moved in a loving rhythm, taking care that she was reaching the same heights of pleasure that he obviously was, until they were in absolute harmony with each other, finally reaching a climax such as she had never experienced before.
The lay quietly in each others arms when it was over. Karen was completely at peace knowing that nothing could ever be the same in her world after this. She snuggled into his shoulder and soon drifted into a contented sleep.
Suddenly it was an hour later.
Karen glanced at her watch and realised that she'd missed the four o'clock bus and would have to hurry to catch the next one. She looked at the still sleeping John. He stirred awake as she lay watching him, and reached out to touch her face with his hand.
'I should go,' Karen sighed. 'I don't want to, but I should.'
'I guess I can't keep you here any longer,' John acknowledged regretfully. 'You were amazing, Karen,' he whispered, stroking her hair.
'So were you, but I have to go.' Karen was up on her feet and getting dressed as John still lay on the bed.
'I'll walk you to the bus stop,' John offered.
'No. It's alright. I’ll have to hurry.' She was gathering up her things. Leaning towards him she gently kissed his lips, feeling the desire rising again as he stood and wrapped his arms around her.
'Sorry, I have to go. I'll see you soon.' She smiled warmly at him and made for the door.
'I hope so. Bye then.' He stood by the door as she left him with one last fleeting kiss on his cheek.
She ran for the bus, feeling as though she was flying - no longer caring about what might be waiting for her at the end of the journey home.