Shady needed to find somewhere to live fast. The new school term started in less than a month and not only did she have to find somewhere to live, but she also had to move all her worldly possessions two-hundred miles North.
In all honesty she didn't have a lot really; clothes, make-up, music, posters and Starry-night the bear, but this was Shady's first bid for freedom. Subconsciously she supposed that's why she'd accepted a permanent teaching post so far from home, she'd become too comfortable there. While all the other student and supply teachers were doing house shares, Shady was going home to one of her mother's fabulous cooked dinners each night. Her mother still washed her clothes and changed her bed, and Shady decided that if she didn't breakaway now, she never would. Everything was just so easy at home, she was too cushioned and it was time to take more control of her life.
She had been supply teaching for the last eighteen months, drifting from one school to the next, exchanging one set of thirty-two blank faces for another every few days. One day she realised that she wanted to see the kid's faces come alive when she walked into the classroom, or at the very least show some signs of recognition. She wanted to make a difference to her pupil's lives.
Landing a permanent position hadn't been easy. The education board was always wary of overly enthusiastic supply teachers that thought they could take on classroom apathy and win. These wizened old ancients knew that it couldn't be done, shady had yet to hit her head against a brick wall enough times to find this out. She had the keen-I-can-reach-these-kids look about her, there wasn't even the merest hint of clinical depression about her sparkly eyes. She still looked glad to be alive in a Pollyanna sort of way and the education board knew that wasn't good. A decent teacher should have at least one nervous breakdown on their C.V to make the grade.
The other thing was her name. What were her parents thinking of? How much acid had they dropped that day? Shady had been a conception of the sixties; free love and herbal cigarettes that made you think nice thoughts and saddle your offspring with names that would incur suspicious looks wherever she went. The thing she could never understand though, was the fact that her folks were so geeky. She was sure that they had meant to register her as Elizabeth or Caroline but had suffered a brainstorm when it came to inserting a Christian name in the relevant box.
But here she was in Jolly old Barrow-in-back-of-beyond-Furriness, flat hunting, or to be more precise hunted, as she had just signed on the dotted line and been handed the keys of her first ever flat.
Her new place was lovely and she was really pleased. That day she had traipsed over seven places within her price range and had remembered to wipe her feet on the way out of all of them. But this was lovely. "Cheap to the right tenant," the estate agent had said. Apparently the owners of the property were keen that it should be looked after well.
They were standing in the hall and Mr. Pearson was checking that everything was turned off when he saw Shady looking at the walls.
"Oh don't ask dear, don't ask." He said throwing his hands above his head dramatically. Shady had decided within three seconds of meeting him that he was as camp as a row of little pink tents. Once again the 'all the good looking ones are either married or gay' adage seemed to have proven its case.
"Previous tenant dear, I don't know what he was thinking of. I tell you when Mr Jackson your landlord saw it, well the air turned blue. I shaded my ears I did, shaded my ears I tell you." He did indeed shade his ears with his pretty manicured hands in demonstration.
"He had a lovely tiger print rug on the floor in front of the fire and a penchant for Madonna. Mind you."
"Who? Mr. Jackson?" Pearson gave a high pitched giggle and swiped her playfully on the arm.
"No, Silly Goose, James Hayton the previous tenant. Wore Armani aftershave you know." He raised his head slightly as though he could still smell the aroma lingering in the air. Shady covered her urge to laugh by looking again at the weird holes cut out of the hall wallpaper.
"Pity he left so suddenly really," continued Pearson sadly "Never mind. Come along, come along." He said flouncing her out of the flat and locking the door behind them.
Moving in proved not to be half the nightmare she expected it to be. It was a valuable exercise in determining just how much clutter it is possible to fit into a Peugeot 406 when the need arose. She had over a week to relax and prepare herself for starting work and within a couple of days she had made the place feel like home. Pearson came on her second day and told her that he had spoken with Mr. and Mrs. Jackson again about sending someone out to re-paper the hall for her, and he brought some samples of wallpaper for her to look at. The Jackson's had good taste and out of the half dozen colours and designs that they had chosen for her to pick from she liked all of them. Pearson told her that he had arranged that the decorator would come while she was at work so as not to disrupt her holiday. She decided that she liked him, he was a thoughtful man.
The next day Shady had not long been in from a days frantic shopping. Her credit card was exhausted and the prognosis may well prove to be terminal, her feet almost refused to carry her the extra few feet from the front door into the bathroom. She had a long soak in a hot bath and felt wonderful for it. By the time the sharp rap came at the door, she was examining her purchases and sampling a particularly extravagant glass of red wine.
Shady looked down at herself as she went to answer the door, and felt ridiculous in her Pooh bear pyjamas and big fluffy slippers. Her cheeks burned furiously when she met the amused gaze of a horribly attractive young man. He was tall and dark with long hair that curled up at his collar, and eyes of deep, jade green. But his smile irritated Shady to hell because he made not the slightest attempt to hide his amusement at her obvious embarrassment.
"Well hello there, I don't suppose you'd be having some mail for me now would you. I used to live here, but knew there was a gorgeous young lady just waiting to take up residence so I moved out just for you." He had a soft Irish accent and his eyes crinkled with merriment as he teased her. Well he certainly had the gift of the gab. "I left you a couple of my favourite spiders though just so you wouldn't be lonely."
Shady couldn't help but grin back at him. She had put some letters on the top of the freezer that morning.
"Hello, is it Mr. Hayton?"
"It is me darlin`, it is, but only to the polis and the tax man. You can call me Jimmy." Jimmy pretended to remove an invisible cap and theatrically bowed low with one arm across his middle and the other thrust out behind him. Shady laughed.
"Well hello Jimmy. Nice to meet you. Yes I've got some stuff for you," she glanced down at herself again. "Perhaps you'd better step inside a minute." Jimmy thanked her and moved into the warmth of the flat wiping his feet on the matt on his way into the hall.
Shady rushed through to the kitchen to get him his mail, and stopped for a second to run her fingers through still damp hair. Her cheeks were beginning to cool a little but she still felt foolish and uncomfortable.
As she handed him his mail, he looked at her appraisingly.
"Is that a bit of an accent I'm detecting there? You're not from this area are you?"
"Well if that's not a pot talking I don't know what is." she replied smiling and giving him a bit of lip back.
"Oh so you noticed then? I've never met a lady yet who could resist the Jimmy Hayton charm. You wouldn't be wantin` to spoil my perfect record now would you? Listen if you're new around here, I know all the best places to eat and get a beer. How would you like me to show you round sometime?"
Shady was flustered, didn't know how to respond to the confident stranger asking her out as she stood in front of him in no more than her pyjamas.
"Well I um."
"Oh but there's a couple of stipulations though." He went on to list them before she had the chance to reply. "You have to wear some shoes. Now I like old Winnie there, he's cool and I can live with showin` a lady round in her best Pooh P.J's, but me darlin` the fluffy rabbit slippers are just too much."
"I don't think so, I'm pretty busy at the moment. Thank-you very much though. It was really sweet of you to ask."
"Hey, Hey, you can't refuse me yet, you haven't heard my second stipulation," he pouted his lower lip and suddenly looked twelve years old, a lock of dark brown hair fell over his left eye adding to the effect of a forlorn little boy.
Shady laughed, he wasn't just gorgeous, he was funny as well. "And what's that then?"
"Well the second rule before taking the guided pub crawl with Hayton Tours limited, is that you're not allowed to refuse. I know I'm strange, I can't deny it, Look," he went cross-eyed and pulled a goofy face, "but I know my way round town better than any other gormless paddy and um. The first round's on me." He finished with a wide grin, and despite her better judgement Shady found herself saying yes and agreed to him picking her up on Friday night at seven thirty. She was laughing heartily as he turned to leave.
"Jimmy." She asked, "Before you go I have to ask, curiosity's killing me here. What's with all the hole's in this wallpaper?"
Jimmy looked along the mutilated wall and hesitated.
"What this?" He said motioning towards the wall. "Oh that's down to the people who lived here before me. Strange people by all accounts. Savaged handmaidens in the woods at midnight so they did, and ate wallpaper for Sunday lunch." And then with a wave he was gone.
Shady shut the door behind him and leant against it. She was smiling widely. No matter what happened on Friday night, she was sure of one thing, It was bound to be fun.
Funny about the wallpaper though, I'm sure Pearson said it was Jimmy that had left it like that. Still I suppose to him, one tenant is pretty much like another. She was disappointed that Jimmy didn't know why it was like that because it looked really weird.
The hall was a long narrow one, and along the unbroken wall to the left of the front door, there were a series of large holes carefully cut out of the wallpaper. Twelve of them in all, at eye level and about ten by twelve inches in size. They looked like gaps where pictures had once been, as though the decorator couldn't be bothered to take the pictures down and papered round them rather than just lifting them off their hooks. Or maybe they had glued photographs to the wall and then had to cut them off with a Stanley knife to avoid damaging them when they moved. Shady was still pondering the puzzle of the picture holes as she went back to the lounge and her now warm glass of wine.
All day Friday she thought about Jimmy and the night ahead. The occasion, she thought, demands a new outfit. She had no idea where they were going, so didn't know how to dress accordingly, but in the end she fell back on every woman's get out clause of 'smart casual.' Finally, after visiting every shop in the high street at least twice, she settled on a light purple basque top with wonderfully rigid, push and thrust whalebone under the bust; magically her thirty-four B cup transformed into a thirty-four-oh-my-God-where-did-that-come-from-cleavage that she was thoroughly impressed with. She tried on no less than fifteen pairs of jeans, until she found a pair of midnight blue ones in the new shiny look. They had zigzag inserts of silver see-through stuff all the way up the legs, and although she should really have gone for the size twelve, she squeezed herself into the tens and vanity convinced her that they were comfortable. She would just have to remember not to try and breathe too often. On her feet she wore a pair of purple topped sandals, with a pine wood sole and heels that gave her vertigo and would probably lead to an altitude nose bleed. She knew that after ten minutes tottering around on them she would be in agony, but for just one smile from Jimmy and eyes like his, she would gladly suffer.
"Well lass," she asked her reflection aloud "Do I look like a tart?" She turned this way and that to get a good look at herself from all angles, and then she answered in a reproving tone of voice.
"Yes you hussy. What would your pupils think?" She grinned
"Well thank Christ for that, it took me three hours to achieve this effect."
Although her clothes were a little more outrageous than the smart casual she had led herself to believe she was going to buy, she had kept her make-up fresh and simple. She wore only a thin gold chain round her neck, and had done her nails with clear varnish. The rest of her look was understated and complimented her clothing well. For all her self-depreciation she looked elegant and 'fun.'
He was bang on time. Shady was brushing her long chestnut hair until it shone and fell in soft tickly curls down the bare half of her back when he knocked on the door making her jump. She answered with the hairbrush still clutched in her hand.
"Oh. It'll be a song you're going to sing me into that is it?" he said when he saw her. Then he gave a long and exaggerated wolf whistle, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "Ah St. Anthony man, you've done me proud and brought light and happiness into my previously blighted life."
Shady blushed and accepted the roses he had brought for her calmly. Bloody hell a man that brings flowers and looks like that, surely I'm dreaming. This can't be happening to me.
She invited him in and ran through to the bedroom as best as she could manage on the Mont Blanc heels. Dropping the hairbrush onto the bed she eyed the two jackets she had been trying on earlier. Neither of them really went with the lilac top, so although the night was chilly she decided to go without a jacket. One last squirt of the heady and wonderful Sun, Moon & Stars perfume and she was ready.
"Shall we go then?" she asked as she walked back into the Lounge where she had left Jimmy. He was running his finger along her CD collection and turned with a smile.
"Yes, I think we better had. I'm a good catholic boy and I'm afraid that you might want to be temptin` me with some of that soft music you've got there and darlin` I've clean forgotten why I wanted to take you out, when everything I could ever want is right here in this room."
He said it with a grin, and Shady couldn't be quite sure if he was joking with her or not.
The night out was all that she had expected it to be. She was sure that she laughed more in that one evening than she had ever done in her life before. They sang and danced and drank and then drank some more. Shady was having a brilliant time and didn't want the night to end. They made the mutual decision early on, to forego eating in favour of drinking, and agreed that they would get chips somewhere on the way home. Shady lost count of the number of pubs they went into. Jimmy kept talking about all his mates and how they came to these pubs all the time, and yet nobody seemed to know him. It never occurred to Shady until they were leaving the last pub that he hadn't seen any of his friends all night. It was a pity; she had been looking forward to meeting them.
She shivered as the warmth of the pub gave way starkly to the nasty late night nip in the air. She rubbed her arms in an attempt to make the goose-pimples lie smoothly back down. Jimmy instantly took his three-quarter-length leather jacket off and hung it around her shoulders. Apart from the odd touching of hands there had been no physical contact between them all night, but now as he gave her his jacket his arm dropped lightly to her waist and stayed there. For the first time since meeting him he looked shy when she turned to smile into his eyes.
Shady hadn't eaten since lunch because she hadn't been sure if they were going to eat out or not, She hadn't felt at all hungry until they walked into the brightly lit chippy and the smell of food cooking greeted them at the door. Suddenly she was starving; they ordered sausage and chips. Oh bugger the diet she thought and they ate them out of paper sitting on a bench at the side of the deserted road.
When they had finished eating she felt sure that he was going to kiss her. She could see particles of salt on his full upper lip; they looked whiter in the streetlit darkness. She wanted to taste the salt, to feel the softness of his lips on hers.
He leaned towards her and she moved in closer and then at the last second he pulled back and busied himself with collecting their papers and putting them in the waste paper basket beside the bench. Shady was disappointed and hoped that it didn't show.
Although they continued to chat and fool around on the rest of the walk home, there was an uncomfortable tension between them, both of them conscious of what nearly happened, but didn't. Jimmy walked with the hand nearest her shoved deeply inside his pants pocket. Although she had made no physical advance towards him Shady felt rejected and placed an extra few inches of space between them. She might as well have put a re-inforced metal shutter there. The moment of romance had passed and they both knew it.
When they got to the flat Shady asked Jimmy if he wanted to come in for a coffee. She felt awkward, it sounded tacky and cheap even to her own ears, but she was genuinely asking him in for just coffee.
Jimmy smiled and with the smile the old Jimmy returned.
"Now I don't think I'd better be doin` that me darlin` you see if I got in that there flat of yours, you could have your wicked way with me and I'd be powerless to resist, now wouldn't I?" He laughed and all the tension that had built between them seemed to vanish.
Shady was confused by this sudden turn about. She didn't know where she stood with him, he seemed to like her, in fact she'd go as far as to say that he seemed to fancy her if his eyes were anything to go by. And yet it was almost as though he was too shy to make a move on her. That couldn't be true surely, this brash young fella with a tongue that dripped words like a leaky tap drips water couldn't be too shy to kiss a girl. Never.
Not quite knowing how to react to his last remark, shady smiled at him. "Oh well another time then maybe. Thanks for a fantastic night Jimmy. I really did enjoy it. In fact it's the best night out I've had for months and you made me forget about being homesick for awhile. Thank-you."
He smiled at her and seemed genuinely happy that she had a good time. Shady didn't get any vibes from him that indicated he thought her the date from hell, but although his eyes shone with confidence the rest of him seemed uncertain of what he should say next. He grinned that boyish grin that she had become accustomed to already, the one that made her stomach turn cartwheels in her diaphragm, though what her stomach was doing up there in the first place she had no idea.
Self-consciously Jimmy grabbed shady's hand. All the Jack-the-lad left him, and a shy young man stood in his place. Shady felt that she was seeing a glimpse of the true Jimmy Hayton, he had sloughed his clever chat like a snake sheds its skin.
"Look Shady. I've had a great night too. I'd like to do it again sometime. Can I call you? One day next week maybe?"
Shady smiled big and happy, she hadn't blown it after all.
"Course you can. Anytime you like."
"Oh well in that case I might give you a ring tomorrow then, just to see how you're doing."
"I'd like that."
Shady stood smiling at him, and he moved from one foot to the other. She could tell he was mulling something over in his mind, she could almost see his thought process working itself out. He hung his head slightly, but before he did Shady noticed his cheeks turn rosy in the glow from the lamp above the front door.
"Can I kiss you goodnight please?"
"Yes. I thought you'd never ask." she joked, trying to ease the tension a bit for him.
They looked at each other, both of them smiling, Jimmy still blushing furiously.
Their heads came together and his lips met hers in one brief gentle kiss, and then instantly pulled away again.
As he moved his head back their eyes met and held. Shady knew that he wanted to kiss her again, but after his first brave attempt his nerve had gone and it was going to be down to her. Without taking her eyes from his she put her arms round his neck and pulled him gently towards her. Their lips parted and touched, and they kissed long and soft and deeply neither of them wanting it to end.
When they finally separated he said simply "Nice," and blushed again.
"Thanks, you too." She said shyly.
"Look, Shady, I'm going to have to go, because you are making me really not want to, and it would be so nice to come in and kiss and cuddle you, but if I don't go now I really never will, and I don't want to rush things between us. I'll call you tomorrow right."
Shady felt herself falling heavily for this shy, considerate, wonderful man.
"Okay, Jimmy. Make sure you do."
On her way up to bed, she wondered how someone who was so much fun and such good company could be so damned shy. She didn't stop smiling until sleep came and carried her somewhere pleasant.
Their relationship developed and strengthened over the next month. Shady settled into school life and everything in the garden was rosy. They would meet two or three times a week, sometimes going out and sometimes staying in her flat. She felt happier than she had ever been before, and was tipsy with the freedom of independence. Jimmy made her heart jump and her lower belly tingle every time she thought about him. And yet he seemed in no hurry to move their relationship on to the next level. They kissed on the settee until they were both breathless. Several times she had felt him harden as he pressed himself against her, but always as she moved to encourage him, he quickly jumped up and made some excuse to end the contact.
On the Tuesday of the third week he told her that he thought he had fallen in love with her. She thought she was going to burst with happiness. She didn't have to think about it she was already quite sure of herself as she answered him simply with "I love you Jimmy." She thought that this would make a difference, that they would finally make love. She was so glad he'd wanted to wait. Now it would be so much more special. But he didn't that night, he left after their usual breathless kisses. She felt confused and frustrated. He hadn't so much as touched her breast. So many nights she had released her tension as she lay alone thinking about him. She only hoped he did the same.
She had tried to broach the subject, but he became shy and so obviously uncomfortable that each time she let it drop knowing that things would happen between them when he was ready and she somehow knew that to push things would only make him feel worse. This side of him was so different to the happy-go-lucky-clown that he was the rest of the time.
Another thing that struck Shady as odd, was the fact that he knew everything about her from her favourite colour, to her favourite author and the fact that she hated liver. She told him about her parents, her home, her upbringing, everything. And yet she hardly knew anything about him. Whenever she asked a personal question he would deflect it with a joke, he did it so subtly that they were well into their fourth week together before she even realised he was doing it.
Shady knew that she had to find out more about her enigmatic boyfriend; things were starting to worry her a little bit. The way for instance that he didn't approve of her meeting up with the other teachers for a drink after work. And the times he had commented on her choice of clothes, making requests of what he would like her to wear instead, and the fact that although they weren't even sleeping together, he had started to treat the flat as though it were his own.
"Jimmy?" she asked on that last night "Where do you live?"
"Ahh now if I told you that, you'd be there morning, noon and night because you just wouldn't be able to keep away now would you?" He grinned that grin that had melted her heart so many times, the same grin that was beginning to irritate because it was always used as a smoke screen to avoid her queries. "Come here and give me a kiss woman. I need your sweet lips." That was another thing, he never initiated their kisses unless he was trying to avoid something. At first Shady thought she was imagining this, but after she had put it to the test several times, it was clear that she was not.
He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her, as his head came in towards her she pushed him away.
"Jimmy, why do you never answer any of my questions?"
"I do answer your questions, and if ever I don't it's because I'd rather be kissing you, and you can't talk and kiss now can you? That'd just be sloppy, so it would."
Shady decided that if he wouldn't give her the answers she wanted, then when he left that night she would follow him.
As it happened though, it wasn't until early the next morning that he left.
As he clicked the front door shut, Shady rose from the bed and moved across the room. She switched the light off and looked back towards the bed once, before leaving.
It was far easier than she had expected to follow Jimmy, she merged with the shadows and he had no idea that he was being tailed. He only lived about half a mile away, not even the other side of town as he once insinuated. He let himself into what looked like a very nice house in a quiet neighbourhood.
Shady waited awhile and then followed. She slipped slowly and quietly through the front door and found herself in a long narrow hall. Along the unbroken wall to the left hand side were twelve pictures painted onto the smooth wallpaper. At first she couldn't believe what she was seeing. She stood with her mouth open, dumbfounded, not quite understanding what she was looking at, yet at the same time understanding it far more than she could ever want to.
The artist who painted the twelve pictures was incredible, his eye for detail and perspective was fantastic. If the subject hadn't been so distasteful they would have been amongst the best pictures she had ever looked at. They were done in fine detail with brightly coloured oils. Jimmy Hayton was a wonderful artist.
The first painting showed a woman standing at the front door of her flat in Winnie the Pooh pyjamas. Her hair was tousled; her cheeks infused with rose highlighting that showed her shy embarrassment to perfection.
The second showed the same woman standing in the hall with bare picture holes accepting a bunch of red roses.
The next depicted her leaving the shower stall naked. The tiny rose tattoo clearly visible at the top of her thigh. Is that why he brought me roses. She wondered. Had he already seen me naked when we had our first date?
One of the later pictures sent a feeling of such shame and humiliation coursing right through to Shady's spirit. The painting was of the woman lying on the bed, she was partially uncovered one hand to her breast, the other between her legs. Her eyes were closed, brow furrowed, a woman clearly enjoying the pleasures of her own body.
The pictures continued in the same vein until they reached number twelve. The last picture showed the same woman, showed Shady, her features as in them all, clearly visible bound at ankle and wrist to the big double bed with the delicate lilac printed duvet. Her face was contorted into a mask of horror, mouth open, lips forming a massive 'O.' The light of life clearly painted as leaving the eyes. Fantastic. Shady had to admire the workmanship, the perfection.
The figure painted in relief to the side of the bed was indistinct, little more than a shadow, coarse lines giving the impression of a head, body, raised arm, but the knife that glinted in the shadow's hand was perfect in it's detail and dimension. Blood dripped from the end of the blade. Blood dominated the picture. So much blood.
Jimmy Hayton walked out of one of the rooms off to the right. He didn't see Shady standing by the front door, so engrossed was he in what he was about to do. He walked up to the twelfth picture and patted it lightly; presumably checking to see that it was thoroughly dry. It must have been because he gave a satisfied little nod of his head.
"Perfect." He said without any trace of an Irish accent. "Surely my best work to date."
He laid a large leather portfolio case on the floor and unzipped it. And then he removed a scalpel from his pocket and unsheathed the blade. Beginning at the first picture he carefully cut round the painting and removed it complete with lining paper from the wall. It came away easily leaving a ten by twelve gaping maw of brown plaster. Gently as each one came away he laid it in the case, protecting each picture with a sheet of white rice paper.
Shady's spirit had seen enough and turned away. There was nothing she could do about it, but she didn't know that yet she still had a lot to learn. She didn't even know she was dead yet. Sometimes it took awhile for that ceasing-to-be-alive feeling to kick in.
She walked in a daze back out on to the street, and was surprised to see a pretty girl sitting on the garden wall.
"Hello," she said. "I've been waiting for you."
"Hello," said Shady feeling as though she was in some sort of spacey dream. "Why?"
"I'm George." Said the girl smiling warmly "Georgina; there's quite a few of us now and we always stick around to help the next ones get used to things the way they are. Come on I'll introduce you to the others.
The way that Shady could see the trees through George's body reinforced the feeling of being in a dream; a horrible, tragic dream, but Shady began to realise she wouldn't be waking up this time.