Authors: Abigail Drake
This study abroad trip had been a rare chance to walk in my late mother’s footsteps, although I pretended I was simply here because of the outstanding educational opportunities. My mother had been born here. She’d met my father here. When my father finally agreed to let me come on this trip, he had no idea I planned to travel around the countryside trying to find her family. He would have been furious. And if he’d known about my fascination with the tall, leather-clad, completely unsuitable Mr. Nightingale, he would have been on the next plane here from Bowling Green.
I yawned, curling up into a ball on the chair, my cheek resting on my hand. The rain had stopped, and the sun tried bravely to peek out from behind the clouds. I played the events of the morning over and over again in my head, talking with Michael, chasing him through the streets, the look on his face right before he disappeared. If obsessing about someone was the first sign of crazy, I should have been on high alert at this point.
And you don’t even know what he is.
I’d almost forgotten Mrs. Burke’s words in my excitement at actually conversing with him. I jumped out of my chair, pulled on my tennis shoes, and grabbed a jacket and an umbrella. There was no time to change into a skirt. I had to move quickly. Mrs. Burke knew something about Michael that I didn’t, and I needed to find out what it was.
She was locking up her shop just as I barreled around the corner. “Back again, Emerson?” She looked at her watch. “I’m sorry, pet, we close at four.”
“I wanted to ask you something. Do you have a minute?”
She smiled, tucking a bank bag under her arm. “I was about to go deposit this. Would you like to walk with me?”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t mind?”
“Of course not, love. Now, what did you want to ask me?”
We linked arms and began strolling down the street. The rain had stopped, and everything felt clean and fresh. As much as I hated the English weather, there was beauty in it, too, and the soft sunshine after the rain felt like a kiss on my skin. I still missed the warmth of Kentucky, but not as much as before.
“It’s about Michael Nightingale.”
Mrs. Burke frowned. “I saw you run after him today. I told you he was trouble.”
I cringed. I’d hoped no one else had witnessed that. “That was what I wanted to talk with you about. Why did you say that?”
Her face grew still. “You can tell just by looking at him, can’t you?”
“There was something else. You told me I didn’t know what he was.”
Mrs. Burke sighed and straightened her glasses. She took a quick look around to make sure no one else was listening.
“He’s a Traveller.”
She leaned closer to me. “A Traveller. A gypsy. Good for nothing thieves and criminals.”
“A gypsy?” I immediately began to imagine myself in a sexy off the shoulder blouse and a red skirt, dancing with Michael by a campfire.
Mrs. Burke shook her head, reading my expression at once. “Oh, no you don’t. These gypsies aren’t like the romantic notions you hear about in stories. They’re hard, mean, and dangerous. The only reason I let that boy in my shop is because he hasn’t been any trouble. Yet. But if I see him bothering you, lass…”
I shook my head, frowning. “I’m bothering
, Mrs. Burke.”
Suddenly, a man pushed against her so hard she nearly fell. I steadied her, putting my hands on her shoulders. She looked down at her hands and gasped.
“He stole my bag, Emerson. He took my money.”
The man ran up the street, but I knew I could catch him. I took off, dodging pedestrians.
“Wait, Emerson,” Mrs. Burke called out. “He might be dangerous.”
“Stop! Thief!” I shouted, pointing at the man. Several people stopped and looked, but no one did anything. I groaned in frustration. This was up to me.
Sun Tzu said “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” I chose a slightly different path. The thief was not in the best of shape, and I wore tennis shoes and pants instead of my usual skirt and flats. Middle aged and pudgy, with greasy blond hair and bad skin, he proved much easier to catch than Michael Nightingale. I grabbed him by the collar of his stained Manchester United jersey and used his own momentum to yank him to the ground. He tried to get up, and I kicked him in the chest.
is for stealing money from nice old ladies.”
A crowd began to form around us. Mrs. Burke scurried up as fast as her little legs could carry her. I stepped on the thief’s hand and took her bag away from him. He called me a name that was not very nice, so I dug in my heel, making him squirm.
is for calling me names.”
He lifted his head and tried to spit on me, so I did what any respectable girl would have done. I kicked him in the face, right under the chin, knocking him unconscious.
A policeman showed up, and Mrs. Burke and the others told him what happened, somewhat embellishing certain details. The policeman had a wide, kind face.
“It’s brave that you stepped up to help, Miss Shaw, but not very wise. This man could have been armed. Nothing is worth your life, or your safety.”
After I apologized and said, “Yes, sir,” a few times, he left to call for a squad car, and the thief began regaining consciousness. He let out a little whimper and made a move to get up. His chin had already turned purple, and he looked disoriented. I’d kicked him pretty hard.
I leaned over and spoke to him in a soft voice. “You make a move, mister, and I’m going to jerk your head bald. You hear me?”
The thief made the right decision and put his head back down on the pavement. I looked up to see a guy in the crowd staring at me. Beautiful, with dark hair that hung to his shoulders he possessed eyes so light brown they nearly looked golden. As soon as I glanced his way, a huge smile spread across his face, like we knew each other well and shared some kind of secret. It made me feel a little strange, but I smiled back in spite of myself. He joined me as I waited for the policeman to finish his report.
“Well done,” he said, and his husky voice sent shivers up my spine.
I stared at him in surprise, realizing I felt attracted to him. Really attracted to him. Almost as much as I was to Michael Nightingale. I either had some kind of strange hormonal fluctuation going on, or I was especially drawn to English guys. This was not my normal behavior. Not by a long shot.
“I saw you run. You’re really quite fast.”
“Thanks.” I caught a whiff of something odd, and figured it must be Mr. Manchester United and his filthy shirt. I gave him my best squinty-eye glare and poked him with my umbrella. He looked terrified, something the boy standing next to me noticed with a chuckle.
“I’m Leo, by the way.”
He extended his hand and I took it, an electric tingle shooting up my spine again. “Emerson.”
“It’s a pleasure.”
I stared down at our joined hands, still feeling a residual jolt. Something very strange was going on here.
“I’ve got to go. I need to check on my friend.”
He let go of my hand, and stepped away, but his gaze remained locked on mine. “Until we meet again.”
He turned and walked away, and I couldn’t help but watch. He really was eye candy. I had more important things to worry about at the moment, though. I had a feeling this whole episode had shaken up poor Mrs. Burke more than it had me.
She’d just finished speaking with the policeman, and gave me a hug so tight I almost couldn’t breathe. Tears swam in her eyes when I handed her the bag of money.
“You’re a heroine, Emerson Shaw.”
I cringed, embarrassed. “It was nothing.”
“You were so quick. How were you able to pull him to the ground like that? He must outweigh you by six stone.”
I leaned forward to whisper in her ear, “When I did beauty pageants back home, my talent was mixed martial arts. He never saw it coming.”
“Martial arts? At a beauty contest?”
“I can’t sing worth a darn, trip over my own feet when I try to dance, and never had the patience to learn the piano. I had limited options, and really liked hitting people.”
I looked up and thought I caught a glimpse of familiar broad shoulders encased in a leather jacket off in the distance. I craned my head, trying to see. I couldn’t be certain, but somehow I knew it was Michael. As soon as he got near, I sensed it, like the very air changed with his presence. I felt it somewhere deep in my bones, the way I felt the English cold, and it hurt just as much.
That girl couldn’t find her bottom with both hands in her hip pockets.
I spent the next few weeks trying to find Michael Nightingale. He no longer came to Mrs. Burke’s teashop, the big chicken, although I ran into Leo there quite a few times. I enjoyed our friendly banter, and the company of someone handsome, nice and obviously interested, but something held me back.
“We really should go out sometime,” he said one morning as we sat sipping tea. He made good company; open, friendly, and uncomplicated. He was also extremely sexy, but I couldn’t get Michael out of my mind.
“I can’t. I’m sorry.”
It wasn’t fair to date Leo when I couldn’t stop thinking about Michael, but I had to wonder if I’d waited too long to have sex. Maybe my virginal state was turning me into a lust crazed maniac or a psychopath. I didn’t share these thoughts with Leo.
He turned his golden eye stare on me, making me feel like the only person in the whole wide world who mattered. It was extremely hot and a bit intoxicating.
“Do you have a
“It’s hard to explain.”
Leo should have been the perfect boyfriend. He was my age, and he didn’t run away from me. A huge plus these days. The fact that he looked like the cover model for an erotic novel didn’t hurt either, but I couldn’t do it.
Leo leaned forward in his seat, taking my hands in his. “Just think about it.”
I did think about it. The problem was a certain tall, pierced and extremely antisocial person kept interrupting those thoughts. As soon as Leo left, I used my journal to vent.
I wish I could forget about Michael and go out with Leo, but I can’t. It would be settling, and I am not a quitter.
My free time was spent searching in vain for Michael Nightingale. I walked through The Shambles every day, hoping to catch another glimpse of him, and also trying to convince myself he hadn’t disappeared into thin air.
Once or twice, I thought I spied him, but each time he was gone before I could be certain. He’d basically disappeared off the face of the earth.
I came to the conclusion he had a girlfriend, a dark-haired gypsy with flashing eyes and big gold hoop earrings. She probably carried a knife strapped to her thigh and wouldn’t hesitate to use it on the likes of me. I should have considered myself lucky.
I tromped home after another unsuccessful day hunting Michael Nightingale, and Lucinda greeted me in a red bra with curlers in her hair. She flew around the sitting room, tidying up and swearing a blue streak.
“Emerson. Thank God you’re home. You need to leave.”
I dropped my backpack with a
and sank into a chair. “Hello, Lucinda. How was your day? Mine was fine, thank you kindly.”
Lucinda winced. “Sorry, love. Very bad of me. It’s just…you won’t believe this…”
Lucinda knelt in front of me, her hands on my knees. Her boobs almost burst out of her push up bra, and she had a wild, frantic look in her eyes.
“I found Antarctica.”
“He’s actually Swedish, but he works there at a research station. He’s only here for a few weeks. I finally did it, Em. My seventh continent.”
We both squealed and bounced around the room. I was so happy for Lucinda it made me nearly forgot how depressed I was about Michael. Suddenly, a thought occurred to me. I stopped bouncing.
“Why do I have to leave?”
Lucinda took a deep breath. “He’s…shy. I have to approach this one gently, and it may take some time. I thought I’d bring him here for dinner.” She looked at her watch and started swearing again, pulling curlers out of her hair as she ran to her bedroom.
I looked around the kitchen. Lucinda was not a cook. “What are you going to feed him?”
Lucinda ran back into the kitchen, her eyes huge in her face. “Oh, bloody hell.”
I giggled and took a peek in the fridge and in the cupboards. “How about pasta primavera? I bought a bunch of nice veggies this morning,”
Lucinda gave me a big kiss on the cheek. “You are a jewel. A lifesaver.”
“And I can cook.” I shooed her out of the kitchen and began preparing the meal. By the time Lucinda dressed in a very tiny black dress, her hair a mass of curls, I’d made the pasta and a simple salad, and thrown some brownies in the oven for dessert.
I shoveled down a bowl of pasta. As Lucinda put the finishing touches on the table, I slipped my journal into my backpack and got ready to leave. “I’ll go to the library. Poppy will be there, and I need to study.”
“Just a few hours, Em. That’s all I ask.”
I kissed her cheek. “No problem.”
The library was only a couple of blocks away from our apartment. It was getting dark, but the streets were well lit, and lots of people still milled about.
I took a deep breath, enjoying the setting sun, the cool air, and the smell and feel of this place. My mother had been born in a town called Whitby on the North Sea coast, but she’d come to York for school. I wondered if she’d liked it here as much as I did.
She’d been an only child, like me, and her parents died long before I was born. I hoped to find cousins or someone who remembered her, but so far I’d come up with nothing. I was almost ready to give up, but didn’t want to go home empty handed. I decided this weekend I would start looking again. Time to forget all about Michael Nightingale and focus on why I’d come here in the first place.
The library, a big stone building with leaded glass windows and high ceilings, felt like traveling back in time and studying in a castle. I walked around until I found Poppy, and then settled down to work. Poppy’s boyfriend, Nigel soon joined us.