Until He Met Meg(2)

By: Sami Lee

But as she placed her foot on the roadside, the downpour that had been promising to return came to pass. Great sheets of rain suddenly slashed the windows of the cab. Fat, heavy droplets smattered Meg’s head and shoulders. Instinctively she withdrew into the dry atmosphere of the taxi and slammed the door.

As though the rain outside beckoned it, moisture threatened to fill her eyes. Oh no Meg Lacy. You are not going to cry now. Just because she was unemployed, wet, cold and broke, it didn’t mean she could start sobbing like her life was over. It was only a stupid cab, one she couldn’t really afford to pay for anyway. It was probably fortunate she was losing it. This way she might be able to scrape together enough money to pay this week’s rent, job or no job.

Yet the tears trembled at the corners of her eyes, resisting her will to stem their flow. She knew the prospect of an hour’s wait in the rain and a clammy, uncomfortable bus ride followed by a twenty-minute walk home wasn’t the only thing causing her distress. Her fledgling dreams were shattering around her and she was facing the prospect of returning to Karawak Downs with her tail between her legs, the one thing she swore she’d never do.

With quiet authority the man beside her said, ‘Drive on.’

The cab pulled into traffic. A moment later a pristine white handkerchief appeared before Meg’s eyes. She said throatily, ‘I’m not crying.’

‘Of course not.’ The stranger’s tone was as dry as her hair was wet. He simply continued to hold the handkerchief out to her with a steady hand.

A recalcitrant tear spilled onto her cheek, making a mockery of her feeble attempt to appear stronger than she felt. Pursing her lips against the sting to her pride, Meg plucked the handkerchief from the man’s grip and muttered a thank you.

She dabbed at her eyes and blew her nose. It was only once she’d made thorough use of the handkerchief that she noticed the neat cursive monogram stitched across the corner of the material in fine blue thread. Surely he didn’t mean to give away such a personal item. ‘Oh. I’m sorry. I’ve messed your nice hankie.’

She saw that, while she’d been pulling herself together, he’d drawn a sheaf of papers from his slim briefcase. He didn’t look up from his reading. ‘I expected as much.’

‘I can wash it and return it to you.’

He cast her a sidelong glance. ‘You can keep it.’

Meg had the strange feeling she’d been censured somehow. Did he think she was searching for an excuse to see him again? On the strength of a few minutes in a taxi? What an ego!

Her irritation at his presumptuous attitude made her want to irritate him. Although he appeared intent on the diversion of his paperwork she asked, ‘So what does it stand for?’

She sensed his suppressed sigh of impatience. ‘What does what stand for?’

Meg waved the handkerchief at him. ‘The BAC.’ When his expression turned hesitant she rolled her eyes. ‘I promise I’m not a stalker.’

He took his time considering her statement before answering. ‘Bryce. Bryce Carlton.’

‘You’re going to make me guess about the A? Alexander? Andrew?’ He did nothing but keep that steady, silent gaze on her. Okay. No sense of humour then. Meg cleared her throat. ‘Nice to meet you Bryce. My name’s Meg Lacy.’

There was an awkward moment where Meg wasn’t sure whether to put out her hand. She lifted it from her lap. His eyes flickered down and she was suddenly too conscious of her bluntly cut, unpainted fingernails and the burgeoning calluses on her fingers. As though she had been about to touch a hot stove, Meg drew back and made a show of straightening her hair.

He was still staring at her, his brown eyes glinting with curiosity. He seemed to be examining her as a scientist might examine a bug under a microscope. Unwilling to be so inspected, Meg said ‘You can drop me off at the next intersection, if you like.’ Her voice was taut.

‘Nonsense.’ He sounded surprisingly insistent. ‘It’s pouring out there. You’ll never get another taxi in the CBD in this weather.’

‘I suppose not. But perhaps I can hitch a ride in someone else’s.’ He looked so appalled Meg had to laugh. ‘I’m kidding. I’ll just wait for another bus.’

That’s what she should have done in the first place, she reflected. Or gone to get a train, even though the walk from the stop nearest her apartment block took around ten minutes in dry weather.

‘You’re here now. You might as well share this taxi.’

‘Why thank you. How generous, considering this is my taxi.’

Bryce’s jaw set in a hard line. ‘I reiterate my offer to drop you at your address first.’

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