Dedicated to my cousin for her birthday, which happened earlier this week. All yours midget! (I love you really…)
I was sitting alone in the rain when I met you.
I can remember, even to this day, the way the inky drops splattered onto my face, but I didn't care. I can remember staring out at the rain and knowing it would never end. I can remember being alone.
I was numb when I met you.
I could no longer feel the cold concrete beneath me, no longer tried to conserve my warmth against the air. I couldn't feel my hands. I was cold.
I was empty when I met you.
My eyes were blank and unfocused and my face was pale and expressionless. Somehow, I knew that I was near the end. My end, I thought.
You ended everything for me.
You stopped the rain. You warmed my hands. You made my eyes focus. You took away my mask.
And it all started with an umbrella and a smile.
Chapter One – Rain
The crowds of people moved without an overall direction, all swarming through the city centre as a mass of black waterproofs. Rain or snow, no one stopped for the weather. There was too much to do, too little time to do it.
Aside from the humdrum of the pedestrian rush-hour, isolated on the steps outside the magistrate courts, was a figure. As everyone else moved to their own times, she sat, frozen. Her eyes were blank as she stared soullessly out at the crowds. She didn't react as high-profile lawyers in clean-cut, tailored suits emerged from the doors, dashing past her.
By now, her clothes were heavy with rain water, clinging to her skin with a dewy persistence. Old makeup ran, uncaring down her pale face, her sunken features augmented by the black streaks of mascara trailing down her cheeks. She didn't wipe it away.
Immersed in the mess of people, a figure had stopped moving. He hesitated, his hazel eyes refusing to drift away from the girl on the steps. A brief flick of his wrist allowed him to check the time and then he was moving, his cheap shoes splashing in the murky puddles on the pavement.
Suddenly, the rain stopped.
For the first time, the lonely figure on the steps looked up, her eyes flickering into focus on the young man before her. He stood, dressed in a poorly fitting suit, arm out-stretched, hand wrapped around the handle of a yellow umbrella. Hazel eyes bore into her own grey ones, imploring.
There was no reaction.
Slowly, almost hesitantly, the young man reached down with his free arm and picked her numb hands up off the concrete of the steps. Then, he placed them both around the handle of the umbrella.
She still said nothing.
The young man merely smiled and turned around and left.
Chapter Two – Mist
He hated riding the train in the aftermath of the rain.
Countless damp bodies crammed themselves into a small box, their combined heat gradually warming the area up until everyone was drowning in a thick throng of steam. Even so, no one would comment on it and the stifling silence would continue until someone's phone rang, or the conductor asked for tickets. After a momentary disturbance, though, everything would settle back down and the silence would return, thicker and more stifling than before.
So, he chose to read. A different book, a different genre, each week, but he read faithfully and without pause every single train journey he took.
Except this one.
A stirring in the corner of his eye, caused him to look up, not closing his book.
She was in front of him, dressed in an expensive-looking, blue raincoat, her arm out-stretched, hand wrapped around the handle of a closed yellow umbrella. Grey eyes peeked out from underneath a thick black fringe, unreadable.
"Nora," she said, eyes flickering down the umbrella.
Confusion spread across the young man's features before he smiled, taking the umbrella back.
"Ryan," he said.
Strangely enough, he didn't feel like reading at all after that.
Chapter Three – Clouds
They rarely spoke.
Nora sat opposite him each journey, her own book held in her hands, delicate fingers turning the feathery pages every-so-often, and she rarely even looked up from it. Ryan, of course, had his own book, but somehow, he found himself more interested in watching Nora read than reading his own book.
Countless questions he wanted to ask danced around in his head. What was she reading? Was it good? Why had she been at the courthouse that day?
But he swallowed them, instead occupying himself with staring whole-heartedly at her. He admired the unique curvature of her lips, the way they could coil into a secretive smile each time she read something she deemed amusing. Sometimes, he spent minutes upon minutes memorising her bone structure, obsessing over the shape of her eyes or her nose.
In the end, Ryan gave up on reading.
Instead, he spoke.
"Nora?" he began.
Nora looked up at him, her grey eyes filled with an unrecognisable emotion.
"Do you want to grab dinner some time?"
Nora blinked at him. For a second, Ryan's entire being seemed to sink. Then, she nodded.
"I would like that," she said quietly.
Chapter Four – Drizzle
Ryan stared out across his dimly lit work station, at the crumpled sheets of paper and the empty coffee cups. Once again, his eyes flickered up to the mind-map pinned to the wall, one word written in capitals.
A groan elicited itself from Ryan's lips as he ran a hand through his short, brown hair.
The subject was so broad, so undeniably overdone, that coming up with something original was near impossible. Besides, thinking about the rain just made him think about Nora, and if he thought about her, he'd never get any work done.
Unwarranted, his mind wandered back to her. Back to the beautiful curvature of her lips, back to her chiselled features. And then he was there again, sat across from her in the train … standing above her in the rain, arm out-stretched, silently pleading with her to take his umbrella…
Suddenly, Ryan knew what he had to do.
Chapter Five – Hail
The start of the dinner was uneventful.
The ate in relative silence, shooting each other strange looks. It would have been awkward if they weren't already used to each other's company.
There was something about Ryan's intense gaze that made Nora flinch inwards. It made her feel shy. It mad her want to blush and duck her head. But she just couldn't imagine herself doing that, so Nora instead pretended not to notice.
In the candle-lit ambiance of the restaurant, Nora found it hard to pretend anymore.
So, she spoke.
"My full name is Nora Alice Pemberly," she said quietly. It didn't escape her notice the way that Ryan's ears seemed to perk up at the sound of her voice. "I was born in Winchester City Hospital on May 4th. I am currently twenty-two years old. I work as a part-timer in a London bakery."
Ryan stared at her.
"I went to school in Cheltenham, to Cheltenham ladies college to be precise. I didn't really like it there." She continued, "I don't have any parents. My mother died in childbirth and my father died six months ago."
She smiled a small, meek smile.
Ryan opened, and then closed his mouth. Then, he quashed every single desire he had to capture those smiling lips with his own and narrated his own life story.
Chapter Six – Sleet
Nora dragged her fingertips across the rows of CDs, taking into account each of the embossed titles. She was searching aimlessly for something to buy, ignoring the stale smell of the shop's air-con.
The music store was practically empty.
The background noise of heavy rain droned on outside, not quite drowned out by the thrumming of a pop-song that was reverberating around the shop. Distantly, Nora could hear the shop's manager arguing with one of his employees about misplaced items, all kept in time to the persistent rhythm of the ticking clock about the tills.
It was far from silent.
Nora's fingers paused suddenly as her eyes glued themselves to a display promoting a popular artist's latest new album. His best yet, the sign proclaimed. But that wasn't what caught Nora's eye. It was the album art.
There, sat on the front cover, was a face that was undeniably her own, devoid of any emotion. The figure in the picture was backdropped by a mob of people, each holding their own, grey umbrella, none of them noticing her. She was dressed in equally grey clothes, but, clutched in her hand, was a yellow umbrella.
The words 'Pathetic Falsities' were written across the bottom in simple sans-serif font.
Nora picked up the album, turning it over in her palm. She found what she was looking for on the back.
Album art by Ryan Smith.
Chapter Seven – Lightning
Nora didn't mind the rain as it splattered down around her. She thought she might even like it as it dripped off of shop roofs and splashed into drains. She didn't care that her hair was wet even if her body was protected by her blue coat.
She just stared, transfixed at the album.
Album art by Ryan Smith.
Beneath her, the wooden bench was soaked through with rain water that was slowly permeating up through her coat and into her jeans, but Nora pushed the uneasy sensation aside.
It was her. As hard as it was to believe, the picture on the front of the album was her. Ryan had drawn her.
And then she began to notice small details about herself she had never even considered. Like how her eyes were the colour of the raining sky. Or how she only ever tucked her hair back behind her left ear. Or just how secretive her secretive smile was.
The picture on the album was more like herself than she was.
A sudden movement in front of her caused Nora too look up, slotting the album back into the polythene shopping back.
And there he was, ever-present yellow umbrella in hand, cheap shoes squeaking in the water, poorly fitting suit hanging off his frame.
"Can I walk you home?" Ryan asked.
Not trusting her voice, Nora nodded.
They walked in their same old silence, Ryan's hand intertwined with her own. Nora led them down the familiar roads, through the hidden cutaways, until they reached a towering town house. Nora stopped outside of the wrought iron gates.
"This is me," Nora said, breaking the quiet. She slowly began to slip her hand out from Ryan's own…
… And then fingers tightened around her own. And Nora found herself spun around, closer to Ryan. And Ryan leant downwards until she could feel his breath on her face. And then he pressed his lips onto her own.
And that was their first kiss, under the yellow canvas of an umbrella, surrounded by the falling rain.
Chapter Eight – Haze
Home smelled like baking.
Even when her father had been alive, Nora had been almost glued to the kitchen. All of her Christmas presents in memory had been cookbooks, ones which were all now lined up dutifully on a shelf in her professional looking kitchen.
When Dad had been alive .. Things had been very much different to now. And yet, to Nora, things were unashamedly still the same.
She still didn't enter his study, where he kept his case files.
She still associated the law courts with her Dad's place of work.
She still refused to forget him.
Nora smiled slightly as she rolled over on her bed, inhaling the lingering smell of yeast from her sheets. Her fingers tangled themselves in the smooth cotton as she spread herself out.
It had been perfect.
Standing on her bedside table was the album.
He was perfect.
Nora Alice Pemberly smiled a private smile to herself.
Chapter Nine – Clear
Three months. Three blissful months.
Nora listened to the sounds of the spoon clinking against the china mug of coffee. Her eyes traced up his arm, from his hand, and to his face, where a pair of earnest hazel eyes stared at her.
Somehow, the noise of the coffee shop was stifling. And so, Nora overrode it with words of her own.
"Do you love me?" she asked.
Ryan paused in his stirring of the coffee. He searched her face briefly.
"Yes," he answered.
Ryan smiled a private smile.
"Since a long time."
The stifling background noise returned, until—
"I love you too."
Epilogue – Overcast
Nora fiddled with the ring on her finger, wondering just how much it had cost Ryan. Whilst money wasn't an issue for her due to the hefty inheritance she had received, Nora knew that what Ryan had, he had because he had earned it. And it was one big diamond.
"Is that all?" the shopkeeper asked her, jolting her out of her thoughts.
"Yeah," she said, collecting the bag from the till and handing the shopkeeper a ten pound note.
"Say," the shopkeeper said conversationally, digging out some change. "You look familiar. Have I seen you before?"
"You must be mistaken," Nora said.
With that, she left the shop.
Outside, it was raining.
Nora smiled despite the bad weather, watching the throngs of people before her battle it out against the elements, each hurrying to stick to their own strict schedule. She loved the rain. The rain reminded her of Ryan and, well, Ryan was … far from perfect like she'd first thought, but he was…
That's when she saw it.
A navy-blue waterproof stood still amongst the mass of movement. A face focused on a figure on the steps to the magistrate courts.
Nora began to walk towards the waterproof, closing her umbrella.
She tapped him on the shoulder.
A young man turned around to face her, not without his eyes flickering over to the figure on the steps.
"Can I help you?" he asked politely.
Nora held out her umbrella.
"She looks like she needs it," she said, nodding towards the girl on the steps.
Suspicious, the young man took the umbrella off Nora.
"Why don't you go give it to her yourself?" he asked.
"Somehow, I think you'd be better."
And like that, Nora walked away, leaving the young man alone in the mass of people, staring down at the umbrella in his hands. Then, he opened it, stretching the bright blue canvas above his head and walked towards the figure on the steps.
© Copyright 2013 Mari Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
AN: Does it rain that often in the south of England? Yes. Truly? It depends… There was snow in march this year (what foul witchcraft is this?) so the weather's doing what it likes at the moment. If any of you didn't notice, the title and the album name are a play on 'pathetic fallacy'. I started this ages ago, but finally added around 2,000 words to it as a present for the midge. Enjoy, my dear cousin!