Author's note: The last chapter! I am sad that it's ending, but it was only ever intended to be a little side project to distract me from revision. You guys have definitely inspired me to write more stories like this one though, so watch this space!
It was Sunday afternoon again, a week after I'd met Joe—although meet implies two people purposefully coming together, something mutual, which him appearing at my window most certainly wasn't. I lay on my bed and nursed myself with a cup of tea, and this time, my blinds were firmly closed. There were large bags under my eyes from several nights of fitful sleep, and the same thoughts had been churning through my mind ever since I'd got back from church that morning.
Treat strangers with kindness, even though you owe them nothing. Never turn anyone away, or make him feel unwanted. That had been the day's message, and I'd sat and listened to it with my hands clasped and my eyes pointed towards the ground. I was full of guilt over the way I'd treated Joe; I'd turned him away, and I'd without doubt made him feel unwanted. Goodness knows how much money he'd spent on that limo, and I'd thrown it all back in his face. His shocked and hurt face, with those annoying puppy dog eyes that had been haunting me for days. My only consolation was that Danielle had forgiven me my disappearing act, and had even sympathized with me over my encounter with BLT. I may have had a guilty conscience, but at least I still had a job.
Of course, when a stranger poses a threat to you, you have to draw the line. But if someone is acting harmlessly, then you have no reason not to treat them with love and empathy. Of course, BLT had been a threat, but had Joe? He hadn't, not once.
I rested my head against the headboard and closed my eyes in despair. What had I done? He was obviously hurt, since he hadn't turned up at my house with one of his ridiculous props for several days. In a way, I missed it, and every now and then I would glance out of my window and hope he would be there with a forgiving smile on his face, as if nothing had happened. He never was. As I lay there, I decided that he was probably at some other girl's house at that very moment, and that they were probably talking and laughing and getting on brilliantly together. Well, why should I care? I said to myself. No, I don't care about that at all.
The ring of my phone brought a welcome distraction from my inner turmoil. It was my friend Rachel, who I hadn't seen in several weeks.
"Do you want to come round mine for the evening?" she asked. "I'm having a few friends round. You know, drinks and catch-ups, just a relaxing little get-together. You up for it?"
"Rach, you have no idea how much I need that. When can I come round?"
"Wow, you sound like you've got some serious unwinding to do. Come round any time you like."
She was right: I did need to unwind. I slung a few things in my bag, touched up my hair and make-up, and left the house straight away. For a few hours, I could be surrounded by friends, and I could wipe my mind clean of all the events of the past few days. No more BLT, no more guilt, and most importantly, no more Joe.
When I pulled up outside my house a few hours later, my eyes widened in horror, and my newfound good spirits evaporated in an instant. I leapt out of my car, clattered up the driveway in my heels, and then stopped in the middle and looked around me, frozen stiff and utterly speechless.
Every single one of my windows was shattered. Gaping, jagged holes yawned at me from between the frames, and the cement driveway sparkled with a layer of broken glass, like the fresh frost of a winter morning. I walked forward, closer to the destruction, and the shards crunched underneath my heels. I peered into the darkness of the living room, and saw several bricks lying amongst the piles of glass on the carpet.
All I could do was wrap my arms around myself and shiver. I hadn't thought anyone hated me enough to do this, and I didn't understand why my neighbours hadn't stopped it, either. Surely Mrs. Gove had been watching, as she always did; even now, I don't understand why she didn't call the police. I can only guess that some people don't feel they have a responsibility to look out for the people they live amongst—those people whom the word community is lost to.
As I stood, stared, and shivered, a voice rang out into the cool night air, startling me.
"I guess I'm out of business. I'd clean your windows, but it doesn't look like you've got any left to clean."
My mouth dropped open. It was the only part of my body I felt like I could move, since I was paralysed with anger, disbelief and confusion. Why would he do this? Why?
Eventually, I managed to force out some words, but they were stilted, trembling with the anger I was trying so hard to conceal.
"Joe, you've gone too far." I clenched and unclenched my fists, then took a deep breath to stop my voice from rising. "This—this isn't funny, Joe…"
I couldn't comprehend it. Yes, I understood that I'd made him feel small by refusing to go along with his games. But I'd been upset, and I'd had a good reason to be upset. Nothing justified Joe to do this.
The shadows that weaved around my front porch began to stir, and then a figure unfurled and rose from the palette of black hues. Silently, Joe stepped forward into the pearly moonlight, and I received my second shock of the night.
His face was a mess. His skin was dappled with bruises, one of his eyes swollen half-shut and surrounded by a mighty ring of purple. A graze, which still glistened with blood, ran down one of his cheeks, and even more blood was gathered in the corner of his lip, which was split and puffy.
"Yeah," he said when he saw my expression. "The bodyguarding business didn't go too well, either."
I stepped towards him. "What—what happened?" I tried to say, though my breath caught in my throat and it came out as more of a whisper.
He looked at me sheepishly and shrugged. Then, he dabbed the corner of his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket, and peered down with an unmoved expression at the expanding spot of blood deposited there.
Instinctively, I stepped a little closer and touched his cheek lightly. He winced, and I snapped my hand back with a blush.
"Who did this?" I demanded. "Why are you here? What's going on?"
Joe stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Big guy," he said. "Not much hair. Brought a couple of his mates with him. None of them were very friendly, but you probably guessed that bit."
I buried my face in my cold palms as it all became obvious to me. "BLT," I groaned.
"I don't think now's the best time to be thinking about food, Rosie!" Joe said.
I jerked my head up. "No!" I snapped. "A man at the café, where I work—BLT! I…well, I rejected his, er—advances. With force. And he wasn't very happy." At the memory of him blocking the end of the alleyway, I felt my eyes well up. "And he knew where I live…he still does…"
Joe stared at me. "Oh," he said.
I dabbed at my eyes and sniffled. I was determined not to cry in front of him. "You never answered my other question," I said, trying my best to sound composed. "Why are you here?"
There was a long pause before he eventually spoke. "I came to say sorry," he said, and then looked at his feet. "For, er—stalking you, as you put it. I was just…" His words trailed off, and another wave of guilt consumed me. "When I came, they were already here. I tried to stop them, but—well, you know what happened next. So I…I ran away, and then I came back when they were gone. And I waited for you. I'm sorry—"
"Don't say sorry!" I cut in.
After this, neither of us knew what to say. We stood, the night's silence stretching out between us, and just stared at each other. Then, it hit me exactly what he'd done. What he'd done for me, even though he hardly knew me. What he'd done in spite of the fact I'd rejected him.
"Joe," I sobbed, and before I could stop myself I had stumbled forward and thrown my arms around his neck and buried my head into his shoulder, and I was squeezing him as hard as I could.
"Ouch!" he cried. "Bruises!"
I pulled away and muttered an embarrassed apology, immediately regretting my sudden burst of emotion. We both stared at our feet as if we were having a conversation with them rather than with each other.
"The house might be a bit cold," I said quietly, when the silence became intensely awkward, "for—for obvious reasons. But, do you want to come in? I mean, just for a bit…for tea, or something…"
I looked up to see Joe smiling at me. His expression looked even funnier than usual, with one eye forced into a squint and his swollen lip distorting his smile, and I couldn't help but laugh.
"Why not?" he said warmly. "Tea solves everything."
The next day, I stood in the living room and watched as Joe—clad once again in his prized overalls—hammered the last piece of chipboard over my smashed windows, so that the room was dipped into soft grey light. When he was finished, he placed his hammer on the sill, stepped backwards, and looked his handiwork up and down with pride.
"See?" he said, beaming. "I am useful for some things."
I placed his mug of tea down next to the hammer. "You've earned it," I said, and smiled over my shoulder at him. I'd discovered that if I gave Joe a chance, he acted far less annoying, and I actually enjoyed his company.
He brushed down his overalls. "Cheers, M'am," he chirped.
I turned to face him, and inclined my head to one side. "Hey, can I do something?" I asked.
My question took him aback, and he raised his eyebrows. "Well, you do things quite often, Rosie, and I haven't complained yet."
"Fine. Can I to something to you?"
"As long as it doesn't involve pain, then go ahead!"
I grinned. Finally, it was my chance to satisfy that overwhelming urge I'd had since the very first time I'd seen him. I reached out a hand and, relishing every moment, patted him on the head. His hair was just as soft and fluffy as I'd expected it to be, and I sunk my fingers in with pleasure.
When I finally removed my hand, Joe frowned and looked up at his hair, which was now ruffled across his forehead in a rather adorable fashion. "Why did you want to do that?" he said, bemused.
"Because!" I exclaimed. "You're like…a little baby chick, or something!" I clapped my hands together, delighted with how appropriate this simile was. He was exactly like a fluffy little chick.
Joe laughed. "Fair enough," he said. He looked at me for a moment, deep in thought, and then his face lit up. "Hey, is it my turn now?"
"To do something?"
I shrugged. "I suppose so," I replied, unable to think of anything that he might have an overwhelming urge to do to me.
It certainly never crossed my mind that he would lean forward and kiss me. But that's exactly what he did.
So that's the full story of how Joe and I met. But when people ask me how it happened, I don't launch into all of that. I give them the short version. "He was my window cleaner," I tell them.
And when I tell them that, they usually raise their eyebrows, and say something like, "Oh, really?" or, "Well, isn't that strange!" or sometimes they will say, "My, you find love in strange places, don't you?"
That last comment always makes me smile, because it's so true. "Yes," I reply, and I picture those blue overalls and that yellow cloth appearing in my window, and I laugh to myself. "Yes. You certainly do."
Thank you for reading! You are all awesome. I think I might just take a little break from writing now and review instead, so if you've got anything you want reviewing, let me know!