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Picking up the kettle, Frank paused, then changed his mind, going back to the lounge where he slumped into a
leather chair. Eyes closed, thumb and forefinger rubbing the bridge of his nose, he sighed as a feeling of deep hunger
unexpectedly swept over him.
Somewhere in the distance a dog barked and he sat forward, elbows on knees, face cupped in hands, staring at the
floor. He felt numb, disconnected, adrift amid emotions he couldn‘t deal with.
Muttering a thick, "Fuck it," he crossed to a cupboard alongside the big brick fireplace and tugged on the door. It
caught, as it always did when it wasn‘t opened just the right way. In his impatience to get in the cupboard, Frank almost
pulled the handle right off.
Grabbing a bottle of Vodka from inside, he returned to the chair and half-filled a tumbler. Holding it aloft, he
turned the glass back and forth, studying the clear liquid. It had been a long, long time.
The alcohol burnt its way down his throat, the sharp odour making his nose wrinkle. The first sip was quickly
followed by another, then another - then a series of large gulps.
Karla drove her Jeep off the track and onto the grass verge alongside Frank‘s garden hedge. She eased herself from
the driver‘s seat and stretched her back with a quiet sigh. It had been a long, hard day at the coffee shop and her feet hurt
like hell.
Dusk was making itself felt and the sky was overcast. She noticed Frank‘s bike parked outside the garage, which was
unusual. The garden gate was ajar - also unusual.
Closing the gate behind her to keep out the rabbits that would make short work of anything edible in the garden,
she walked up the path, low heels clicking against the uneven concrete. A smile touched her lips when she saw how untidy
the flower beds had become. Frank wasn‘t one for gardening. He preferred hiring a villager to do the work for him.
She knocked on the cottage door, then again when she got no response. Opening the door, she stuck her head
inside and called. The interior was cool, subdued, the small lobby dark.
"Frank," she tried again.
Her voice rebounded off the white-painted, panelled walls. Closing the door behind her, Karla walked through to
the lounge and turned on the lights.
Frank lay slumped on the couch, an empty glass clutched in his hand, a bottle at his feet. She stopped on the
threshold, disappointment clouding her face as she took in the scene. "Oh Frank," she whispered.
Karla had met Frank three years earlier when he‘d turned up at her coffee shop one lunch-time, looking for
something to eat. The village had been abuzz with gossip for weeks on end about the man who had bought the old cottage
below Thatcher‘s Wood, and now here he was, dressed in black leathers and big boots, a blue-tinted helmet cradled under
one arm.
She‘d smiled to herself when he joined the short queue at the counter, noticing the way the tip of his tongue flicked
back and forth over a small scar on his upper lip. His hair was thin, brown, cut short. A small stud glinted in his left ear.
He‘d seemed friendly enough, if a bit reserved. She‘d felt herself flush when his blue eyes turned her way, wondering why
she suddenly felt like a school-girl.
After he‘d left, a few discreet questions helped her discover that his name was Frank Collins and that he ran his own
motor-bike courier service. One advantage of living in such a small community was that everybody knew everything about
everyone - although it also had disadvantages, as Karla had found out to her cost in the past.
It seemed that Frank Collins liked Brambles Coffee Shop, because from that day on, he appeared every lunchtime,
staying to eat-in instead of buying a take-away sandwich or roll, as he had for the first few days. Or perhaps, Karla thought,
it was the slim, red-headed owner that kept him coming back? She certainly hoped so.
During the following three years, that first meeting had blossomed into a friendship that, although deep, had left
Karla feeling very dissatisfied. Frank didn‘t, or couldn‘t, take things to the next level - something she wanted with a
growing impatience.
Karla picked up the empty bottle, standing it on the thick wooden mantelpiece. Then she shook Frank‘s shoulder,
catching the glass as it rolled from his hand.
"Frank. Hey, Frank."
She leant closer, smelling the alcohol on his breath, saw the glint of his eyes between loosely closed lids. He groaned
slightly and turned his head. "Wha . . .?"
"Hey, it‘s me. Come on, let‘s get you to bed."