Released Feb, 2019
There was room in his van for at least one more.
Having singled out three possible targets, he considered each one before selecting the blonde.
The women seemed unaware of his interest.
That was good.
He wet his lips, wrapped a chain around his fist and closed in.
She didn’t know how the day was going to end, but it hadn’t started well. Having woken with tear-crusted eyes
a desperate knot in her stomach, Bailey Jacobs had missed breakfast, skipped lunch and drifted into the park
contemplate events of the last twenty-four hours.
Sitting on a bench with knees tucked tight to her chest, she covered her face and cried.
A dog stopped to sniff her boots and she glared at it between ring-covered fingers. It cocked a leg, peed and moved on.
‘Why did he have to be such a dick?’
A middle-aged couple strolled into view, their arms locked and hips swaying in time as they followed the path towards her. She could tell they were in love. They were so tightly wrapped you couldn’t get a breath between them.
She would have forgiven him almost anything. But that?
‘Excuse me, Miss.’
She looked up to see an old man smiling down at her. He had a walking stick in one hand and pointed to the space beside her on the bench with the other.
‘May I have this seat?’
His small face topped a pale-blue jacket with matching trousers hitched high above his waist. She shrugged and collected the flow of her dress to make room for him.
‘Thank you,’ he said as he shuffled to the bench and sat. ‘Do you know your laces are undone?’
Bailey grunted and covered her boots with her dress, then turned back to the lovers floating closer.
Paul hated cuddling in public. He’d happily fool around after a couple of drinks, but to show real affection … it would never happen.
She wasn’t sure the old man had spoken to her until she felt his hand on her leg. ‘What?’
‘Sweet sixteen,’ he said. ‘We danced until morning.’
He leaned closer and she prepared to push him away.
‘Married forty-two years.’
She’d expected bad breath or that musty, medicinal smell you get with old people. But instead there was a hint of mint and a pleasing flash of spice. He had an infectious grin and grey eyes that twinkled fun.
‘Peas in a pod, Margaret and I. Inseparable.’
A dog appeared from the hedgerow, foraging between a clump of early nettles. When a jogger ran by, the dog disappeared after him.
‘I wish my bones were so well oiled,’ the old man said with a sigh. ‘When I was your age …’
Paul stood at the front door of his flat, spit flying as he cursed her for walking away from him. He wore Levi’s with the top button undone and his belly catching the light. No shirt, no shoes, just jeans and a mop of scruffy brown hair. At one time that would have been enough to pull her back in, but not anymore.
‘Perhaps we’ll meet again, young lady.’
Bailey blinked and turned to him. ‘Whatever.’
The old man kissed two fingers and lay them gently on the bench with a murmur. Then he rose unsteadily and pointed shiny brown shoes towards the car park at the end of the path where a woman waited. Her yellow dress, bare arms and white-gloved hands were enhanced by the side of a glossy black van parked ominously behind her.
The old man’s stick prodded the ground with every other step as he hobbled towards her. When he eventually reached the woman they embraced and Bailey’s heart squeezed a little tighter. She couldn’t remember the last time Paul had held her, but guessed it was nothing as gentle as that.
Bailey wiped her nose, climbed off the bench and pointed scruffy black boots towards the sickly lovers in the opposite direction. She passed them with a disagreeable grunt.
It was early May and a recent spate of warm days suggested summer was going to be a hot one. Bailey folded her leather jacket over one arm and hoisted the front of her dress, bootlaces scattering as she slapped the path towards home.
Paul had asked her to live with him—a desperate attempt to save their relationship. At seventeen she was almost three years younger than him and while that didn’t put her off moving in, his promiscuity did.
Paul Thacker: cheat, liar and her one true love. She cringed. How could she be so stupid? Their first three months had been a dream come true. Even the most mundane chores were new and exciting and so much fun. They were never apart in that time and hardly came up for air. But their last three months had been a nightmare that unravelled too quickly to comprehend. It wasn’t just his inability to stay faithful—although that hurt the most—he had started picking on her and teasing her in front of his friends. She was too tall, too fat, too opinionated. And when she made up her face she looked like a panda.
From start to finish, the whole thing had lasted a little under six months. Whether that was good or bad for her first real relationship, she didn’t care. All she knew was that she felt crap and wanted to die.
Life was a mountain of shit and she was stuck at the bottom wondering if it was worth the climb. Something had to change, but she didn’t know what. In the meantime, she resigned herself to living at home with her oppressive mother and annoying brother.
She didn’t hate her mother—she actually admired her for surviving a shitty marriage and singlehandedly raising two fairly well-rounded kids—but she nagged constantly and nothing Bailey did was ever good enough for her. Paul took pleasure in highlighting her failings all the time, so why did her mother have to do it as well?
From the pit of her stomach—where impulsive emotions and impetuous decisions often surprised her by erupting without notice—a realisation surfaced. Something she’d ignored for weeks, but knew was inevitable. A decision she welcomed and dreaded in the same breath ... she wasn’t going to be Paul’s girlfriend anymore. That was final.
She sighed and pushed back a tear.
Life hadn’t worked out the way she hoped and it frightened her to think what lay in store for a seventeen-year-old failure with no friends and fewer prospects. Would she get over Paul? Would she get another job? Would life ever prove interesting enough for her to want to continue being a part of it? Based on her experiences to date, she didn’t hold out much hope.
At the ridge of a small hill where the path descended into a vale peppered with trees and bushes, she stopped. Down below a woman strode through the long grass, waving a stick as she shouted. Bailey couldn’t be sure at first, but as she closed the distance between them she realised the woman was calling her name.
Bailey edged closer, her laces dragging behind as she placed each boot hesitantly in front of the other. The stocky woman had short hair and a scrunched up face. When she saw Bailey she raised her stick, shook it angrily and marched towards her.
‘You, girl. Stop there.’
Bailey had stopped, but considered running.
‘Have you seen my dog? Big. Tricolour. Bernese.’
Bailey’s eyes flicked between the woman’s stick and her scowl. ‘What?’ she said, stepping backwards.
‘Are you simple, girl?’ The woman let out an exaggerated breath. ‘The dog in question is a Bernese Mountain Dog. His name is Bailey. He is waist-height, black and white with brown markings on his legs and chest. And he has two rather large brown eyes that are simply adorable.’ She pulled a curt smile then let her real face fall back into place. ‘Now tell me, do you think you might have seen him?’
The woman spoke with a nasal timbre and her mouth half open as if sucking a sweet. Bailey didn’t like snobs. She’d not met many but those she had always spoke down to her. This one was no different.
‘Well have you?’
Bailey blinked, shook her head and said, ‘No.’
‘Very well, but keep your eyes open girl, just in case.’ The woman turned and paced away, raising her stick in the air as she shouted, ‘Mrs Chatterington’s the name. Everybody knows me.’
Mrs Chatterington’s shouts faded as Bailey followed the path through the trees and up a hill to a row of houses lining the park. A narrow alley with high fenced walls led through a maze of back gardens to a quiet road at the front of the properties.
Her mother’s house sat on the bend of a cul-de-sac. Brampton Road was a no-through road that consisted of detached houses built in the seventies. Number 10 had been Bailey’s home for the last fourteen years—not including the summer she spent with her aunt after setting fire to her brother’s bedroom.
As she slid a key into the lock and pushed the front door open, the rich smell of cooking preceded a voice from the kitchen.
‘Is that you, darling?’
Previously distracted by Mrs Chatterington and her missing dog, the reality of Bailey’s tragic life came crashing back. She groaned, slammed the door and ran up the stairs, making sure her boots thumped every one that got in the way. Collapsing on her bed, she pushed her face into the pillow and let the tears flow—wishing thoughts of Paul would piss off and take the pain with them.
When someone knocked on her bedroom door a short while later, Bailey squinted through a clump of matted hair as her mother entered the room carrying a tray.
‘Leave me alone,’ she yelled.
‘Did you take a tablet?’ her mother asked.
Bailey wanted to scream.
‘Do you want one now?’
‘What?’ She heard a whoosh and the room filled with light. ‘Go away.’
‘I brought you biscuits.’
Bailey huffed, rolled her legs over the side of the bed and sat up. She grunted as her mother handed her a plate of biscuits and a can of Coke.
‘Paul called again,’ her mother said.
Bailey levered the ring-pull and the can hissed open.
‘He sounded upset.’
She chewed on a biscuit.
‘He asked if he could pop over tonight.’
Crumbs sprayed from Bailey’s mouth as she blurted, ‘And what did you say?’
‘I told him to wait until you were better.’
‘What?’ She scoffed. ‘Better? Now he probably thinks I’m an emotional loser hiding away in my bedroom.’
Her mother frowned, but said nothing.
‘I don’t want to see him. Do you understand? Not now, not when I’m better, not ever.’
As Bailey dismantled a custard cream, her mother rubbed her knee and said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t rush to grow up, darling. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you and there’s so much to enjoy.’
‘But it hurts, Mum.’
‘It’ll get easier, I promise.’
‘When?’ Bailey felt a new tear crown. ‘I’m a failure. I’m crap at everything and nobody likes me.’
‘Don’t be silly, darling. I like you.’
‘But Paul doesn’t. If he did why would he cheat on me?’
‘I don’t know.’
Bailey rubbed the tear away. ‘We couldn’t even make it to six months.’ Her voice cracked mid-sentence and she wished it hadn’t. ‘A complete failure.’
‘It happens, darling. It hurts, but it happens.’
‘I’m trying to think what I did wrong.’
Her mother squeezed her knee. ‘It’s not your fault. He was the one who cheated, not you. Listen, if this boy isn’t the right one then don’t try and make him.’
Bailey reached beneath the pillow and removed a photo frame that had seen better days. The picture was of a handsome man with thick black hair. He sat astride a motorbike while holding a baby wrapped in pink. She circled the man’s face with her finger. ‘Was Dad the right one for you?’
‘No,’ her mother said. ‘But that was different.’
‘Not that different.’
‘Has Paul hit you?’ Her mother’s voice sharpened with a gritty edge Bailey hadn’t heard since Aunt Liz phoned last Christmas. ‘Has he?’
‘No.’ She lied.
Her mother sucked in a breath and held it before speaking. ‘Promise me something. If a man ever lays a finger on you, don’t do what I did. Don’t accept it. It’s not normal and it’s not okay. I’m always going to protect you, Bailey. So you come and find me and tell me. Will you do that?’
Bailey nodded, thinking she probably wouldn’t.
The rest of this episode (Bailey Jacobs and the Disappearing Dogs) is available to read now for registered Members.
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