A Fair Exchange – part 3


AUTHOR; Pebbles

Saturday night arrived – eventually. To Melissa it seamed the longest week ever. Every day as she worked she wondered what she should wear. It was only the local pub – anything too dressy would look ridiculous. She hadn’t bought anything new for ages – in fact many of her clothes were way too big, as she had lost a lot of weight since Hugh died. So on the Friday afternoon she had found herself tearing around the Plymouth shopping centre trying to find something new, something to make her feel a little special, perhaps to please Luka?  ‘This is ridiculous’ she thought ‘you’re acting like a teenager with raging hormones!’

On Saturday evening when she called for Luka she looked a picture. She wore a new pair of stone-washed jeans, which fitted her trim figure to perfection, with a black lace edged camisole top under a matching skinny-rib cardigan which accentuated her curves.  “Good evening, my you look really nice!” Luka looked as handsome as ever in a blue denim shirt and black chinos. “Thank you Luka, I’m driving tonight. We just need to collect the rest of the team – there’s just about room in the Landrover for us all” Luka strode round the car and opened Melissa’s door for her. “Do you want me to ride in the back?” he asked. “Oh no, you’d never fold your legs up enough for those little seats!”

As they drove along Melissa filled him in on the other couples in their team. “First we’ll be picking up Mark and Kerry. They have a dairy farm in the next valley. They’ve got three children who go to school with Mikey – you’ve probably seen them riding their bikes around in the lane. They’re a lovely family – they made us really welcome when we first moved down here and Mikey treats their farm as his second home.”  Melissa paused to look at Luka and discovered he was watching her intently. He smiled and she found herself blushing!

Melissa struggled to regain her composure. “Then we’ll be collecting Robert and Susan who farm sheep – it’s their flock on our lower meadow. Their two little girls are not at school yet - Annie starts next term – and Susan does bed and breakfast like me. Here we are, this is Higher Merrifield, Mark and Kerry’s farm.”  As they pulled up Mark was already standing waiting in the yard.

“Hi Mark, this is Luka” The two men shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Mark was a man of few words but very down to earth and genuine. “Come on Kerry, what are you doing in there woman?” he called back into the farmhouse with mock severity. Kerry appeared almost immediately. “We’ve got a new baby-sitter and I was trying to get her to be firm with the children – they’re climbing all over her!” Kerry explained pulling a face “Who’ve you got looking after Mikey?” “Oh, he’s gone in to stay the night with his Grandparents – so no doubt he’s still up and running around too” Melissa answered.

The men had wandered off to look at Mark’s new tractor so Kerry took the opportunity to tease Melissa. “What’s this – new gear? And make-up too? Very nice.” She gave Melissa a knowing wink. “I’ve heard he’s really good looking. Julie Mackenzie has had her little Billy down to the surgery three times this week and as far as I can tell he’s only got a bit of a cold!” she laughed. “So is he married? Is there someone waiting for him back home? “ “I’ve no idea Kerry” Melissa laughed “He’s only been here a short while – for goodness sake!”  The conversation was cut short by the return of the men.

 “This is Kerry, Luka” Melissa was grateful to be able to cut short her friends gossiping. “Pleased to meet you Kerry” Luka gave her one of his lovely smiles. “Oh what a lovely accent! Melissa told me you were from Croatia. How do you like Devon then?” Melissa interrupted her friend’s questions. “Come on we ought to get a move on – or they’ll start without us!” “I like it very much – especially the people” Luka answered, opening Melissa’s door for her. “They are very, er…..friendly.” 

Later when they were settled at their table in the pub – the men fetching drinks from the bar – Kerry continued her questioning of Melissa. “Come on girl, you must have some idea about him. Does he wear a ring?”  Melissa frowned “I really haven’t noticed – I mean I haven’t looked!”  Susan was also curious “I can’t believe he’s unattached. He must be, what about 32, 33? And he’s very handsome. And charming! No, he must have a woman in his life” Melissa realised they must be right. What had she been thinking of? He couldn’t be interested in her – he was just being friendly.

When the men returned to the table there was plenty of chat about tractors and farming generally. Luka joined in the conversation, showing he had more than a passing acquaintance with the subject. “I didn’t realise you knew so much about tractors” Melissa interjected, having been silent so far. “Yes, my first ever car was a tractor! My grandparents used to have a farm.” Luka grinned “There’s a lot you don’t know about me!” It was as if he had been party to the girls earlier conversation and Melissa blushed again.

Kerry seized the opportunity and launched straight in with the burning question. “So, are you married Luka, or got a girlfriend back home?” Her words seemed to hang in the air. All eyes turned on Luka whose smile faded quickly from his lips. “Yes, Kerry. I was married but my wife and children were killed in the war in Croatia.” He spoke quietly but his words were like a bombshell. They were all speechless. Melissa was mortified. How could she have gone on and on about her loss, her sadness when this terrible thing had happened to destroy his life. She knew some of the pain Luka must have suffered and she had let this happen – to be questioned in public by relative strangers.

Her embarrassment and confusion was written all over her face. Luka took her hand in his. “It’s alright, Melissa I have learnt to accept it now. It is not so painful for me” He squeezed her hand before letting it go. “Please, let’s get on with this quiz. Who has got the pen?” He smiled and the conversation gradually picked up again. The subject of the first round was science and nature and there was much debate about degrees Kelvin Vs Celsius and Fahrenheit. Melissa found it hard to get involved in the questions – finding herself sitting back and studying Luka. Now she knew why he had seemed so empathic. And the sadness in his eyes she had noticed once or twice before. Now she understood.

The evening was turning out to be great fun. The more the contestants drank the less able they were to answer the questions. Debate at the separate tables was heated at times – although good-natured. There was some cheating – with spies from other tables trying to listen in or even trade answers. The atmosphere was thick with cigarette smoke, very noisy and very warm. Melissa took off her cardigan and still felt hot. The smoke was beginning to sting her eyes and the last round of drinks had run dry. “My round folks! What are you having?” Luka began to get to his feet. “No, it’s my round, Luka, I’ll get them” Melissa rested her hands on his shoulders as he sat back down. “So is it the same again? Yes? OK.” And she headed off to the bar.

As Melissa stood at the bar waiting for the young barman to deal with her order she was dismayed to see an old acquaintance approaching. She glanced over briefly to her table to see if she could catch Kerry’s eye but she had her back turned. Kerry knew that Martin Hunt, the local policeman had been bothering Melissa at every opportunity but Melissa hadn’t told anyone else for fear that it would cause upset to his wife. She had enough to put up with as it was – with Martin’s constant philandering. Melissa had done her best to discourage him but he was very thick skinned. It was quite clear to Melissa that on this occasion he was also half drunk.

 “Melissa darling! You’re looking absolutely delicious!” He leered at her. “Luscious Lissa! What can I get for you then?”  “Nothing thank you Martin, I’m getting a round in for my friends” She glanced over at the table again but no one was looking her way. Damn, why was the barman taking so long? Martin continued to breathe cigarette smoke into her face. “So, I hear the new foreign doctor is shacked up with you, eh?  Is he doctoring you eh? Or would you like to play with ‘Doctor Martin’ heh! Heh!”  Melissa felt sick. “Leave me alone Martin. For God’s sake – I’m not interested!” “Oh don’t be so stuck up Lissa, you know you’re gagging for it.” He began stroking her bare arm his face pressing in closer to hers.

“Melissa, can I help you carry the drinks?” It was Luka, come to rescue her! He seemed to have grasped the situation and was avoiding a direct confrontation with the drunken policeman. “I thought you could do with some help” He ignored Martin completely. “Oh, yes please, thank you.” Her voice was very shaky but she kept her eyes focused on Luka’s face and tried to block out the memory of Martin’s disgusting comments. She did not look back to see the sour expression on his face.

The evening drew to a close. Melissa dropped off first Robert and Susan and then Kerry and Mark. Then it was Luka’s turn. She turned off the engine and there was a brief silence. Melissa was the first to speak. “I was planning to take Baggins for a walk on the beach tomorrow afternoon. Mikey will still be at his grandparents.” She paused and glanced over at Luka’s profile silhouetted against the moonlight. “I wondered if you would like to come?” She bit her lip. Perhaps she was being too forward – but she needed to talk to him, to find out more.

“I would like that very much” He gave her one of his smiles that changed her insides to putty! “Goodnight Melissa and thank you for a great evening” With that he was gone.

to be continued...

To part 4

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