A cool breeze pushed between wooden shutters. Dead flowers littered the decked terrace. Chimes from the town chapel rung out seven times – a reminder that the sun would soon slip behind the rocky mountains.
My chilled fingers pulled at a thread on the top button of my shirt, my heartbeat was quickening with excitement.
What would I say? I tugged fingers through my long blonde hair; the metallic aroma of cold air coated its strands. The decision to come had been a rash one.
A meaty diesel engine growled. Turning, I saw a Land Rover crunch its way up the gravelled driveway. The headlights pierced my skull with their brightness. I blinked, attempting to shift the discomfort, but to no avail.
I moved further into the shadows. My excitement was almost too much to bear.
The car doors opened. She stepped from the driver side. A pair of high-heeled shoes were dropped gently to the gravel and her stockinged feet slid expertly into their soft leather. Within seconds she was visible, wearing a cream tailored suit that melded to her curves: this was why I had come, why I had paid the two hundred pounds to travel up the country in a day.
Her picture had been brighter, a more colourful portrayal of the reality. She had seemed a little thinner, but I didn’t mind the wider hips: this was the truth of her.
My hand fumbled with my coat buttons. What could I do now? I thought of the ribbon in my breast pocket. I had picked it specifically: Christmas ribbon.
I heard her laughing as she teetered around to the boot of the car.
“Come on you two, it’s late.” She called.
I froze. My hand griped the cool metal of a drainpipe beside me. I watched two children disembark from the car: left and right.
Her “About me” page hadn’t mentioned children. Shy, single, looking for friendship, and maybe more … that was her status. I pulled the ribbon from my pocket and begun twisting it around my index finger, pulling it tight with frustration.
It was cold and the motion sensor lights flicked on and off. My hand was forced. One of the children squealed with delight as the other, a young boy, chased her. So focussed on my muse, Victoria Van Holt, I neglected to avoid the charging children.
“Mommy!” The little girl, who was no more than six years old, was backing away from me. “A woman!” Her finger jutted out to point.
“It’s rude to point.” I hissed. She squealed and ran towards Victoria, her thumb in her mouth. The boy was watching me, a frown on his brow. He may be trouble.
“Uh…Sorry.” I uttered the apology while stalking toward Victoria, a smile at my peach painted lips. She smiled back, and in that moment I knew I had made the right decision.
Everyone has a past. Children weren’t unsurpassable. We could make this work.
“I’m staying in the area, went for a walk and somehow ended up in your front garden.” My hands and shoulders rose apologetically. Victoria’s smile grew even wider.
“It’s no problem. It’s like a rabbit warren around here. It took me years to remember all the nooks and crannies. It’s freezing, do you want a cup of tea? You can call for a taxi from inside if you like?”
She is lovely. I knew she was the right one. Everything felt just so.
She moved back to the car and began unloading shopping bags.
“Do you want a hand?” I moved towards her, wanting to be there for her.
“No, that’s why I have these two. Milly, Arthur, come on, give your Mum a hand.”
‘ Mum.’ I shivered at the word. She didn’t notice: too busy closing the boot and locking the car.
We walked into the house, discarding our shoes at the door. My old, scuffed boots looked out of place on the immaculate, glisteningly clean, cream tiled floor of the utility room.
“I apologise we’re not coming through the front door.” She spoke the comment over her shoulder as she used her hip to push open a glass door into the largest kitchen I had ever seen. This would be the place – it was perfect. Chrome glinted under the spotlights in the ceiling.
The children had instantly run out of the room leaving the bags of shopping strewn on the floor. Victoria had her back to me, placing tins and packets on cupboard shelves.
“The phone is just by the door we came through. Please help yourself.”
“Thanks Victoria,” – just a small slip.
She stilled – tinned tomatoes not quite reaching their destination. She was facing me now, her skin noticeably pale.
“I’m sorry, that isn’t my name.” She was being coy. I didn’t want to play along.
I pulled hard at the ribbon and it cut into the flesh of my finger.
“You’re not Victoria Van Holt? I am sorry, but you look very much like your picture. I am sure I am not mistaken.”
Her hands were gripping the counter behind her now.
“Don’t be scared. It’s just me, your biggest fan, Tammy.” My words sounded false. I am false: a man locked in a woman’s body.
She is struggling now, her fingers tearing at the ribbon around her neck. This was what I had dreamt of.
I had emailed so often and she had ignored me. We had been friends, but she had blocked me. She would know how it felt, the powerlessness – just a little tighter.
I took out my mobile phone and scrolled to the last “friend” I had visited. On studying the girls limp pose, I positioned Victoria among the bags on the kitchen floor and snapped a picture. Then, taking an unpacked apple from the kitchen side, I tugged on my boots and left.