The light was fading by the time Jack made it back to the town square, the unfamiliar shapes of the medieval structures now draped in a romantic glow from the lights of the hotels and restaurants. He stopped to fully appreciate the fairy tale scene. It was incredible to think that everything he saw had been rebuilt since the war. He shivered, and his hands came from his pockets to turn up the collar of his coat in an attempt to keep his neck warm. Spotting the sign of his hotel he headed towards its promise of warmth and food.
The detour to Ypres had been one of the more whimsical things he had ever done, and yet it had seemed fitting that, before embarking on a new adventure with Miss Fisher, he should close the door on the adventure that had been defining him since 1918. And so, stepping off the boat in France he had sent a telegram rather enigmatically referring to a desire to say farewell to old friends and providing a date a week later than his original arrival. He assumed she would realise he was not referring to a bevy of ex-lovers.
He had spent the day searching grassy fields for landmarks, trying to recall the layout of trenches he had once known like the back of his hand… it had been surprisingly unfulfilling and the only thing he had really felt was the cold. Although, even that had not been how he remembered it, lacking as it did mud, stench and the constant sound of gunfire. An hour or so ago it had finally dawned on him that he was wasting his time.
And now, more than ever, he longed to be with her. To have her hold him, make love to him, to share with him the open, honest excitement with which she greeted each day. As he stepped through the door of the hotel to the tinkle of a bell he understood that, though the journey had not given him the ending he had anticipated, it had been an end. Tomorrow morning he would catch the train back to Calais and head on to London; there was nothing here for him. Not here or in any other field in which the remains of so many young friends lay mouldering. Their time was past and he owed it to them to live each day to the full. It was, he thought, time to take his own advice.
He removed his hat and coat, gratefully placing them into the waiting hands of the proprietor, who had bustled up to meet him and was doing double service as welcoming committee and barman for the hotel restaurant. The dark haired, swarthy man in black trousers and waistcoat, with white shirt, gave a wide smile and said something in Flemish which Jack, from his gesticulations, took as an enquiry whether he would be dining. His polite nod resulted in him being led to a square wooden table by the windows. Glancing around, Jack assessed his fellow diners: an elderly couple, a group of four young men that could have been students and another solitary man like himself.
A young dark haired woman, also endowed with a swarthy complexion but a great deal more attractive than the proprietor, minced her way towards him, a bottle of red wine held suggestively in front of her ample bosom. She smiled, flashing even white teeth as her hazel coloured eyes crinkled at the sides. Her voice, when she spoke, was a calm mid tone that he found pleasing, though once again he was required to make an educated guess as to her meaning. The meal of the evening he discerned was pork of some sort, or perhaps chicken; he had been slightly distracted by the need to place his hand over the wine glass to stop her filling it.
She spoke again, no doubt asking what his preferred drink would be. Something in the way he gazed vacantly at her for a moment before recalling that beer was bieres in Flemish resulted in her asking, “Engelse?”
Jack shook his head, “Australian.”
She smiled, “Een momentje alsjeblieft,” and headed back to the bar. A conversation ensued between her and the man Jack thought was likely her father. He heard the word ‘Aussie,’ and saw the man nod, turn to grab a sizable glass and hold it under one of the ornate beer taps. Jack’s mouth moved into a crooked smile.
The woman, who Jack considered to be immensely good at her job, walked back and placed the glass proudly in front of him.
‘Good day, mate,’ she said.
His hand encircled the cold glass. ‘G’day,’ he replied. Stifling a giggle, she withdrew to allow him to enjoy his beverage. His eyes lingered on her retreating form - she was, in Shakespearean terms, ‘a comely wench’ and in other circumstances he may have been tempted to flirt, maybe even take it further if she wanted, but he had never been a man for dalliances once his affections were engaged.
The tinkle of a bell told him another guest had come in from the cold.
‘G’day, Alec, Michelle. Make mine large and cold, mate.’
Jack, sipping from his beer, looked up at the familiar accent to see a tall, broad shouldered man around his own age. He was dressed in a manner that suggested to Jack that he had been in Europe for a very long time. Before Jack could decide whether to make himself known, his identity was disclosed by the proprietor who, holding out a matching glass of amber gold, pointed at him with the accompanying statement of, ‘Aussie.’
The glass was taken possession of and the man leaned back against the bar. A deep sip was taken before the glass was held up in salutation, “G’day,” he said.
Jack gave a nod in acknowledgement.
He looked at the empty chair beside Jack, “Do ya mind?”
Jack tilted his head encouragingly, surprised to find how much he would welcome the company. Before he left the bar the man spoke in fluent Flemish to the young woman, probably arranging his meal, though the way her eyes danced and the sassy manner in which she replied made it clear she would be open to a far more intimate conversation.
When, to her obvious disappointment, the conversation was over, Jack nudged the chair beside him with his foot as further invitation.
“Cheers, mate,” said the man as he sank into it. “So what's the good oil from back home?”
Jack shrugged, “She’s been a long dry summer, Phar Lap went down in the Cup and Collingwood won the Grand Final.”
The man took out a pack of cigarettes, holding them out to Jack, who declined. He shook one free, held the pack to his mouth to catch it, cupping the end with his hand as he lit it, a habit born of years protecting the match from biting wind and snipers. He took a deep draught of the ciggie and, as he exhaled he nodded at Jack, “Melbourne boy, yeah?”
“Born and bred within sight and smell of the Yarra,” Jack responded.
The man snorted, “I ain’t seen that muddy creek since 1914.”
Jack let his breath whistle out through his teeth. “That’s a long time, cobber.”
The man took another drink. “It is. Tell me, how’s Richmond been going in the comp and who hobbled the horse?” And so they sat, drank, ate and spoke sports, as men do the world over.
Michelle ran back and forth, eager to keep their glasses full and their conversation flowing. She appreciated the contrast of the lean attractive stranger with his impeccable suit and hair against the heftier familiarity of the sandy tousled hair of the freckled man and the deep boom of their laughter. Each time she brought them drinks she stayed longer and longer until she finally took the chair they kept offering.
Jack wondered at the relationship between them until, when she went to replenish their drinks again, the man leaned in conspiratorially to say, “She’s a good ‘un, too good for the likes of me but she’s her own woman and I see the looks she's been throwing ya. If you ask, she won't say no.”
Jack shook his head. “There’s a woman. In England. That’s where I’m headed.”
The man cocked his head, “Michelle ain't gonna tell no tales.”
Jack snorted, “That’s not the point.”
“Ah,” said the man, “you’re in love with ‘er. Does she know?”
Jack shook his head, amused at his own foolishness. “I expect the whole of Melbourne knows.”
The man looked serious. “If you haven’t told her, you should. You can’t be sure otherwise. Ain’t nothing to be gained in keeping your feelings secret, it don’t change them.”
Jack nodded. “True. Sounds like you have experience?”
Rather than answer the man stood, slipping his arm round Michelle’s waist as she returned holding two more beers. Jack jumped up to take them from her before they spilt and she smiled her thanks, laughing as she was spun into an impromptu jig.
“Sing us a song, mate?” called out his new friend.
Jack glanced at the piano in the corner. “I can do better than that.” He looked at the barman, who nodded happily, and so he sat at the instrument and began to play.
Another hour passed pleasantly until the man collapsed panting into a chair facing the piano.
“It’s too much, Michelle, take pity on an old man.”
She said something to him in Flemish and kissed him on the cheek as she caressed his face. Jack watched silently; it was clear where the woman’s affections lay, she was making no attempt to hide her love. The man enclosed her hand in his and brought it to his mouth to kiss it gallantly, shaking his head and replying in her own language. She had a sweet, sad smile on her face as she passed Jack, empty glasses in hand.
Jack let his hands idly wander the piano keys, playing snippets from various songs as the fancy took him. It had been fun, but he felt the night was drawing to a natural conclusion. When he glanced up the man was staring at him. Jack stopped, “Sorry, I was miles away.”
The man blinked, “That makes two of us. You reminded me of someone then, he used to play piano whenever he could find one. I hope there’s pianos a plenty where he is now.”
Jack nodded, understanding that he meant his friend was dead. “Was it here?” he asked, as his fingers danced lightly across the keys.
“Yes,” came the reply, “about a mile out of town to the east.”
“Is that why you came back?” Jack focused on the keys. There was silence, which Jack did not disturb, as he moved into a slow rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’.
After a while, in a low, unsteady voice, the man said, “You’re breaking my heart, cobber,”
Jack promptly changed to the far more chirpy, ‘Pack up your troubles’ and made an attempt at casual conversation, “What is it you do to pass the time?”
“I paint. I drink. After the war I took to wandering around Europe, fell in with some bohemian artists. Found I had a talent. For both.”
Jack nodded, “Sounds like fun.”
“It was, for a while but this place pulled me back and I didn’t want to spend my life painting fruit or naked women.”
Jack tilted his head, “I don’t know, I always appreciate a well formed apple.”
“Seen one, seen them all.”
Jack transitioned into ‘Keep the home fires burning.’ “You want to tell me what happened?”
“You know what happened, we were running towards the bloody krauts, shells were exploding all around us, one moment he was there right beside me, the next he was gone.”
Jack nodded, “Yes, that happened.”
“The only person who ever loved me disappeared in smoke and a hail of mud, there wasn’t nothing left of him.”
Jack played on.
“I’m not… it wasn’t like that. Ed was a good mate, ‘course I knew how he was, he never tried to hide it or how he felt about me but I had my girl back at home and he never tried it on.”
“But you wish he had?” Jack prompted, keeping his tone free of judgement.
“It would have been something to remember, something real, to even have held hands,” the artist admitted, “and then he would have known that he was more than just another mate, that I felt the same way for him.”
Jack played on... wondering. If the boy hadn’t died would he really have declared his love? More likely he would have gone home to his girl and the life he had expected, and it would have been the other one wandering lost in what might have beens. It was strange how things worked out. “The woman, Michelle? She loves you.”
“She ought to know better.”
“Love doesn’t work that way, you don't always get to choose - this time I’m the one speaking from experience. Let the dead go,” Jack’s voice was low, barely louder than the piano - she was on her way back - “believe me, the living really are much more fun.” He broke out into a medley of popular dance hall tunes.
Jack stood across the road watching the door of the town house in which she was currently residing. Wondering. He had not wired her with his change of plans, making him technically an unexpected guest; as such, to save them both an uncomfortable interaction, he had chosen to arrive at a time he considered too late for a lover to leave and too early for another to arrive. He was saved from further overthinking by the opening of the door and there she was, looking straight at him.
He raised his hat, “Miss Fisher.”
“I was just stepping out,” she looked around, as though to ascertain if he was alone, “Would you care to join me?”
He tilted his head, “I would, very much.”
She smiled, “Good, shall we perhaps leave your case and parcel inside? No need to bring them, we’re heading out for a spot of window shopping and, since I now have such enticing company, maybe a bite to eat.”
It was an enjoyable day, as different from walking the battle scarred fields of Flanders as it was possible to get and he felt invigorated and carefree, the way she always made him feel. She asked no questions about the delay or him turning up today unannounced, she just seemed to appreciate that he was here. Now. That was Phryne, always living in the moment; he wondered if she understood what a gift that was. They returned to the apartment in the early evening, and she showed him to his room where his belongings had been placed. Now she stood at the foot of his bed looking at the parcel with interest as he unpacked his bag, placing his clothes in the wardrobe and drawers.
“It’s a painting,” he said, “you’re welcome to open it.”
Like an excited child she picked up the package and placed it on the bed, elegant fingers working at the knots and brown paper. When it was revealed she was silent for so long he stopped what he was doing to check on her.
“Is it you?” she asked when she realised he was looking.
“No,” he said, coming to stand beside her.
“It looks like you,” she said.
He tilted his head and considered the youth. “Maybe a little, though at that age don’t all young men look alike?”
“Who are they?” she asked, eyes fixed on the two lads in uniform, blue sky behind them, rifles in hand, smiling into each other's eyes.
Jack thought for a moment - this was a new beginning, did he want to start it with a sad story from a time he had left behind? Was it even right to share the artist’s story? And if he didn’t, how to explain the painting? “I don’t know,” he said, “I saw it in a market and thought you would like it.”
She assessed the painting with the intensity of an art critic. “The style is very complicated, there’s a lot of passion in the way he’s layered on the paint, but look at the delicate touches he has used to create the boys,” she paused, “Though of course the most challenging thing about the work is the subject, two soldiers clearly in love? It’s very daring. This is an exciting find, and,” she studied the signature, “if we can track down the artist, learn more about…”
Jack took the painting gently from her, leaning it against the wall. “And there I was just thinking the colours would match the walls in your parlour.” He stepped in close, almost touching her. “I’ve finished unpacking and find myself at a loose end. It’s too early for pre-dinner drinks - I could I suppose find a quiet alcove and read for a while but I wondered…” he gazed into her eyes, “if you were equally at a loose end, whether we could spend some time, to learn more about each other?”
She raised her eyebrows, “No longer content with being a never-ending source of mystery, Inspector?”
He placed his finger on her bottom lip, his eyes lingering on the place where they touched. “Jack, call me Jack.”
She parted her lips to flick at his finger with her tongue, before drawing it into her mouth. He closed his eyes to focus on the softness of her lips, the slight rasp of her tongue and the warmth of her mouth; the suggestiveness of it all was not lost on him. She drew back, releasing his finger and he dropped his hand to rest on her hip. At the same time he raised her other hand, still clasped in his, to his mouth, placing small kisses along the back of her hand before turning it to kiss the pulse on the inside of her wrist.
She murmured her approval and he squeezed her hand before placing it on his hip. She immediately pulled him in close and raised her mouth to find his. As their lips met he ran the fingers of his free hand through her hair, cradling her head as he stroked his tongue around and along hers. Eventually they pulled apart, eyes closed and foreheads resting together.
“Is this really what you want, Jack?” she whispered. “I need you to be sure because it won’t always be this easy,” she warned.
He nodded. “This is a hell of a long way to have come if I wasn’t sure.”
“You’re trusting me with your heart?” she said slowly.
“No,” he replied. “I’m telling you it’s yours, whether you want it, or not.”
She lifted her hands to rest on either side of his head. “I want it,” she said, “I want it very much indeed,” she assured him, pulling his head down so she could claim his mouth with hers. When she released him she wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him tightly to her and looked up through dark lashes.
“Let me show you how much I want it,” she suggested, spinning them round and pushing him back to sit on the bed. Moving to stand between his legs, she began to undo the buttons of her shirt, letting it glide to the ground, before doing the same to her skirt. He drunk in the sight of her creamy skin, in white stockings, french knickers and camisole but did not attempt to touch her. She reached out to loosen his tie, letting the ends dangle once the knot was free. She unbuttoned his waistcoat and his top three buttons before running her hands through his hair to leave it tousled. Standing back to admire her handiwork, she nodded, “As I thought, dishevelment becomes you.”
He blinked, a slight blush visible on his cheeks.
She pushed him to shuffle up the bed and lie back. “I’ve waited a long time for this. Indulge me?” she asked as she moved to hover above him on her hands and knees, leaning down so her lips met his again. He made a muffled sound while her mouth still covered his, which she took as a request for clarification. “Just lie back and let me enjoy you?”
This time his response was clear, “Yes.”
Gazing intently into his eyes, she lowered herself until he could feel her silk covered breasts against his chest and then she let more of her weight rest on him. Slowly she began to rock against his erection, sometimes with the barest of pressure, other times harder, more insistently. She let her nipples graze across his chest, enjoying the increasing sensitivity friction produced. Moving sinuously above him she began to breathe in gasps, her eyes losing focus and then shutting entirely as her rubbing against his cock intensified. He recognised all the signs but to feel her shudder above him was still a surprise and almost enough to send him spiraling after her.
“Christ, Phryne,” he exclaimed, “are you trying to kill me?”
She opened her eyes slowly, taking a moment to focus before grinning at him. “I’ve never done that before, it was delicious, like that moment when you realise there's no one around to stop you from having all the lollies in the jar.”
The skin around his eyes crinkled in amusement and his mouth turned up into a real smile. “Take as many lollies as you want, I won’t tell.”
She leaned down and kissed him, “Thank you, I rather think I will - though this time I want your hands on me.”
“Anywhere, anyhow but only your hands.”
Jack reached up, two fingers straight, the others curled in, and stroked the delicate skin behind her ear, down under her jaw to the centre of her chest. Her eyes closed as she luxuriated in the deliciousness of his slow, purposeful touch. “Have you spent all these months thinking about touching me like that?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “I’ve thought of it constantly.”
“Do it again,” she instructed.
He did but this time he ran his fingers further down between her breasts until he reached the lace of her camisole.
“It is ridiculous how good that feels,” she told him.
“I’m rather partial to it myself,” he said, starting again from behind her ear but this time running down the side of her neck and along her shoulder to her upper arm. She moved her head to stretch her neck and encourage him to do it again. Which he did. Then he traced along the edge of her camisole. “This is very beautiful,” he noted letting his fingers dip below the edge now, his touch feather light against the top of her breasts. When he reached her side he opened his hand and moved it down to her waist, at the same time bringing his other hand up to rest on her hip.
“Of course.” His thumb stroked below her breast.
“I bought it knowing you would appreciate it.”
“You’ll spoil me,” he accused her, continuing to inch his thumb further towards her breast.
“No,” she assured him, “I’ll treat you the way you deserve to be treated.”
He cupped her breast. “Nice?”
She shook her head, her eyes dancing. “No, Jack. You have your hand on my almost bare breast, it is exciting, it is arousing, it is not nice.”
He kept his eyes on hers and brushed his thumb across her nipple. “Understood.”
His other hand slipped down from her hip to caress her arse before slipping under her french knickers to knead her bare skin. “Nice is not what we are aiming for.”
She made a noise somewhere between a sigh and a moan as he continued to toy with her nipple. His hand traveled down to the top of her thigh. She gazed steadily into his eyes, daring him on. His lips parted and the tip of his tongue ran along them. Her eyes dropped to track its movement. His hand moved from her thigh, sliding slowly around until his fingers rested between her legs. He began to stroke her.
Her eyelids fluttered shut. “Oh, Jack… I was wrong, that is nice.”
His fingers glided easily as he focused on teasing her clitoris. Her hips swayed as she sought to set the pressure and pace of his movements. He removed his fingers. Instantly her eyes flicked open. He raised his eyebrows, she rolled her eyes. He put his fingers back. She tried not to take control. He caught her nipple between two fingers, tweaking and pulling on it slightly as he pushed a finger inside her.
She let out a long drawn out groan.
He bit his lip, painfully aware of his own arousal and how incredibly good it felt to know he was bringing her pleasure. He withdrew his finger and found her clitoris again, coating it with this new slickness.
She started to pant.
He moved his fingers faster, seeking to match the rhythm of her breathing. His fingers at her breast continued to capture and release the now rock hard nipple.
Her eyes closed, her mouth opened slightly and he became fixated on glimpses of white teeth and the pink tongue between her still rouged lips. She rubbed herself against his fingers with complete abandon and he became aware his hips were moving in time with hers. He struggled to still them.
She bit down on her bottom lip, calling his name as she climaxed again. He slowed his fingers before stopping them completely. She sighed and collapsed on the bed beside him. He took a moment to gather his thoughts before turning on his side, propping his head up on one arm, watching her.
Without opening her eyes she grinned. “Have I made my point yet?”
He chuckled, “I confess, I’ve forgotten what we were discussing.”
She opened her eyes, laughing, “I have only the vaguest recall myself.” She reached out to play idly with the tie still hanging around the collar of his shirt. “Come on, let’s get out of these clothes, I want to feel your naked body against mine.”
Once they had undressed Jack lay on his back, his arm around Phryne who had draped herself across his chest and was placing small kisses randomly wherever she could reach without overextending herself. It was pleasant but not arousing, though he had no doubt she knew how little it would take to push him over the edge. In the meantime he was happy to luxuriate in the warm softness of her body against his.
“Are you going to tell me about the painting now?” she enquired innocently, between kisses.
He gave a short laugh, he should have known better than to try to fob her off. It occurred to him that it no longer seemed a betrayal of confidence to share the tale; already their relationship had changed - to keep anything from her seemed silly. “I went to Ypres, got cold, met a digger who was lucky enough to have found love not once but twice, played the piano for him and the woman his regrets won’t allow him to love, apparently reminded him of a boy long dead who he never shared his feelings with, drank too much beer, woke up with a headache, found he had left the painting for me, jumped on a train and vowed never to be foolish enough to give up a chance to love you.”
There was silence as she considered all he had told her.
“Phryne?” he queried, concerned he may have upset her in some way.
“I’m alright it’s just... I find myself inexplicably jealous that you played the piano for someone else,” she admitted.
His chest rocked with laughter. “I’ll be sure to refrain from such wantonness in future,” he promised.
She lifted her head and turned to gaze up at him. “It’s a sad story.”
He traced his finger across her cheek to where her dark hair fell across her face. “Thwarted love often is.”
“Well, that is not something we need worry about,” she said adamantly. “By the bye, this is one of those chances.”
He looked at her, not following her train of thought.
“To love me,” she clarified, moving so her head was level with his, the full length of her body pressed against him.
He rolled on to his side, enjoying the delicious softness of her skin as he pulled her in tight, his cock already hard between them. “Tell me what you want.”
“To celebrate the fact that we are alive,” she said, “that we’re survivors.” She lifted her hand to caress the side of his face, staring intently into his eyes. “And, I want you to show me what you look like when you lose control, I want to see you come apart and I want to know it's because of me.”
Jack didn’t bother to answer, instead he captured her mouth with his, holding her close as he tried to show exactly how alive she made him feel. His hand slid down her thigh to guide it up over his hip and he pulled back enough so his cock was gliding through the wetness between her legs. Recognising he was in danger of losing control a little sooner than would be ideal he shuffled down to take her nipple in his mouth.
“Yessss,” she moaned, pushing her pelvis against his stomach as he started to lick and suckle on her. He ran his hand up her inner thigh and pushed his finger deep inside her, loving the way she immediately tried to take him deeper. As he withdrew his finger he added another and pushed them in as he sucked her nipple strongly. “Jaaack,” she called out, her body arching with need. He freed his other arm from beneath her to tease the nipple of her other breast. She let herself fall backwards and ran her hands through his hair as he nipped at first one then the other breast, all the while keeping his fingers deep inside her.
“Jack, please? I'm so close... please I want to watch you.”
He moved away from her breasts as he positioned himself on his knees between her open thighs. Leaning forward, supporting his weight on one arm, he held his cock in his other hand, running it through her slickness and trying hard not to close his eyes with the pleasure of it.
She made a series of sounds that nearly defeated him. He took a couple of steadying breaths, held her gaze and pushed inside. Against his will his eyes fluttered shut as he fought to maintain control.
“No,” she breathed, clutching at his shoulders and winding her leg around his as she bucked her pelvis up, forcing him in deeper. “Let go.” His eyes shot open to be met by the dark desire in hers. “I want to see you, Jack.”
“I…” his mind was full of reasons why he needed to stay in control... because he wanted to focus on her pleasure… because he didn’t want to hurt her… because it seemed wrong… because that wasn’t who he was… because...
“Jack, stop thinking!” She rocked her hips up beneath him, giving him a glimpse of how good it would feel and suddenly it all seemed so easy and so he simply let go, pulling back and pushing strongly into her tight heat.
“Again,” she demanded, her hips pushing hard against him as he complied. “God, that’s good, Jack - don’t you dare stop. More!”
His head dropped to the space by her neck, his breathing harsh and uneven as he lost himself in her refrain. Her words turned to moans of pleasure, fingers digging deep into his flesh as she strove to be closer than was physically possible. He turned his head, drawing the skin of her neck into his mouth, sucking forcefully. Her hand came up to run through his hair as she writhed in ecstasy, making noises of pure delight interspersed with his name. His mouth found hers and their tongues intertwined, fast, furious, without pattern or rhythm. He shifted, changing his angle, his strokes becoming longer and deeper. He covered her breast with his hand, squeezing roughly as she pushed it against him.
“Phryne,” he panted, “I can’t… I’m going to…” The tempo of his thrusts became random as she called out his name. He felt her bite into his shoulder and then he went tumbling over the edge.
When he came back to himself, she was blowing on the bite mark in an attempt to soothe it. “Did you break the skin?” he asked his voice thick.
“No, but it must have been close,” she kissed the marked skin.
“I’ll survive,” he assured her, as he moved to take his weight off her.
She wrapped her arms around him, “No, stay. I like it.”
He relaxed back down. “Push me off when you’ve had enough.” A minute later she pushed him off, they settled into a far more comfortable position and drifted off to sleep.
When he awoke the room was lit by the moon streaming through the window. Jack admired her profile in the soft light: she was not the sort of woman he was normally attracted to - she was too flamboyant, too eager to court attention, too opinionated… too everything really. But she had forced herself into his life and forced him to remember that he was more than a policeman trying to make sense of seemingly senseless deaths. He was also a man, with a man’s needs and desires. It had been a long time since he had felt those urges without a sense of guilt but Phryne had a way of living her life without apology that made him question exactly what he was feeling guilty for.
To his surprise she turned on her side to snuggle into him, placing a leg carelessly across his and throwing her arm across his chest. He placed his hand on her arm, not in an attempt to hold her but to enjoy the simple fact that he could. And he realised that the thing above all else that attracted him to her was that she didn’t need him, she was strong enough, confident enough, capable enough to be herself, without him. He smiled, yes, that was it, she didn’t need him but... what she did was want him.
He also wondered if she would wake up soon because he was getting hungry.
A mile east of town a lonely cottage nestled amongst the grassy mounds created by shell explosions. Within its white walls were two simple rooms, one for cooking and eating, the other for sleeping. The artist was hunched over his table, hand moving furiously across the paper. Eventually he sat back to consider his work. Around him dozens of sketches of a man playing a piano, drinking beer, talking, laughing, all carelessly scattered, different angles, different sizes, some in pen, some in pencil, some in pastel… a combination of well remembered features and a nameless stranger. He sat silent, motionless, surrounded by images of who the man he had loved may have become and dreams of a life that they would never have lived.
Just short of a mile east of town a woman in a practical warm coat and sturdy boots made her way through the gloom along a path she knew like the back of her hand. She carried a basket full of hot food and a bottle of red wine. She could see the outline of the unlit cottage dark against the grey sky; she sighed, he had forgotten to light his fire again. You would think a man from such a warm climate would feel the cold but there were times when she thought he couldn’t feel anything at all. Being stuck out here with his ghosts and regrets didn't help. Fortunately she was a patient woman, content with her situation; and there were enough attractive strangers passing through to keep her occupied whilst she waited for the man she loved to remember life was for living.