The aisles are different here, the same, but the layout is different. The blonde woman clears her throat and pretends to read the labels on the bottles in front of her, but she’s half way across the world, with a thump in her temple that won’t dissipate and she can’t quite remember the conversion rate, because her Australian dollars are no good to her here, they’re just coins wasting away in a pile in her purse. She needs to remember that it’s all pounds and pence and modern British currency. She squints, rubbing at her eyes, and scrubs a shaking hand over her face, she’s tired and fatigued, and she’s hungry. Slowly, but surely, she’s succumbing to the symptoms of her ridiculously uninspired jet lag.
“Can I help you?” His accent is thick, but his voice is soft, and it carries between them, making her look up at the man who approaches. A pair of black, thin rimmed glasses sit perched perfectly upon the bridge of his nose, and his facial hair is neatly trimmed around his top and bottom lip.
She squints, looks at his name tag and smiles, but with the bright down lights and her insistent headache, she struggles to make out the letters. “I’m sorry, yes, please. If you don’t mind, I’m just after a bottle of lemonade. Not Sprite, I don’t like Sprite, just that really nice old fashioned lemonade.”
She wants to kick herself immediately, she’s an absolute idiot, and pretty certain that the man understands what lemonade is, he’s working in a grocery store for crying out loud. She bites the inside of her cheek, hoping he’ll just point her in the general direction that she desires and then leave her the hell alone to wallow in her own pity. But instead, he smiles, adjusts his glasses and ushers her down the corridor like he’s her own personal guide.
She follows like a lamb, her feet scuffing across the worn linoleum, she barely has the energy to lift her feet, but she finds the strength. She raises her wrist to wipe the sweat from her brow and yawns for the third time in as many seconds.
He stops in front of a well stocked shelf overflowing with carbonated beverages, the playful colours not unlike that of a child’s kaleidoscope. “I’ve just stacked it myself, we were short staff today because of the weather.”
“I’ve never actually seen snow before, this is the first time for me!”
Christ, she’s gone and done it again, made an absolute fool of herself in front of this gorgeous man. She swallows thickly and just reaches for the first thing she can find, she doesn’t even care if it’s lemonade or not. Hell, she’ll take Sprite if it means she can crawl back under the same rock, far, far away.
But when she looks up, his arm is outstretched, the lemonade held firmly in the palm of his hand. He’s smiling, and his eyes sparkle through his glasses. She wants to run her fingers through his beard, but that would be weird. That would probably be a little bit creepy, so she she keeps her hands to herself. “Oh, thanks.”
“That’s my job, as store manager, I have to take care of my customers.” The words saunter from his lips, and there’s something in his tone that makes her frown. Was that innuendo? She’s so tired that she can’t be sure. So she smiles back and licks her lips. Because he’s really quite alright on the eyes, and maybe, maybe she is up for a holiday fling after all. But she shakes her head to clear the cobwebs and smiles politely as she takes the bottle and points in the direction of the registers, waiting for her feet to catch up to her brain. That’s all just a bit foggy.
She’s surprised when he halts her with an open palm and watches as he fishes around in his pocket to pull out a business card that he scratches upon with a pen and then hands to her. She noticed the number that he’s scrawled in his barely legible handwriting and chuckles, because hers is quite neat in comparison.
“In case you decide that you want something else, I’d be happy to help. All you have to do is call the number on the card and ask for Teddy.” He explains the reason for giving her the card, but she can see through the thinly veiled excuse, and suddenly she feels like she has quite a bit more energy than she had previously.
“Thank you, I’ll be sure to do that the moment I run out of tea and Jaffa Cakes.” She doesn’t even like Jaffa Cakes, she is much more of a cookie kind of girl, but she isn’t about to tell him that and ruin any chance she has of the two of them hooking up.
“I’ll walk with you.” And he insists on escorting her right the way along the length of the aisle and along the front of the store to the first free register that he comes across. He tries to make her steps fall out of time with his because she’s not going to deny herself the view of that left behind that he has.
“Beautiful,” she whispers beneath her voice, raising her brow inadvertently shaking the bottle of sprite as she waves her hand in that general direction for a moment. There’s definitely no harm in checking out those goods. He’s tall, but too tall, but tall enough that she has the perfect angle to appreciate such a firm behind. He’s clearly been working hard for it.
His voice cuts through her wandering but clearly very serious musings about what it might feel like to just lean over and pat him on that sweet derričre. “So I’ll be seeing you. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“You too,” she manages to say as she licks her lips and wonders what the rest of her trip is going to be like if this is what her first day in England has managed to present her with. She might be spoiled if it’s anything like running into handsome men who don’t seem to hesitate to give her their phone number. It’s actually pretty perfect, and she can’t help the smile that spreads across her face, reaching up to finger the corner of her lips like the sap that she is.
She’s always been a fool for romance, has always had aspirations that she will have one of the greatest love affairs of all time. A man will come into her life and sweep her off her feet and he will be her great love, a soulmate, her best friend. The thought lingers in the front of her mind. But after a lifetime of pain and anguish, she knows that it’s little more than a pipe-dream, just something she whispers upon the stars and hopes will come true some day.
She watches as the bottle on the conveyor belt rocks and jolts, and she sighs. She should have kept those thoughts locked up in the dark recesses of her mind where the rest of the mess that she is lingers.
Handing over a couple of coins to the cashier, she takes her bag in her hand, and there’s a slight sag to her shoulders as she leaves the store, but it’s not obvious to the naked eye, nobody would else would recognise the weight of the world as it rests there, as it mocks her with the threat of dying alone, old, and very, very alone.
Not even the weather has decided to be her friend today. She glances up at the sky and watches the small patches of stagnant cloud as they float across the great experience of mottled sky. She stands in the middle of the footpath, snow crunching beneath her boots, but she doesn’t care. It seems like every little thing that she has ever done in her life, good or bad, is culminating in this moment. She turns to look over her shoulder, sighing. Maybe it’s just not meant to be, maybe love is a tale that she will never be able to tell, and she will never be able to fill those glossy pages with the story of her English prince.
Whatever happens, at least she can say that she’s taking a chance, and sometimes chances pay off, other times ... well, the less said about that, the better. Now she just wants to run and never look back.
She trembles, because it’s cold, and she’s not used to the ache that sets into her bones from the bite of frost around them. She touches her lips, sure that they’re blue, and pulls her scarf around her face, stepping out into the street when a gust of wind distracts her from the sound of tyres screeching on the road in front of her. And it all happens so quickly that she’s barely able to suck in a breath and fill her lungs with enough air to scream, before the car collides with her.
Her body aches, and he mouth is dry. Her head hurts, and she feels dizzy. She can’t feel her right leg and that’s troublesome. She squeezes her eyes closed and wiggles her fingers, hoping that the pain will dissipate sooner rather than later. The light had been red and she’d only looked away from the opposite side of the street for a split second, but that split second had been all it had taken for the impact to cause her all sorts of strife. But the struggle is very real, and the effort is too stay awake is taxing , much too much, and she can’t catch herself before she finally succumbs, drifting off into a relative state of unconsciousness.
The thin card that she had been determined to clutch right up to the end slips from her fingers and flutters the short distance to the hard ground beside her. If she had a shadow to watch over her, it would probably just fold it’s arms and shake it’s head. She’s not dainty at all, one leg splayed, her clothes damp from the seemingly unending spray of carbonated fizzy drink that had exploded upon the bitumen like a time bomb that had vehemently erupted to find rest at the end of a volatile tether.
It’s her only lifeline amidst a whole new world of absolute strangers. If there is ever a time to convince the Gods to hustle for her, ideally, it would be this one. But she’s too far gone to even pray to some benevolent God, let alone one that she has always found to be fake and particularly waning in the miracles department. As far as Rahne is concerned, there is only one person that she can depend on. And right now, even that woman cannot be trusted to not fuck things up for her.
There’s a fuss in the street and men and women bustle about and some of the employees are on their knees beside her, checking her pulse and pulling her eyelids open to gawk at her pupils, well she could have told them that she was out cold and that perhaps an ambulance would have been a brilliant place to start. But what she doesn’t know is that he’s there beside her, his hand clutching hers, because he’s nice like that. He’ll feel bad if anything happens to her, because he knows what it’s like to be the odd one out. He’s become used to the daily grind of life, and he has this one thing that he can give her, humbly, not even asking for anything in return. He just wants to comfort her, even if she doesn’t appreciate it because of the state of her health at present. If he could wake her up, he’d very much like to try.
So she remains blissfully unaware of the fact that even though he’s pretty damn useless in these kinds of situations, and he doesn’t really know what he’s supposed to say, he swallows down the lump in his throat and gets on with it, telling authorities the little that he knows, and letting them know that he’s clocking off for the day so that he can ride alongside her on the way to the hospital.
It’s the least he can do. He doesn't want her to be lonely, and he won't miss the money. There's just something about her that he can't seem to shrug off, and he doesn't want this to be the last time he'll see her, flat on her back being wheeled away on a stretcher.
Goosebumps have risen on her pale skin, plaguing her arms and her legs as her body temperature drops. Her lips are now blue, even in the short time that she’s spent laying on the dusting of powdery white snow that litters the ground. The medics tuck an insulated blanket around the sides of the stretcher and monitor their patient closely. Thank goodness she’d been paranoid enough to go all out with travel insurance, the billing statement for services rendered is going to bleed her funds dry. But it can’t be helped, she’d really rather see out the rest of the year than be sent home in one of those nasty pine boxes. She’s read about those stories in the Daily Mail, and she doesn’t want to be one of those statistics.
At least she’s wearing clean underwear, because there’s nothing more embarrassing that being caught in your cotton stretches, the ones that have the elastic in the leg that’s too loose, the ones that you just throw on when you’re having a bad day and you just want to climb in under your blanket and take a deep breath and ask the world to stop for a moment because you got on that ride and now you’re at the top and you’re feeling like just want to get off. She’s quite often been licked by those flames, her mind is a hive of activity that she is burdened with. A lifetime of baggage is heavy and even though she tries to sever those ties, they still haunt her, they still make her reality a terrible place to live.
She is strong, but she’s not unbreakable.
“You can wake up now, love,” he whispers quietly. “You have to wake up now, because I don’t even know your name.”
There’s no reaction, her body remains still and broken even though her chest still rises and falls in time with her breath. He pushes away the hair that has fallen over her forehead and traces the angry bruise that keeps rapidly changing colour. He’s not sure what to think about love at first sight, because he’s been hurt before, he’s hard his fair share of relationship troubles, and he’s not really ready to commit just now. But she’s intriguing enough that she catches his attention, and actually holds it, not like any of the others he’s ever known.
There’s a twitch, her fingers involuntary spasming, most likely because of the nerve damage down her right hand side, but she doesn’t wake. Teddy tells himself that he’s only slightly disappointed that she didn’t open her eyes and jump into his arms, he’s never been the knight in shining armour before, but he’s already more than willing to play that roll if it means getting to know this woman.
“Some people claim that they can hear you,” the medic speaks softly, jotting down notes in her observation charts as she makes small talk with the man. “I don’t know if it’s true, but I don’t think it hurts to try.”
She doesn’t know his story, and she doesn’t know Rahne’s, but she has experienced a lot, what, with her profession and all. The ones that don’t make it, the family that was too late to say goodbye. Those who survive, and the long lives they credit to their brushes with death, she’s not quite as cyclical as she used to be, not when she’s witnessed damn near miracles happening right in front of her face. Maybe the young man just needs hope, a little slice of something to tide him over until they know for certain, one way or another, what the woman’s prognosis is going to be.