Free short story to celebrate World Book Day 2015
If you enjoyed Manic Mondays, here is a short story to brighten your day written from Mike’s perspective about when he first met Catherine Blake in the park. Check the full length novel, all the events and conversations match up with when Catherine meets Mike in the book!
A Minute on A Monday
It was one of those October days when the weather didn’t seem to know what to do. The sun had shone, the rain had rained, and now, with the warm afternoon sun drying the dripping shower from the overhanging branches, Mike made his way through the park. It was Monday and he always finished early from his job as a university lecturer on a Monday. His slightly scruffy hair was stuffed haphazardly under his cycle helmet and his blue eyes shone in the sunshine as he cycled along. His thoughts were of Leah, his daughter, and her mother, and the past, and the present. He cycled along the side of a small stream strewn with early falling orange and browned leaves, and past proud parents pushing prams, smiling and laughing in their togetherness.
He felt wistful today and somewhat melancholy. Autumn did that to him sometimes. He smiled though, at the thought of his little girl, waiting for him with a whoop of delight and a monster hug when he would shortly arrive at the nursery. He raised his face to feel the warm sun on his eyelids. He didn’t see the puddle approach him until it was too late and he was in it. Shining sunshine water sprayed high on each side of his bike and splashed a chill up his legs. ‘Damn!’ said Mike, slowing down against the push of the water. He shook his legs to remove the worst of the water and cycled on. He was approaching the playground and he could hear the squeals of delight from the children, sounds of swinging and running and climbing.
He noticed a woman up ahead looking agitated. She was tallish, slim in a slightly curvy way and as he got closer her long brown hair shone in the sunshine. The woman had seen him and was waving him down like a taxi. Her cheeks were flushed and she was out of breath. Her eyes darted around with clear concern.
Mike pulled up beside her and stopped.
‘Hi,’ she said catching her breath.
‘Hi, you ok?’ he said frowning. There was something about her that caught his eye. Emotion flickered across her face, she was sexy in a cute, lovable, here-I-am, this-is-me kind of way. She drew her fingers through her hair, took another deep breath and smiled. Her eyes, a golden brown smiled into his, her face transformed.
‘Yes, just a bit out of breath,’ she said. ‘Do you have a minute?’
‘Quite possibly,’ said Mike.
‘Can you give me a hand?’ she said, ‘as you have a bike.’
‘Well…’ he was smiling now, ‘as I have both a bike and a minute it would be remiss of me not to use them both to give you hand, wouldn’t it?’
Her smile widened and her eyes shone into his. She laughed, and it looked as though the laugh caught her by surprise.
She was looking right into his eyes, and seemed to have lost track of her thoughts. She was a great looking woman, he thought to himself. Soft brown curls, full kissable lips.
‘You wanted my help….?’ he said raising his eyebrows quizzically.
‘Yes…yes please,’ she said smoothing her skirt. ‘I am here with a friend and we found this old guy wandering around. He was looking after his great grandson…’
‘Great grandson…on his own?’
‘Exactly….yes. And he lost him.’
‘Lost him? How?’
‘If you saw the old man you’d easily see how. I think the boy must have just wandered off. Maybe great granddaddy fell asleep or something. I’ve been running around trying to find him and asking people, but as you have a bike…’
‘…and a minute,’ said Mike.
‘Yes, one of those too,’ she laughed.
‘You would like me to join your search party,’ he said finishing her sentence. ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way. What does he look like?’
The woman gave Mike a brief description. He was looking for a three year old boy, named Jack wearing a red T shirt.
’That’s all I got from the old man, I‘m afraid,’ she said, the concern back on her face.
‘Has anyone called the police?’
‘No, he was adamant that he didn’t want any fuss, and I thought I’d have a look round first.’
She told Mike that the boy had been missing for about twenty minutes. That was a long time in a busy park. There was a road running down both sides of the park with plenty of open exit routes for a wandering three year old to discover. Mike knew the area well and the park was on his route to and from work. He cycled everywhere. He had cycled through the park in rain, and wind, and sun, and even snow a couple of times. He had cycled alone, and with Leah on the back in the child seat chatting merrily. He thought of her again now and his heart banged a beat in his heart. She was the same age as Jack, the missing boy. How would he feel if it was her missing? Frantic, and sick with twisted guts of worst case scenarios. His chest tightened at the thought. He cycled up one side of the path. He would do a figure of eight, crossing the park at its midpoint to search the other side if he hadn’t found Jack by then.
He knew from experience with his own daughter that there would be no logic to a three-year old’s rambling journey. He turned the pedals more slowly than he would undertake his usual journey, checking the foliage down to the left by the lake, and turning his head to the right to check the grass and trees leading to the road and the damp pavement beyond. A bus thundered past and Mike shivered. Traffic did that to him. He reached one end of the park and a dark cloud buffeted its way over the sun taking the shards of light out of the puddles he splashed through. The air had a chill now, and he thought of its effect on a three year old boy in a T shirt. He waved down a couple of cyclists coming in the other direction and asked them to keep a look out for Jack. He felt a responsibility for finding the boy. The thought of hearing screeching tyres on the road, a scream and the resulting devastation spurred him on. If the boy was in the park, Mike was going to find him.
One half of the park had proved fruitless in his search so Mike went down the path on the other side, past last summer’s rose garden, through falling leaves. The wind had picked up and dark clouds were gathering causing the temperature to drop. To the left of the main path the ground dipped down toward the stream, with a narrow path gouged into the bank. Mike propped his bike up on a tree and slipped and slid down the muddy bank to get a better look along the stream. About twenty metres up the stream to his left and half masked by a shrub, Mike caught a flash of red colour. He began to run through the stream, the water cold seeping rapidly through the microfiber of his cycling shoes and freezing his feet. ‘Jack?’ he called out. ‘Jack? Is that you?’ The red was unmoving.
Mike sped up, struggling through the water and unseen stones, water spraying to both sides. He was out of breath when he reached the small boy who was sitting by the water’s edge idly picking up stones and looking at them. Mike took off his fleece and wrapped it round the boy’s small frame. ‘Is your name Jack?’ he asked again more softly. The boy looked up at him with a disinterested expression. ‘Come on,’ said Mike. ‘Let’s go see if your great grandfather recognises you.’ Mike picked up the compliant boy who dripped with cold water and carried him back to his bike. The child was only slightly smaller than his own daughter, and fit snugly into the seat at the back of the bike.
Mike made his way back through the park with the boy he presumed to be Jack on the back of his bike. In the distance he saw the woman who had enlisted his help and he waved at her. He caught her eye and suddenly felt like the returning hero. He smiled broadly.
‘Hi,’ he said braking to a stop at her feet. She was standing very close to him. Mike had a sudden urge to lean in to smell her perfume, but instead he pulled off his helmet and drew his hand through his dark blonde hair. He felt momentarily awkward.
The woman was looking at him quizzically. God she was cute, he thought, clearing his throat.
‘I think and rather hope, that this is Jack, and if it’s not I’m very likely to get arrested for child abduction,’ he said, and laughed. The woman did that little laugh again, that seemed to erupt from a forgotten place. She lifted the boy down from the bike seat, and knelt beside him on the ground.
‘Jack? Is that your name?’ She really did have a lovely smile, thought Mike watching her interact with the child. The boy nodded shyly, his T shirt muddy beneath Mike’s temporary shawl. ‘He certainly fits the description, doesn’t he?’ she said looking back up at Mike, her eyes wide and sparkling.
‘Well, he seems to – yes. I found him in the bushes down by the stream. It looks like he’s been paddling and he’s soaked.’ Thoughts flashed back through Mike’s mind of the small child at the edge of the rushing stream. ‘That was a close call! He could easily have drowned – the poor little chap.’
You’ve got children yourself, I take it,’ she said nodding towards the bike seat.
‘Yes, my daughter, Leah – she’s my little treasure,’ he said beaming proudly.
The woman stood, C’mon,’ she said taking Jack’s hand. ‘Let’s take you back to your great-grandaddy for the final ID.’ Mike looked at his watch. He still had ten minutes before the nursery closed.
‘I’ll come too, if that’s OK – I’d like to make sure it is the right lost boy,’ he said.
The old man took Mike by surprise. He looked like he needed looking after himself. The man took Jack’s hand, gave him a hug, and put him in the pushchair with a coat over him. The old man stared vacantly ahead and without a word to Mike or the woman, he pushed Jack away. The woman looked at Mike with wide eyes and her mouth agog. She seemed unable to speak.
‘Would you believe it,’ said Mike laughing at her expression, and saying the words that looked like they were stuck in her throat. ‘Not a word from the old guy. I reckon he’s probably in shock, either that or he’s lost his marbles, poor old fella.’
The woman nodded, smiling, ‘I think you’re right; he shouldn’t be in charge of a little kid should he? Well, at least Jack’s safe – excitement over, back to the seesaw and swings for us!’ she said nodding toward a large much younger woman who was watching them and was surrounded by three children of various ages.
‘Yes, one stray child is enough for me in one day. I’m off to the nursery to pick up Leah.’ Mike got on his bike, and was about to leave, but something held him back. He looked back at the woman. He felt a stir in his heart he hadn’t felt in a long time. Something in her eyes. Honest, open, and deep. Pulling him in. ‘By the way, I’m Mike, Mike Stone,’ he smiled. ‘Perhaps I’ll see you around here again sometime.’
‘Yes, maybe,’ she smiled and seemed to hesitate. ‘Is the nursery far from here? I’m new to the city and I’m looking for somewhere for my little girl to go.’
Maybe he would be seeing this woman again after all, he thought.
‘No it’s not far at all, just through the park, and past the bank of trees on the right,’ he said. Mike gave her the details of the nursery and smiled at her again, drinking her in. He said she should pop in to see it for herself.
‘Thanks Mike, I’ll do that.’ He liked the way her name sounded on her lips.
‘Well it’s time for the fifth emergency service to depart,’ he said. Stupid joke, he thought to himself. He laughed, a bit awkwardly. With one more glance at the woman who hadn’t given him her name he cycled away with his wedding ring biting harshly into his hand as he gripped the handle bars a little too hard.