Ships in the Night

Ships in the Night

A Chapter by avoria

It was dark.

It was so dark, in fact, that while Clare lay awake, trying to make unfathomable shapes out of the shadows in her room, she found herself wondering if it was anywhere near dawn. With a creaking sigh she rolled to her side, eyes glazing over the glowing hands beside her bed: twenty past three in the morning. She had been awake for ... hours out of a ... hour day. She would be getting up for college in just four. She needed to go to sleep.

Clare flipped on to her back again, eyes closed but mind reeling from a long and interesting day. She could feel her mind wandering back into memory, back into events that seemed at once both so alien and so familiar. No, she reprimanded herself firmly. Don’t be stupid. Just go to sleep.

A car screeched by on the road outside, its burning rubber squealing up the street. Clare found herself wondering who on earth was even awake at this time to make those noises. Then she sighed when she realised her eyes had opened again, that she was perfectly wide awake. She slid from the covers like a spectre, her feet cold against the bedroom floor.

Two minutes later found her donned with dressing gown and slippers, hands creeping towards the handle of her bedroom door. She hesitated at first, for some reason picturing her father the other side, face red and eyes narrow as he waited for her to sneak out. Those days - those terribly long days of sneaking out of the house, seeing people she shouldn’t have seen, disobeying her parents’ rules and generally making life more difficult for everyone around her - were long gone now. She looked upon them now like a distant dream; the woman she was now was far different. She had to be.

The landing outside her bedroom was dark and empty, the only noise the strange leaks and creaks of the ancient house. Carefully, as though moving would trigger some complex alarm, Clare crept forward. She stopped suddenly when she noticed a shaft of light falling across the landing, coming from underneath the door to her father’s office. Quiet as a mouse, she placed her ear to the wood, listening intently.

He was snoring, quiet breaths a strange lullaby to the girl who’d only really known him as awake. Clearly he didn’t need the sleeping pills he’d told Clare to buy; not tonight, anyway.

Turning, she made her way down the rickety stairs, avoiding the third from the bottom just in case its squeaking woke up her father. In the silence she padded along to the kitchen, flicking the light and squinting as her eyes became used to the brightness.

From his basket, Monty raised his head tiredly. He gave a large yawn, shook himself, then stretched and stood up, wagging his tail as Clare approached. She smiled at the young pup, ruffling him behind his ear.

"Dad didn’t take you out today, did he?" she said sadly, letting him lick her palm. "He never does, any more."

Clare couldn’t help resenting the fact that she couldn’t even have a life of her own now without something suffering back at home. She knew her father had to work, she knew how obsessive he got, how sucked in and caught up in his own writing he would become. But he was still her father, he should be the one taking care of the pets, cooking the dinner, keeping on top of the bills and all the other boring grown-up stuff she had had to learn very quickly. Whereas she, bright, pretty, seventeen-year-old Clare, should be out snogging boys, getting drunk, finding her own way in life separate from that of her parents. Or parent.

And Tuesday evenings were always busy for her. He knew that - and yet he still wouldn’t pick up the slack.

Sighing, Clare left the kitchen, the door ajar. Five minutes later she returned, a pair of jeans, scruffy jumper and loose bobble to tie her hair back with. From the banister by the stair she grabbed Monty’s lead and had to quiet him before he woke the entire neighbourhood. Then, quietly as mice, girl and dog slipped out of the house to be enveloped by the cold autumn night.

The streets were deserted. Cold lamplight frowned down at them as they walked, accusatory in their glares, as though to ask what they thought they were doing being out on a night like this. Clare let Monty lead her for the most part, her mind as wandering as her feet. A little to her surprise, she found herself approaching a nearby park, the green expanse a usual tour for the dog in the earlier hours.

Checking they were alone, she let him off the lead, and he bounded away like a puppy in spring, sniffing this and digging at that and yelping when he thought he heard a sound in the bushes. Clare smiled, watching him. Then, as a cold wind blew, she wrapped her arms around herself, wishing she had thought to bring a coat, wishing that she had been able to sleep and wasn’t out here at all. But then, Monty would never have had his walk.

She leaned against the fence surrounding the perimeter, gazing up into the night sky and wishing she could see the moon. It had been a very long, very strange, day. Tuesday were always longer for her than most others: they found her attending weekly Creative Writing classes, something she had been abhorrent to at first (no child wants to follow in their parents’ footsteps if they can help it), but she had soon discovered the joy of having a little niche of the world to herself. She would get home from college, do a little work, catch a bus into the middle of the town and traipse the stairs down to the basement in the Town Hall, where their meetings were always held.

And she loved it down there. She loved the concrete walls and the musty smell and the quiet dripping that could be heard if you closed your eyes just long enough. She loved the small group that met there every week, she loved the range of personalities and people. But most of all she loved the freedom of expression she felt, something she doubted she would be able to find anywhere else. It was private, hers, a place in the world where no one knew her and she could pretend anything about herself that she liked.

That was, until this evening, when the balance had completely shifted and she’d found her own little private world shattered like a mirror.



She was late. She was never late to these classes but, today, for some reason, she was late. The bus inched agonisingly forward, stopping at every traffic light, pausing at every corner, and at last when she got off and dashed to the town hall, bag slapping her legs as she ran, she found herself quite out of puff by the time she got there.

Trotting down the rickety steps towards the basement, as she did every Tuesday, Clare suddenly came to a dead halt as a hauntingly familiar voice floated up the staircase towards her.

It wasn’t that she would recognise it anywhere; it was more that, in a place like this, where the world was her own, she could spot even a stone out of place. And she knew, before she heard his laugh, before he turned at the sound of someone coming down the stairs, before he paused then greeted her with a somewhat surprised "Hello, Clare" �" she knew that it was Sam Logan who had invaded her world. And the shock of it was enough to tarten her replied, "Hi" as she passed him and then to ignore him as she took her regular seat beneath the tiny window that led up and out to the pavement.

What on earth was he doing here? Well, her mind supplied sarcastically, obviously he’s here to get a lesson or two on writing. But he was a teacher, and an English teacher no less �" surely he didn’t need advice on his creative works? And this wasn’t the only class around either, but it was the one that suited Clare, it was the one that felt like her haven, with people who were equally the furthest of strangers and the closest of friends. Why was he here?

Well, this is a surprise, isn’t it?” His warm voice broke though her thoughts, snapping through them as though breaking the surface of a lake. Instead her head became filled with him, of the first evening they met, of the time when she knew him as another man, when he might as well have been another man, when everything seemed a little more complicated. She never wanted to meet that man again. Yet, here he was, choosing a place beside her because he didn’t know anybody else. Did the man have no tact?

She reached into her bag for her obligatory notebook and pen. Then, turning to him, she was about to speak when she was saved, literally, by the bell �" the class leader, a woman named Leila whose hair looked as if it consistently needed a re-dye, got to her feet and rang the small bell she used to get the class’s attention.

She spoke her usual introduction about how this week’s meeting would work; unfortunately, Clare had heard it so many times before and was so distracted that she was barely able concentrate. That was, until she heard Mr. Logan’s name and became very attentive indeed.

And this week,” Leila was saying, giving a broad smile to the room, “we have a new writer amongst our midst. Everyone, please welcome Sam Logan. He’ll be joining us to see if we’re worth his salt.”

The class have a somewhat half-hearted clap and greeting, one or two venturing a timid, ‘Hi Sam.’ Clare kept her mouth shut, staring forward and wishing she had chosen to stay at home. But then, what waited for her there other than homework and housework?

The hubbub of greeting died down quickly as Leila proceeded in handing out small slips of paper to each member of the class. Clare was familiar with this approach: on it, she knew she would find a challenge of some kind, a writing exercise she had to fulfil in a certain amount of time. Leila took her seat again at the head of the class before telling them they had ten minutes in which to write whatever their challenges inspired.

Clare gazed at the words looking back at her from the paper: someone is lost in a place or time. Almost instantly she felt the cogs in her head begin to turn and, head down, she began scribbling frantically in her notebook. Ten minutes wasn’t near enough to write everything she wanted to say and all too soon Leila was ringing her little bell signifying for the class to stop.

"Now then," she said, looking down at her own work and sniffing. “This is the surprise part. You need to find a partner �" with him or her, you will exchange your writing. You’ll have five minutes to read it over, discuss anything you might wish to, and prepare yourself. You will then add to your partner’s work. Go."

Clare felt herself colour as the man beside Sam turned away to someone else.

Guess it’s you and me, then,” he said quietly.

Swallowing her pride like a bitter pill, Clare turned, angling herself towards him. “This is what I’ve written,” she said, handing him the small piece of paper first then, hesitantly, letting him towards her notebook.

He smiled as he took it and Clare felt her stomach lurch �" she barely let anyone touch that notebook, let alone someone she knew outside the class. Within these walls her writing was safe and secured, there only as an outlet for her. But Sam was alien; he didn’t belong here. And Clare was all too aware of it.

She took his writing in return, studying it it closely. She wasn’t quite sure what to expect but, with some element of of surprise, she found herself being drawn in. His style captivated her in a way few others ever had, and even though there were things about she didn’t feel fit, it had a kind of magic that a lot of things she read didn’t. Mind, what more did she expect from an English teacher?

Mr. Logan, for his part, stayed quiet as he read her work, his eyes trailing the page and his mouth drawn into a serious line. Clare couldn’t escape the feeling that he would be somehow judging her, as though what he read in front of him would somehow reflect on her marks. In fact, she realised with some trepidation, the things she had written were in many ways very personal to her �" the mere thought of someone outside this world having access to that part of her made her stomach do flip-flops.

He’d written less than her and, in the minutes while she waited for him to catch up, she bit her lip and hoped her hesitation was just stupid, foolish nerves.

Eventually, Logan looked up. Clare met his eye warily, daring to look away after only a few seconds.

"I don’t know what to say," he murmured quietly, the sounds almost lost against the buzz of the rest of the class.

"Well, you don’t have to say anything," Clare pointed out in return. "Just add to it. It’s not a big deal.”

The room was silent once more, nothing but the frantic sound of scribbling taking the place of the talkative voices. Once the first challenge was over the and the work handed back, the partners discussed between them the strengths and weaknesses both of their own and each other’s writing. For Clare, once her initial shock of Logan turning up had dulled, she found she actually quite enjoyed with him. Their writing seemed to fit very well together, her metaphors attentive to his similes and her ideas matching his from the inspirational paper.

An hour in, half way through, they were allowed a break �" some fresh air, a f*g for those who wanted it, a glass of squash provided by Leila at one end of the room. Clare and Logan approached together, talking animatedly about their work. Leila smiled to them both when they reached her.

I must say,” she said, handing them both a cup of orange squash, “I haven’t seen Clare so excited about her writing before. You usually like to work by yourself, don’t you?”

Clare smiled behind her cup as she took a swig of the sweet, tangy liquid.

She’s probably just more comfortable with me,” Logan said easily. “I’m her English teacher.”

Leila’s eyes widened a little. “Oh, my. Well, I hope you’re not giving your student any extra help. It wouldn’t be fair on the others now, would it?”

He chuckled. “I’m not here as her teacher. Not today. I had no idea Clare would even be here, actually.”

Well, I wish you both luck. We’ll see what you come up with at the end of the class! Now, excuse me, I must make sure Lydia is all right.”

Moving away from them, Leila approached an elderly woman standing to one side of the room, her hand shaking as she read over what she’d written during the previous hour.

Poor thing,” Clare said, sipping at her drink. Logan turned to watch the two women conversing. “She doesn’t think she’s good enough to be here. Every week we have to stop her from ripping up everything she’s written. It’s so sad, because she’s actually pretty good.”

Logan gave a small frown. “Why does she keep coming here, then?”

Dunno. Guess she feels it’s a nice place to be.”

Well, I can certainly see it’s that,” he returned kindly. “I’ll have to pass on high recommendations.”

Pass on?”

Mm. I’m sussing out the place for my girlfriend. She’s always had an interest in writing, but she never really went anywhere with it.” Mr. Logan gave a smile. “I thought I would give her a little push.”

At the mention, Clare looked up abruptly. She didn’t like to imagine Mr. Logan going home and talking about this place, of inviting someone else in who didn’t belong. And she especially didn’t like the idea of him mentioning her, of some phantom girlfriend wandering up to her and saying just how much Logan had talked about her writing. Which was a stupid idea anyway because it wasn’t like it was good enough to talk about, but the scenario left her with a somewhat panicked feeling in her chest.

You should stay,” she blurted, then hid her blush behind another long gulp of her squash. When she looked back at Logan she found him giving her an amused look.

Should I?”

Clare nodded. “We don’t have many men here. I think it’s more a woman’s thing, these kinds of classes. Could do with more male additions.”

It was a stupid excuse, but it was the best she could come up with on the spot; and it seemed to appease her English, teacher, who gave a thoughtful ‘hmm’ as though he hadn’t really considered the possibility. What are you doing? First you wanted to be by yourself, now you want him to stay.

Her thoughts were interrupted by his teasing comment. “I hope you’re not saying writing is a purely feminine outlet. That would be very sexist.”

Not at all!” Clare laughed. “You shouldn’t think so little of me, sir.”

The silence between them was so taut it could almost be etched out with a knife. Clare immediately felt like she’d uttered some sinful, something completely taboo �" in fact, all she had done was reminded him about something he had apparently forgotten.

His hesitant reply surprised her, however. “Clare … just call me Sam. I’m not your teacher right now.”

Isn’t it a bit �" weird?” she asked before she could stop herself, biting her lip.

Only if you make it so. We’re not in college now. We’re just two people �" sharing an interest.”

His smile calmed her and she nodded, the tension falling body.

The break ended and the group rejoined, to spend the next hour working on wonderful creative pieces. The theme of partners was kept up the entire session, with their next challenge to write a piece together. At the end of the class Clare was selected to read her and Sam’s piece out, and it was clear to everyone there that their styles complimented each other as though made to fit.

Afterwards, while he was chatting with Leila, Clare overheard him say he’d very much like to attend future sessions.

Weren’t you here for somebody else?” Leila queried.

Sam looked up just in time to see Clare look away. “I was. But there are some opportunities you just can’t throw away.”

The comment, whatever it had meant, didn’t leave Clare the entire bus trip back. Neither did it leave her as she made the dinner, tidied the house and shut herself away in her room. It didn’t leave her as she read her books and it didn’t leave her as she settled down to sleep.

And, hours later, in the park under a cloudy sky, it was still with her, settling around her like a strange aura.

You fool, she sighed inwardly, calling Monty back to her side. Whatever he meant, it wasn’t that so stop thinking about him, go home and go to bed.

And, with that, she put Sam out of her mind and went home, finally, to sleep.

© 2010 avoria

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Added on March 25, 2010
Last Updated on March 25, 2010



United Kingdom

I've been an amateur writer for more than ten years. When I was fifteen I discovered fanfiction and, in my time writing it, explored my own creative writing style and and branched out significantly. S.. more..

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