Welcome to Part 9 of the latest Written Fireside Story! If you regularly visit my new website (www.ZaraStoneley.com) you'll know that I'm animal mad, and so I'm delighted to be taking part in this special edition story - the individual parts can be read now for free, but once published all proceeds will be donated to Pets for Vets.
Noah Hale is an author suffering from PTSD related insomnia, needing peace and sleep. All he wants is to be left alone. A certain little dog has other ideas.
Amanda Bell, a teacher, is grieving the loss of her sister, Rachel. Caring for her sister’s dog is comforting until a new neighbor moves in the other half of her duplex. Suddenly, the dog starts escaping her yard, running off to the man on the other side of the fence.
And here is where to catch up on previous parts...
Part 8 by Paty Jager
Can't You See - Part 9
“I’m not sure...” He paused, not wanting to offend her. But it had been hard enough opening up to Mary, a whole room full of people sounded his idea of hell. “I don’t really do talking it over with strangers.”
Amanda smiled, seeing the look of barely disguised horror. “I didn’t think I did either. And here I am sat chatting to you and…” She spread her hands.
He got the message. Yeah, he’d just spilled the whole story out to her, but she didn’t feel like a stranger for some reason.
“I’m not saying it works for everybody, but it has helped me. What’s worked for you so far?”
There was no challenging note in her voice, no censure and for the first time he could remember Noah didn’t actually resent the intrusion. “I run.”
“Run? Maybe we could do a deal I go along with your plan, you try mine. If you want to that is?”
Noah laughed. “I run fast.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I’m no slouch.”
“Very fast, to outpace the demons.”
And even when he said the word demons there was something different to the earlier pain in his eyes. Devilment.
“Sounds like walking might be a better idea then.” Gertie tipped her head to one side as she heard one of her favourite words, and Noah grinned. “Not right now, pup. You might be one hell of a therapist, but I draw the line at walks in the middle of the night.”
“Well actually, the sun will be up soon.” Amanda had suddenly realised they’d been up talking nearly all night. “I’ve not been awake at this time for years.”
Noah had. There’d been too many sleepless nights. But it was a long time since he’d been smiling at this early hour in the morning. He made a sudden decision. “Let’s do it.” Amanda raised an eyebrow. “Let’s take her a walk, watch the sun come up together.”
‘Tomorrow can be the first day of the rest of your life.’ Wasn’t that one thing Mary had said to him? ‘Trust yourself.’ He pushed his chair back abruptly, spilling the little dog to the floor, where she started to spin excitedly in circles chasing her tail. His life wasn’t going to change overnight, there would be no miracles, but finding somebody who wasn’t going to run scared, who wasn’t going to scorn and make him feel like some freak or some useless shell of a man, was as good a place to start as any. He’d spent too much time trying to work this thing out on his own, and for the first time he actually wanted to share, to talk. And to listen.
“Will you come?” He held out a hand, suddenly nervous that he’d gone too far, but Amanda was smiling back at him.
“I don’t think I’ve got any choice, do you? Look at her!” She slipped her hand into his and it felt right. Like it belonged there. Like the type of anchor he wanted, even when he wasn’t having nightmares.
Amanda smiled as Gertie raced ahead up the path, turning every now and then to check they were following then putting her nose down again to follow the scents. She felt a bit like the little dog looked, happy, carefree.
She was out of breath by the time they reached the high point that she’d known would be the perfect spot to see the new day in. Noah had a long loping stride that had never faltered as they’d climbed the incline. But he’d taken her with him, his hand wrapped tightly around hers. “I’m glad I didn’t agree to run.”
He laughed, green eyes twinkling, and it somehow felt normal to let her head rest on his shoulder, to feel his arm around her waist, as they watched the sun edge its way over the horizon, filling the sky with colour.
Amanda sighed. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Like you.” His voice was a soft murmur, but she knew she hadn’t imagined it. She dared to glance up, and it must have been lack of sleep that gave her the mad urge to reach out and touch his face. His gaze met hers. Clear eyes, that seemed to be able to read every thought in her head.
“Amanda.” One firm finger traced along her jawbone and she held her breath. “Is it wrong if I—” She never found out what might have been wrong, as Gertie jumped up between the two of them, barking with excitement. Noah groaned, and Amanda couldn’t help but giggle
“Gertie that is so naughty.” The dog sat down, the picture of innocence. “I think she wants her breakfast.” She wagged her tail. Not sure whether to be exasperated or pleased that the little dog had broken the spell, Amanda clipped the dogs leash back on.
“And so do I.” Noah linked his fingers through hers. “Come on, my treat.”
While Noah filled the kitchen with the wonderful aroma of bacon, Amanda looked through his books. She couldn’t help it, reading was an addiction. “Wow, have you written all of these, they’re all yours?”
He shrugged, green eyes wary, as she flicked through the pages of one.
“You never said you’d written this many. This looks amazing. Can I borrow a copy?”
“Sure, come on grubs up.”
As she went to put the book she’d been reading back on the pile, a photograph half slipped out. A young woman, pretty. Feeling guilty at rummaging through his private things, Amanda dropped the book and hurried over.
“I’m seeing Mary later, maybe you could come.”
“Ah.” Amanda put her knife and fork down, her food hardly touched. So that was her name, Mary. “Maybe I should go, I think, maybe…” She’d been such a fool, taken his concern for more than it was, thought she could help somebody who already had more than enough help.
“Amanda?” He was looking at her concerned, as she pushed her chair back. “You’ve not eaten.”
“Sorry, I’m not hungry.” She’d be fine with Gertie. They could stay on one side of the fence, and Noah and his Mary could stay on the other. So much for the little dog’s intelligence and perception.
“Hang on.” He was up out of his seat and stood in front of her before she had time to go anywhere.
“Mary understands, you don’t need me.”
“Well of course she understands, that’s her job, but you’re different. I thought…”
“She’s my therapist.” He looked truly puzzled now, but was not shifting an inch. “Why, who did you think she was?”
“You keep a photograph of your therapist?”
Amanda couldn’t stand his play-acting a moment longer, pushing past him she marched over towards the book, and fished the picture out triumphantly. But whatever she’d expected, it wasn’t the look of shock on his face.
“That shouldn’t be there, I thought I’d got rid of them all.” His tone was flat. “That’s not Mary, that’s Jess.”