|A Tang Dynasty Horse|
The Tang Horse was one of three Chinese restaurants in Beauville and was her favourite. The paintings of misty Chinese mountains, the softly twanging music, the spicy fragrances, all seemed exotic to her. In the window was a reproduction of a green Tang dynasty horse and she liked to imagine she was somewhere far more interesting than her home town. As usual, she took a table facing the street. That way she could pretend she was in Paris, watching the passers-by, or some restaurant in Chinatown in San Francisco. Anywhere rather than Beauville. She ordered, as she always did, sweet and sour pork and green tea, and ate slowly, thinking all the time of good things, of her little cottage and its garden, of her life as a teacher, which she mostly loved and found deeply satisfying, and of her friends. Even Jennifer, who could be so annoying, she knew, really cared about her and was always there for her when things were bad.
The bell on the restaurant door tinkled and she looked up to see who had come in. She felt the blood drain from her face, and her stomach tighten into a knot. It was Shane Campbell. He appeared not to notice that she was there at first, and then, observing her, turned away suddenly, his features twisted into an odd expression. Shane Campbell had been the great love of her life. He had thick, curly brown hair, golden brown eyes and his broad, muscular body bore testament to his obsession with many different sports. He had been captain of the school footy team. She had been in love with him since she was fifteen. He was a bit older than the others in the class, not because he'd been kept back, but because he'd started school later than usual. This meant he was one of the first to get his P plates and to get a car. He had worked hard at the local auto-mechanic in a part time job and saved enough to buy himself an old Holden Monaro sports car which he and his mates did up in the back yard and drove up and down the streets of Beauville. The car had a deep burble and a huge engine and Shane was the envy of every male in the class and the adored object of every female.
She never showed him how much she fancied him. Because of her shyness, she remained aloof. She watched with wistful envy as he went after each of the gorgeous girls in class – Emma Pratchett, Laura Simpson, Chanelle Roberts, and the others who were all slim, with long, flowing hair and perfectly proportioned faces, and seemed so confident and glamorous and clever, and made little snide comments about her when she walked past. These were the sort of girls Shane Campbell pursued. Lucy knew she didn't stand a chance. She stayed in the background, never speaking to him, never taking any notice of his bad-boy behaviour, or pandering to his arrogant assumption that he was the most important human being on earth. None of his relationships seemed to last very long; perhaps three months as most. Then the girl was ditched and Shane would walk with a little added swagger in his step into the classroom and start looking around for a new conquest.
One day after school he came up to Lucy, where she was waiting at the gate for one of her friends.
“Hey,” he grinned charmingly, and held her eyes with a warm, confiding gaze.
“Hello, Shane,” she said expressionlessly, ignoring the powerfully muscled arm casually draped over the gate she was leaning against. She had no intention of being added to the list of trophies taken by the bad boy of Beauville.
“I saw you at the Rialto last Saturday. What did you think of the movie?”
“It was Casablanca,” she muttered, “I've seen it a dozen times.”
“I love old movies too,” said Shane softly, his eyes travelling over her face.
“Really?” she said, feigning indifference, although her heart was beginning to pound a little harder in her breast.
|A Holden Monaro HQ|
“Yup. Casablanca is one of my favourite films of all time. Hey, I've got some jobs I need to take care of on Saturday arvo, how about you come along for the ride and we can maybe take in a movie afterwards? Or whatever you'd like. Go for a Coke, anything.”
So she did. It was only much later that she discovered he hadn't even been into the cinema that day and didn't know who Humphrey Bogart was, in fact had never seen Casablanca.
He took her in his wonderful old coupé to a footy game in the next town of Mallaroo. She found the game pretty boring, but he stood next to her the whole time, so close she could feel the warmth of his body, and after the game made disparaging comments about both teams and how much better he and his team would have played. By then Lucy's sense of reality had diminished under his charms and she didn't see this for what it was – an arrogant and rather pathetic attempt to big-note himself. She agreed with him and felt that this was the happiest moment of her life. She was with the hero of the town, handsome, sexy, intelligent and thoughtful. He even loved old movies for goodness' sake! After the game he took her home in the winter dark and she was half disappointed, half pleased, that he didn't try anything with her but merely asked if she would like to come out with him next weekend and perhaps hang out with him at lunch time at school.
The crunch came on the fourth date. They had gone through the early stages of kissing and petting but now he made it clear he wanted to go all the way. Lucy was old-fashioned. She believed that you shouldn't have sex before marriage unless it was with someone you were sure was the lifetime partner for you, and even then it somehow seemed wrong. She resisted his sweet talk, and then his increasingly amorous and demanding advances. She could see he was becoming angry, but also that he was a little intrigued. Obviously none of the other girls had held out.
“Do you love me?” he whispered huskily, breathing into her ear. She nodded, unable to speak. “I love you very much,” he breathed, pulling back to gaze into her face, his brown eyes warm and filled with sincerity. “Won't you do this for me,” he begged, “For our love?” Still she refused, although she was hesitating. He dropped his arms. He drove her to the cottage and turned his face away when she wanted to give him a goodnight kiss. That Monday at school he pretended not to know her when she joined him for lunch. This treatment continued all week.
On Friday he said, “So would you like to come out tomorrow?” Grateful for any crumb, she accepted at once. The next night they sat in the car outside the takeaway diner. Shane said, “I'm sorry I behaved so badly this week, but I really care for you and I was hurt. Because you didn't want to prove you loved me.” That night she lost her virginity to him. Their relationship lasted just as long as all the others. But by then Lucy was hopelessly in love with him. He dumped her one Thursday lunchtime in front of all his friends and all the other girls of the class.
“You're such a prissy, up-yourself bitch, Lucy,” he said offhandedly, his eyes sparkling with malice. Foolishly, she stammered, “But you said you loved me.”
“Oh come on, Lucy!” he countered, “You're so not my type! All those curls, those old-fashioned dresses. You look like my auntie! And anyway I prefer my women hot in bed.” His friends sniggered. “Seriously, you need to do something about yourself. You wouldn't look so bad if you did something about your hair and stuff.”
Her eyes brimming with tears, trying desperately and failing to hold them back, Lucy stumbled away, as far as she could, to the other side of the playing fields, her cheeks burning, her heart torn in two. She heard the word 'frigid' and a guffaw of laughter from the boys.
Shane had made a point, after that, of flaunting his new girl in Lucy's face. He found someone in the neighbouring town to go out with him. And later, when she heard that this girl, Rosa, the daughter of an Italian family, was pregnant, Lucy was saddened but not surprised. Shane Campbell was married at nineteen and divorced at twenty-five, with three children, no career, no progress in life, no qualifications, no hope. After his public humiliation of her she had made a point of ignoring him whenever she saw him. She didn't have much, but she did have her pride. She had told her mother about the whole thing and her mother had produced the usual platitudes – men only want one thing, you must hold out until you're married, why don't you find a nice boy with career prospects, and so on. But even though Lucy never went near Shane again, she still loved him deep down. His appearance in The Tang Horse spoiled her evening for her. Yet another reason to leave this dump, she thought, get far away from all these people. At the same time, she felt trapped.
She heard the scrape of a chair at the table behind her. The next minute Shane was standing next to her table. He was alone. She wondered at that. She knew he had divorced, a messy divorce, but he was still good looking and probably just as charming as ever. It surprised her that he was coming out to eat alone.
“May I join you?” he asked. There was a flash of the old, warm charm, but his eyes were a little bloodshot, his shirt tighter around his belly. Her eyes averted, she shook her head, pushed her plate to one side, rose, and leaving fifteen dollars at the cash register, left the restaurant, wondering if she would ever be able to return. She was conscious of him staring through the plate glass window at her retreating back, and she thought, this has to be one of the worst weeks ever.
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