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 The Only Thing That Counts

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: The Only Thing That Counts   Sun Oct 15, 2017 6:52 pm

Chapter 13   Church            

 

“I can’t believe I’m going to church in jeans,” was Kelly’s first comment as Steve held open the mesh door for her, as she exited her small unit. It was promising to be a warm day and Kelly looked fresh and relaxed in blue jeans, light blue open neck, long sleeve shirt with a snug mauve tee shirt over top.

“Hi.... It’s me,” Steve said good-humouredly, pretending to be put out by her greeting.

“Oh sorry, hi Steve,” she replied and gave him a peck on the cheek, smiling airily as she passed to get into the car.

He walked behind her smelling her beguiling, subtle perfume. He opened the car door flustered by her allure. She turned spontaneously and hugged him, “Thanks for doing this,” she said quietly, her softness lingering against him.

When he got in she continued on her previous tack, “About the jeans, it’s just that I used to go to church when I was a kid and it was very formal and stuffy.”

“Well it’s supposed to be more about what’s going on inside you, besides you look fine.” Registering her slight down cast expression he already knew he’d made a poor start. “I mean you look fine for church, and you really look great,” which, he felt, they both knew she did.

Kelly smiled, “Passable save… and you look okay too,” she added with a smirk.

            Uncomfortable at her gaze, Steve started the car and headed off, furiously trying to think of what to say next. She was quite beautiful with shortish blond hair framing her attractive, lightly tanned face.

“So, what was church like as a child?” he asked, glad he’d stumbled onto a topic.

“Boring, very formal, lots of rituals and I must admit I didn’t get much out of it.”

“So, why do you want to come to church?” Steve uttered, wincing at his own ineptitude.

“Hey! Aren’t you supposed to be encouraging me?” Kelly gave him a soft punch in the arm and he grinned, relaxing a little.

“Sorry. You’re right, and hopefully you’ll find our church different to that. I mean, if anything it should be interesting and relevant, but I should leave it for you to judge. Ultimately it’s meant to be about God. I guess we just get in the way some times… as I’ve recently discovered.” Steve’s voice trailed off as his thoughts were retracing his last few days.

“I think it’s the ‘God thing’ that I’m having trouble dealing with. I don’t know if I can believe it,” she said candidly and then looking up realised that she didn’t have an audience. Kelly watched him for a while as he was absorbed in his thoughts.

            Finally Steve came back to the present. “Sorry, what did you say?”

Kelly repeated her comment expecting him to latch onto her opening with proselytizing zeal. Instead he merely answered, “That’s the whole thing, isn’t it?” and left it at that.

 

            Later, as they neared the church, he glanced across at Kelly and was struck again by her beauty, even though she had a preoccupied expression on her face. “You should meet some of my friends from work, they’re a great bunch,” he began.

“Oh good, so I’ll find out all about you,” she teased, her look brightening. Then she added, “Actually, I sort of met some already. I dropped by yesterday.” Steve appreciated her honesty, but thinking ahead he was already imagining reactions from the others. Unexpectedly, he was concerned about Jodie, remembering her cool response to him previously.

            Inside the church, Steve was aware of the interested glances in his direction. ‘Turning up at church with a lovely lady always sets some tongues wagging,’ he thought.

Kelly and he sat near the back. A slow scan around the congregation located his brother and Fiona, Caz and her husband Kevin, Angela was with Jeff, she turned and gave him a knowing wink just as he felt Kelly’s hand on his knee. He turned startled.

“Who’s the girl over there checking us out?” asked Kelly motioning toward the front. Steve followed her gaze and saw Jodie next to her parents Rob and Felicity while Jimmy was beside her grinning back at him. Jodie had just turned away.

“She’s very pretty. …A girlfriend?” she whispered inquisitively.

“She works at Sunrise Nursery with me,” he replied noncommittally as she studied his face. 

            They didn’t speak any more as the service had begun. The guest speaker’s topic was ‘Who is Jesus?’ While Steve listened haphazardly, distracted by his thoughts about his next step of securing a sample of the virus, Kelly quietly weighed the words of the preacher.

            At the conclusion of the service Caz and Angela introduced themselves to Kelly, and Steve excused himself to speak in confidence with his brother John. What passed between them plotted their proposed course for the next few days.

            Soon after, he and John finished their discussion and by steadily moving to the doorway Kelly and he managed to avoid encountering many greetings. As they walked to the car they became aware that it was turning into a hot day. Stifling heat rushed at them as they opened the car doors. Once inside and driving, Steve had a sidelong glance at the girl whose presence contorted his mind with doubt. Kelly was deep in thought for the first part of the journey, so they drove in relative silence.

            When she finally broke their reverie her comments had a forced lightness. She asked whether they could meet the next day, and he had to explain that he was going away for a time. Her inquisitiveness was quelled by Steve’s insistence that it was a personal matter, ‘just something he had to deal with’, he had said.

            Her disappointment affected him and he wanted to assuage the growing coolness between them by confiding with her and being totally transparent. But he couldn’t. The nagging uncertainty about her constrained him.

 

            At her flat Kelly got out of the car, “I’ll tell you what, why don’t you come inside and I’ll make us some coffee.”

“Sure,” Steve replied and looked past Kelly at the fairly compact unit. A surprising wave of warm air met them outside the car. They entered a large living area with sofa, armchairs and a daybed. Adjoining it was an open plan kitchen and dining area next to a small laundry. On the opposite side of the living room was a bedroom and a bathroom.       Kelly excused herself and changed into something cooler. While she was out he picked up a newspaper and flicked through it. Coming back inside the living area Kelly flopped down onto the daybed. She was wearing light blue jeans with a white halter top. He appreciated her short, sandy-blond hair brushed back. She had blue eyes, but unlike Jodie hers were a soft, pale shade. She had a generous mouth with an enticing smile.

Kelly looked very appealing gazing up at him.

“You know Steve you could come and sit here and tell me more about yourself. We could get to know each other a bit better.”

            There was a painful silence before Steve cleared his throat, “Ah, I don’t think that’s a wise thing to do.” He struggled to be clear. “I’m sorry Kelly, I should go,” he apologised uncomfortably. He was about to leave when Kelly, a little shamefaced for trying to use her charms and take advantage of him, murmured an apology and insisted that he stay for his drink.

            As she sipped her coffee at a small table she suddenly took a different line of questioning and blurted directly, “So what’s going on Stephen?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re involved with a fire, someone tries to kill you in an explosion, you’re rushing around and no-one knows where you are. Why can’t you tell me?”

He felt like saying ‘I hardly know you’, but resisted. “Kelly…” Steve paused, “These are dangerous people and I don’t want to put you at risk when I’m not sure myself what can be done. I’m sure there will be a story in it for you when it’s all over.”

“Is that what you think? That I’m just after a story? I thought you knew how I felt. I want to help.” She stiffened slightly and her lips trembled a little. Steve didn’t know what to do. He was always awkward with women, and emotional women particularly disturbed him. He took Kelly’s small hand in his.

“Kelly, I can’t endanger other people. I know you want to help, but for now it’s best that I try and work this out.”

“I know people in America. If you tell me what’s needed they may be able to help.”

“I’ll remember that,” said Steve thoughtfully. He wanted to know why she was so interested in him and in what he was doing. So he asked Kelly about her family and then he asked a little about her life in America and her work as a reporter. Some of the answers didn’t ring true. Why couldn’t she name the particular newspapers she worked with, even though she said she freelanced? Vague answers about her father working for the government hardly bolstered his confidence in her.

            Kelly’s comments were very general. Her hazy recollection of a few minor articles in regional newspapers stirred some disquiet in him. She had opened him up with her breezy forthright manner; and her allure. He felt more vulnerable now and he had said more than he had intended, so he thanked her for the coffee and rose to leave. Kelly apologised again for her familiarity. “I’m sorry Steve, I guess I looked into those blue eyes of yours and I couldn’t help myself. Look, here’s my number,” she continued, scribbling on a small card. “Give me a call when you feel like telling me what’s really happening.” She sounded a little bitter. Kelly gave her number to Steve and was there touching his hand as she gazed at him. She seemed indecisive, as if there was something else she felt but didn’t say.

“Thanks.” Steve took the piece of paper and then walked to the door. Kelly followed and let him out, continuing to appear uncertain.

             As he drove away he thought how she was showing more than considerable attention to him. And how, originally, that was what made him suspicious of her. But now he was confused and conflicting thoughts harried his mind. He was not used to such a blatant pursuit for his affections. Did he like her more than he should? Was it all innocent infatuation, or had it progressed now to somehow begin to satisfy the vacuum of ‘love’ in his life? He was taken by her beauty and he knew her interest in him flattered his ego, but if his hazy hesitation about her were correct, she could lead him into even more danger. Previously, he was going to use her or this suspicion somehow to advantage, but now he was unsure. She could be genuine. Maybe he wanted her to be genuine.

            He turned on the radio and adjusted the air-conditioning before considering what to do next. Maybe he could drop in on John and Fiona for lunch. He paused and thought better of it. He would get his own lunch and stay away from his family if at all possible.

Steve didn’t notice the dark four-wheel drive tailing him at a distance.
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