Rain Check

Was it just the aw­ful weather that was mak­ing Emma feel so mis­er­able?

The People's Friend - - This Week - by Eirin Thompson

IT had been a tough day. It wasn’t just the dark skies and the heavy rain; it was Emma’s clients. They seemed to grow steadily more de­mand­ing. Where once her first-time authors were thrilled to be pub­lished, now they ex­pected her to se­cure them the sort of out­landish six-fig­ure deals they seemed to keep hear­ing about. It was un­re­al­is­tic.

As for her more es­tab­lished writ­ers, they han­kered for the days when ev­ery pub­lisher had a whop­ping bud­get for pro­mo­tion and pub­lic­ity.

Emma had tried to ex­plain that authors were now ex­pected to get savvy about so­cial me­dia and do a lot of the leg­work them­selves, but some didn’t lis­ten.

“I’m start­ing to pre­fer a day por­ing over con­tracts to spend­ing time with peo­ple,” she told Phoebe, who’d brought her cof­fee.

“Don’t be silly,” Phoebe replied play­fully. “You love be­ing an agent. We know your great­est thrill is tear­ing open a fat Jiffy bag, hop­ing to dis­cover the new ‘Girl On The Train’.”

Not ev­ery sub­mis­sion was that ex­cit­ing, but Phoebe was right that read­ing manuscripts was Emma’s favourite part of the job.

Yes, she re­ceived too many copy­cats of the lat­est head­line-grab­bing big sell­ers, and more in­sipid ro­mances than she cared for, but she tried to give ev­ery ef­fort a fair crack, and she’d found quite a few authors who’d been able to give up their day job, and one or two who’d done rather bet­ter.

“What are you hav­ing for tea?” Phoebe asked now, swish­ing into Emma’s of­fice in her rain­coat and sit­ting on the edge of the desk.

“It’s a night for some hot soup for me,” Emma said. “Prefer­ably on a tray, with some­thing good to lis­ten to on the ra­dio.”

“Matt com­ing round?” Phoebe asked.

“No. He’s away with work,” Emma replied.

“What ex­actly is it that Matt does?” Phoebe asked as they walked down the stairs.

“Shares,” Emma replied vaguely.

“What, like a stock­bro­ker?” Phoebe asked. “Yes,” Emma fibbed. In truth, when she’d asked Matt the same ques­tion in their early days, she’d picked up that he wasn’t a stock-bro­ker, but she couldn’t fol­low what it was he did do.

Af­ter three years, she felt it was ridicu­lous to ad­mit to Matt or any­one else that she had no idea.

They opened the door to the sound of wheels swish­ing on wet as­phalt and the wig­gling trail of head-lights re­flected in sur­face wa­ter.

“This is where I split,” Phoebe said, pop­ping up her brolly and run­ning to catch her bus.

“See you to­mor­row,” Emma called.

She headed in the other di­rec­tion, stop­ping in her tracks when she saw her bus queue. No way were all these peo­ple go­ing to fit on one bus, and she couldn’t bear to wait in the rain for an­other.

If ever there was a night to treat her­self to a taxi home, this was it.

Emma hur­ried down the foot­path to find a spot from which to hail a cab.

Joy! She was due a bit of good luck, and up came a taxi with its yel­low light on.

She rushed to meet it as it pulled in to the kerb and was al­most pushed out of the way by a tall man in a dark grey over­coat.

The man grabbed her arm to steady her, then dropped it just as sud­denly, as though fear­ful he might have hurt her.

“I thought he was stop­ping for me.”

“He may have been,” Emma ad­mit­ted. It had all hap­pened rather quickly. “Look, we’re both get­ting soaked, and we both need a lift – couldn’t we share? Which way are you go­ing?”

“Long­dene,” the man replied.

“Then we have a deal,” Emma de­clared. “I’m head­ing for Wood­side.”

The man opened the car door and stood back for Emma to climb in.

When they sat down, Emma was glad that the man pulled out a book and be­gan to read. She wasn’t in the mood for mak­ing con­ver­sa­tion.

She was tired and the dark evening made her feel ready for bed, rather than com­pany.

Left to her own de­vices, she found her­self steal­ing glances at the man be­side her.

His wavy hair, wet from the rain, was al­most black, and the shadow on his jaw sug­gested he was a man who needed to shave twice a day.

An­other glance re­vealed dark hairs on the backs of his hands and wrists as he held his book, and Emma felt sure that, if he turned and looked at her, his eyes would be dark, too.

Sud­denly he turned to­wards her.

“Why do you keep look­ing at me?” he asked.

Emma felt colour rush to her face. Peo­ple didn’t usu­ally chal­lenge you like this. They usu­ally pre­tended they didn’t no­tice.

She had to think quickly. Some ex­pla­na­tion was re­quired un­less they were to pass the re­main­der of their jour­ney in hos­til­ity or em­bar­rass­ment. Would two fibs in one day be too bad?

“I was look­ing at the book,” she lied. “I have a pro­fes­sional in­ter­est.”

There, that sounded bet­ter.

“I’m a literary agent,” she told him.

“You get writ­ers into print?”

“Yes, when I can.” What was his accent? There was some­thing soft in it, but some­thing wild, too.

“What do you do?” She was gen­uinely cu­ri­ous, and hoped it wouldn’t be a job like Matt’s that she didn’t un­der­stand.

“I work with horses.” “Do­ing what ex­actly?” “Train­ing them, rac­ing them, lov­ing them.”

Well, she un­der­stood that, at least.

Emma had never heard Matt talk about lov­ing shares, what­ever he did with them. He loved his BMW and hol­i­days in the Mal­dives, but she hadn’t heard him say he loved an an­i­mal, and she wasn’t even sure if he loved her.

“There aren’t many horses in Long­dene,” she ob­served, guiltily aware that she was fish­ing.

“I had to come to town to do a deal. I hate it. It makes me ner­vous. I can’t wait to get back to the coun­try.”

Emma was just about to say some­thing else when the driver in­ter­rupted to tell them that, due to flood­ing, the road ahead was closed.

They’d have to take a di­ver­sion, but that meant a lot of traf­fic be­ing fun­nelled down one street, and there were bound to be de­lays.

Five min­utes ear­lier, a weary Emma would have been dis­mayed. Now, though, she found she wasn’t so dis­ap­pointed. “I’m Emma.” “Fran­cis,” he replied. She was right. His eyes were as dark as sloes.

“I must ask – what’s your accent?” Emma ven­tured.

“I’d rather not say,” Fran­cis mum­bled, turn­ing his book over in his hands.

“Oh.” Emma couldn’t imag­ine what would make some­one re­luc­tant. She de­cided to change tack.

“Well, we’re both book lovers – we’ve got that much in com­mon.”

“Look, I’m a trav­eller. At least, I was. Not ev­ery­body likes trav­ellers. We’re mis­trusted. Peo­ple think we’re un­e­d­u­cated.

“My fa­ther loved horses and he loved books. He had me rid­ing at two years old and read­ing at three.

“But I read too many books about peo­ple who lived in houses, with draw­ing-rooms and fire­places and sta­bles out the back.”

“I al­ways wanted a house with a li­brary,” Emma told him.

“I wanted that, too,” Fran­cis ad­mit­ted. “I’d have all of Shake­speare’s plays on one shelf, and Shaw’s on an­other.”

“I’d have ev­ery Dick­ens, bound in leather,” Emma re­turned.

“And the Bröntes: fine, fierce, fear­less women,” Fran­cis added.

“And po­etry – Keats and Co­leridge and Christina Ros­setti.”

“I could talk like this all night.”

“I could talk like this all night, too.”

With the traf­fic stalled and the wipers slap­ping from side to side, Emma and Fran­cis spoke of nov­els they had raced to fin­ish, read and reread; they rhap­sodised about po­ems that had made them brave or made them weep.

It was al­most with dis­ap­point­ment that the driver stopped the taxi.

“Long­dene. Where do you want me to drop you?”

“Emma, I’m with some­body. But if I wasn’t . . .” Fran­cis searched her face with those sloe eyes.

“I’m with some­one, too,” Emma ad­mit­ted. “But if I wasn’t . . .”

Fran­cis was al­ready half­way out of the door. “It wasn’t meant to be.” And he was gone.

****

Although Emma didn’t see Fran­cis again, and had no ex­pec­ta­tion of ever do­ing so, she brought things to an end with Matt.

In her job, she asked to see the first three chap­ters of a novel from prospec­tive clients; if she was hooked, she’d re­quest more.

Well, she’d seen three long chap­ters from Matt, and she re­alised she re­ally didn’t want to read on.

In sum­mary he sounded great – in­de­pen­dent, pro­fes­sional, sol­vent, con­fi­dent – but Emma found she wasn’t that in­ter­ested in his story.

She con­tin­ued to rep­re­sent her writ­ers and to try to give a break to new tal­ent, but noth­ing came along that truly sur­prised or in­spired her.

At least, not un­til a year later.

It was an­other wet day in Novem­ber. Emma had just wrapped her hands round a mug of cof­fee and had set aside rou­tine work in favour of a read­ing day.

Tear­ing open the top­most Jiffy bag in her sub­mis­sions drawer, she eased the con­tents out on to her desk.

She ig­nored the cov­er­ing let­ter and sum­mary in favour of read­ing the first page with­out any pre­con­cep­tions.

As she read, her heart started to race.

There, set down in print, was an ac­count of that meeting 12 months ear­lier – the rain, the taxi, the con­nec­tion – an en­counter that had stayed with her like a melody she couldn’t quite for­get.

But the writ­ing was from his point of view, not hers, and it was beau­ti­fully told.

She whipped out the let­ter. It was signed Fran­cis

Barry. He had found her. She spent the next hour read­ing Fran­cis’s first three chap­ters. It was their love story, or at least the be­gin­nings of it.

Emma was en­chanted. It was the best thing she’d read in a long time, and she def­i­nitely wanted to read on.

But wasn’t it a kind of love let­ter, too? And didn’t that mean she had to re­ply?

There was a postal ad­dress, but that would take days. Even an e-mail might not get seen for hours.

Emma picked up the phone.

When he an­swered, in that soft, wild voice she’d only heard in­side her head for a whole year, she found she couldn’t speak at all.

“It’s all right,” Fran­cis’s voice said in a soothing tone she imag­ined he used on fright­ened horses. “I just needed to know. Now I do.”

****

“You’re miles away,” Phoebe ob­served, but­ton­ing her coat. “Ever since the horse-whis­perer showed up, you haven’t had a thought in your head for any­one else.

“Are you go­ing down to the coun­try again this week­end?”

“Yes.” Emma nod­ded. “Morn­ings with the horses, af­ter­noons work­ing on Fran­cis’s man­u­script, and evenings spent just the two of us.”

They tramped down­stairs and pushed upon the door into the wet night.

The wheels swished on the wet as­phalt and the head­lights made their wig­gling trails on the sur­face wa­ter.

Emma couldn’t have felt hap­pier. ■

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