Well, do you? I know I remember him.
I’ve been wanting to get a new story out for a while now, but since the competition excitement and book drama took up so much of my time over the last few weeks (If you missed it, you can follow/ catch up here), it’s only now I’ve had the ability find out what happened to George, so this tale is 100% fresh off the creative chopping block.
And I’ll be honest with you. I fell in love with George the first time I met him; his slightly scruffy brown hair, innocent face, gentle eyes and long elegant fingers that still managed to fumble over tying a ribbon into a bow…but that day—the day I met him—was also the last time I ever saw him, and I have my suspicious as to why…
Does anyone remember George? J R Manawa
George pushed his glasses up on his nose and stuffed his hands in his pockets to stop them from trembling. It had been a horrible day. ‘First day nerves,’ he knew his mother would say, and wave off his concerns. That was if he bothered to voice them to her, which he never did so he couldn’t imagine why he would start now. Most of all he’d been glad to get the ridiculous suit off. He’d only worn a suit once before, and that was at his mother’s behest to a family funeral. Now he was expected to wear one everyday, a suit with a waist coat and tails no less. He wasn’t really sure what to make of it all.
His new job was manning the sweets counter at one of the most reputable department stores in London—the kind of store that was so much of an institution it would require you to wear a suit with tails to work every day. He wasn’t even allowed to take the suit home. Every evening it was to be hung up on a coat rail with his name labelled on the hanger, and every day off he was to tuck it into a crisp white laundry bag and pop it in the chute for dry cleaning.
His hands were still trembling. It wasn’t even cold. His second to last customers had been two girls in summer dresses, one in black and one full of colour. He’d maintained the polite formula of his rigorous week of training when he addressed them,”What can I get for you?” He forgot to say ‘ma’am’ or ‘ladies’ because he wasn’t sure which he should have used, and he’d never referred to a girl or a woman as a ‘lady’ in real life, it was old-fashioned and proper. Too proper, really.
“We’re still figuring that out, but thanks,” the girl in the black dress said.
“Ooh, chocolate orange, I want that one,” said the short girl in the colourful dress.
“Wait, let’s look over here first,” the other dragged her away.
George went back to placing the new delivery of pralines carefully on the tray, just the way he’d been shown. Four across, perfect rows, tip of the hearts facing forward. It was boring, methodical work but he was anxious to get it perfect, because Eileen would notice even if they were only a hair out of line. His line manager took the meaning of perfection to a whole new level. He looked up to see if she was watching him, but found himself staring straight into the eyes of the girl in the black dress instead. She and her friend had come back. He blushed, wondering how long they had been staring at him and waiting. Eileen had told him earlier that he needed to be better aware of what was going on around him. “Oh, you made a decision?” he presumed. The words sounded awkward as soon as they came off his tongue. Actually, his tongue felt dry. He’d never been much of a people-person.
“Chocolate orange, please,” said the other girl, beside her.
“Yes ok,” he agreed, looking between them both, “anything else?”
“White chocolate champagne,” the girl in black told him, with a grin that was somehow rather cheeky. He could feel his cheeks getting redder.
“And macaroons too!” said the girl in the brightly coloured dress. She pointed out the ones they wanted.
“Do you want them in a box?” George asked, and then coughed as he corrected himself, “Would you like them gift wrapped in a box?”
“Ooh, yes,” she said.
“Uh, okay, I’ll wrap them then,” he said, stammering awkwardly, stating the obvious.
He stumbled about fitting the macaroons into a box and began the laborious task of tying a perfect bow in the ribbon whilst the two girls watched on.
“Are you going to be long, mate?”
He looked up. A bald man with a craggy chin had moved in to watch his gift wrapping.
“I need some chocolates. For the wife,” the man said.
George looked around, but Eileen was nowhere to be seen.
“I’m in a rush, mate,”
“Alright mate, give him a moment to finish wrapping our chocolates, yeah?” said the small girl in the brightly coloured summer dress.
The man looked in surprise from the girl back to George. “Well hurry up then. Don’t just stand there,” he drummed his knuckles on the glass counter top.
George felt his right eye twitch. He was going to have to clean the glass again.
Eileen reappeared. She’d counted up all the registers except the one George was using, so she added a fourth set of impatient eyes that watched his efforts, but finally he had it perfect. He even snipped the ends into that triangle shape that people seemed to like, the hallmark of a well-wrapped present. He adjusted his glasses back up onto the bridge of his nose, placed the little box into a paper bag, and handed it over.
“None of that poncy wrapping for me, just get it in a bag and get me out of here,” the craggy-chinned man ordered as the two girls walked away.
The tongs slipped in George’s hands as he fumbled, and two of the heart shaped pralines fell to the ground.
“Bet they make you pay for that,” the man said with a smirk.
George looked up at him, but didn’t say anything. He picked up a fresh pair of hearts and slipped them into the cellophane bag as Eileen rung them up and took the final payment.
“Give me a ribbon though, around the top, yeah? That’ll keep her happy,” the man said suddenly, “make it a red one,” he added.
This time George hadn’t the nerve to tie the bow well, his hands were shaking so much. Eileen finally took over and shooed him out the way. Once the man was gone, she gave him an earful about spending too long wrapping boxes of sweets for pretty girls. He listened mutely, and then walked away when he was finally excused. Though George wouldn’t have known how to express it, he was annoyed with himself for not standing up to the man, or to Eileen. It was only his second time tying a stupid bow, aside from his shoelaces. There should have been some kind of allowance for that.
As he walked away from the building he engaged in a private re-enactment of the conversation in his mind, in which he told the impatient man that he was rather rude and that it didn’t cost anything to be polite, and he told Eileen that she was unfair in her judgement of him and his efforts to do his best on the job. In his mind, the customer apologised, and so did Eileen. They were both sorry for their behaviour, given the strong debate he had proposed.
By the time he pulled himself out of the pretend debate, he’d looked up to realise he was already halfway through Green Park on his way to Victoria Station. His mother was constantly chiding him for being unaware of his surroundings, and this was no exception. After dark he would normally have avoided cutting through an inner London park, and Green Park was always exceptional creepy after the sun set. With no walls or rails to shut the park, it was open all hours, and George suspected an array of disturbing things to be lurking in the darkness behind the trees.
He looked left and right, but there was nothing to see, and nothing moving except for the slowly undulating fog that was welling up from the ground around his feet. In the changeover between summer and autumn, London was always unpredictable. Sweating hot days followed by crisp, foggy evenings were nothing out of the ordinary. George shifted his glasses and jammed his shivering hands back into the depths of his hoodie pocket before looking down at the ground and moving on. He was halfway through the park now, so he certainly wasn’t about to go back and get the bus like a lazy sissy. In the back of his mind he could hear how the kids at his school would have reacted if they’d known his fear of the park after dark.
“Hey Georgie, run home to mummy now,”
“Don’t let the monsters under the bed get you either,”
“Hey Georgie, better watch your feet incase you fall in the dark—”
George rubbed his wrist. He hadn’t fallen in the dark, they had pushed him when they found him outside of school alone one evening when he was nine. He’d broken his wrist as a result, and his mum had never let him out of her sight away from the school grounds again, which had only increased the bullying during his school hours.
“Hey Georgie, the monsters are watching you—”
“Georgie, can you catch this ball? Or is that your weak wrist?”
George jumped. For a moment he thought he had seen a set of eyes in the dark, but it was just the reflection of his own against the inside of his glasses as he passed under the flickering lamp post. He sighed and continued on. Green park wasn’t so green after dark, in fact it was almost pitch black save for a singular bulb in a lamp every thirty yards or so. But he was making good progress, and was almost out the other side. He could see the war memorials of Hyde Park corner, Wellington Arch and the street lights looming out of the mist up ahead.
George spun flat on his heels.
“I, I didn’t see you there,” he stammered in surprise at the girl who stood a few metres behind him.
“I didn’t think you would,” she agreed. She didn’t move.
She just stood in the centre of the path.
“I was just thinking about getting out of the dark,” George admitted, trying to be friendly. She didn’t move.
She just stood in the centre of the path.
Right where he’d been standing seconds earlier.
Except there was an odd little thought in the back of his brain. A mere consideration that he’d been on that spot only a moment ago. She hadn’t the time to move there, had she?
He turned to face her fully, the street lights and the road behind him, the darkness of the park before him.
Something didn’t add up. He pushed his glasses back up on his nose, but the girl’s face was still in shadow.
And the light was behind him.
She just stood in the centre of the path. And she looked right at him.
George twisted his fingers together in the pocket of his hoodie.
“Are you looking for Buckingham Palace? It’s that way,” he pulled his arm out and pointed. Most people lost in London around this particular area tended to be looking for Buckingham Palace. Even if it was eleven o’clock at night.
She shook her head.
“Piccadilly Circus is back that way,” he suggested, pointing behind her.
She shook her head.
“Well how can I help you then?” he asked after a moments silence. His customer service training had kicked in and the question seemed overly polite given that their conversation was taking place in a dark park late at night.
“I’m hungry,” she admitted.
The fog caught in a sudden spat of wind that curled up the leg of George’s trousers and sent a shiver through his body, twisting up his spine.
“Do you speak English?” he asked, a little unsure.
“You are so cold already,” she said with a slight tilt of her head. It wasn’t a reply, but her English was clearly defined with a North London accent.
“Already? Hah,” he laughed, “Well, it is night, and London summers never really last—“ he took a step back. She was getting closer and it made him feel uncomfortable.
“There’s a McDonald’s that way,” he pointed. “Who are you out here with anyway?”
“At the moment it’s just me,” she came closer again. “Aren’t you hungry?” she asked.
George swallowed. He took another a step back. Her dress was ripped low down her front, and the ill-fitted coat she wore hung off her shoulders, revealing more of her smooth white skin than was decent for the weather. The word ‘hungry’ bounced around in his mind, making him feel like an eight year old who’d stolen his father’s copy of FHM magazine and was considering what he thought of the large breasted, scantily clad woman on the cover before he opened to the first page. He felt dirty the moment his mind took him there. The girl before him was clearly in distress. Seeing her better now she was close, he filled his head with thoughts of concern as to why her dress was ripped, and why she was wearing clothing that clearly wasn’t her own.
But, she was very beautiful. Without a doubt.
He wouldn’t have called her pretty though. Maybe she once had been, but the beauty George summed up from the whole of her was something arcane—the tumble of dark auburn hair, falling in a mess over the thinness of her frame, narrow shoulders, perfectly curved hips. He quickly switched his eyes back up to her face. The apples in her high cheek bones, her pointed chin, her strong dark eyebrows and green shattered-glass eyes. He took a step back, realising that being close enough to notice the unique colouration and lines inside her pupils through the darkness of the night was definitely far too close to be.
She didn’t blink. She watched him.
Like a cat.
Watches a mouse.
Her pale pink lips burst into a smile so fast through the darkness that his heart jumped and bounced off the walls inside his rib cage. He whipped his left hand out of his pocket and clutched it to his chest. His mother always worried about his weak heart.
“I-I-I’m not hungry,” George stammered.
He didn’t like that she frowned. He felt, pain? Because of it. Because of her frown. He rubbed his fist over his heart.
“All men hunger,” she whispered, in a voice as crisp as the wind.
George laughed, “That’s how come I know where McDonalds is,” he agreed. He didn’t feel like joking particularly, but it seemed a good and safe statement to make.
“All men thirst,” she pulled at the front of her dress.
“No, no. Don’t do that!” George put his arms out suddenly and blocked the view of her. He hadn’t for a moment though she was that kind of lady, but—
“My name is Starlet Fey,” she said, in a voice that purred with the warmth of a lioness, singing confusion to George’s ears for how it clashed against the brittle cold in her eyes.
“I, I don’t do that,” George turned away.
Her fingers were on his cheek and neck, feather soft, granite hard, turning him back to face her.
This close, she was almost taller than him, but George barely registered this for the chill of her fingers and the power of her grip as she pulled his face to her. She pressed her lips against his mouth and the sharpness of her teeth against the flesh of his lip made him tremble even more.
It was sweet. And the blood was bitter.
“George—” she smiled at him through the redness of her lips, calling his name from some unknown place of knowledge.
He blinked, several times, and she straightened his glasses for him with the tip of her index finger.
She didn’t stop smiling as she turned and lifted her chin toward his ear, “Don’t worry George, this is the endless night,” she whispered.
George will be back. In the meantime, you can learn about the night Starlet Fey was born here