Clementine and her Stalker Chapter One
By brian cross
CLEMENTINE and her STALKER
I was leaning on the railings when I first saw her. Just idly watching the ducks paddle down the stream. Nothing on my mind, really, and perhaps that’s why my attention became so transfixed on her as she sauntered across the meadows. Perhaps. She wasn’t alone. I was soon to discover that she was rarely alone, she with the ringlets of corn-coloured hair that tumbled around and over her shoulders, seemingly reflecting the sunlight as she laughed and giggled with two friends that flanked her.
And then from all of thirty metres away, she suddenly looked over and caught me staring at her, and right there, right then on that sunny June morning on Stamford meadows, my world changed.
Thirty metres became ten, and I realised with an accelerating heartbeat that she was making directly for me. She exchanged words with her friends, perhaps a joke at my expense, who knew.
And then she spoke, her voice slightly mocking, but smooth, confident, cultured.
“Penny for your thoughts.”
“Pardon?” What I should have said was, Only a penny? Because she was pretty, exceptionally so, and my embarrassment must have shown for I felt the heat in my cheeks, and it wasn’t the warmth of the day that was causing it.
She cocked her head to one side, the wind fanning her hair out in gold, streaky ribbons. Her sky-blue eyes fixed on me, she crossed her arms and said, “Well, it’s taken us a good couple of minutes to walk across here, and you haven’t taken your eyes off me once.”
I thought to respond with, Well, how would you know unless you were doing the same thing? But she must have read my thoughts because she added, “According to my friends.”
I shrugged, appearing to appear nonchalant, but aware that I was failing dismally. “I’m not some kind of creepy stalker if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Her fair eyebrows arched. “Maybe. I had a stalker once, but not for long.” She raised a finger to me from the other side of the stream. “So be warned.” But her lips curved into a smile as she spoke, and I fought to resist returning it.
“Oh, what happened?”
“Let’s just say he regretted it.” She shared a glance with her two friends and then returned that spellbinding gaze to me.
“We should go.” It was the girl on her left that spoke; tall, willowy. “Old Richards has warned us before about …”
“About being late back from break, well, that’s a cardinal sin,” she said with a mischievous glance at me.
I looked down at her blazer and then saw the badge of the girls’ public school.
“Final year, anyway,” she said dismissively before I could speak. “Do we care?”
Her friends looked like they did care, but she just stood there, her gaze locked on mine teasingly.
I knew I had to say something, she was goading me to do it, and anyway, my fascination for her was escalating, and if I didn’t act fast, she’d be off with her mates.
“What’s your name,” I blurted out.
She laughed, threw her head back, sending that luxurious hair streaming behind her.
“Oh, that’s novel. Not one for sophisticated intros, are you?” She turned sideways at the willowy girl’s more aggressive action, this time more of a thrust to hurry her up.
“Clem, and you?”
“That’s what I said.”
“Tony,” I offered as she finally swung away.
“Well, Tony, looks like I’d better be going before Mary-Anne here dislocates my shoulder.
She swung her blonde head towards me but carried on walking, and I wished that the bridge across the stream wasn’t a hundred metres away.
“Can we meet sometime?” The desperate words rushed from my lips. Preferably without your friends.
“Maybe.” But tantalisingly she left it at that and tracked back across the meadows the way she had come. And then, as I turned to go, in the distance she turned towards me, and I could just make out a smile.
I had no further lectures or pressing assignments in my BA creative writing course, and it was just as well for the encounter with Clem had stretched my mind to its limits. Call it infatuation, perhaps, but if it were possible, my skull would have swollen to twice its size by thoughts of her alone.
But now I was stuck. Being engulfed by thoughts of the girl was one thing but doing something about it was quite another. ‘Maybe’ – she’d said to my request to meet up with her – but that only left me in no man’s land.
My head being fuzzled, I decided to walk into town for some refreshment.
Walking up from the meadows, I made my way into the Crown Hotel. I bought a pint and ordered a sandwich from the bar menu. It struck me as I sat down at a table in the corner, that in a small, compact town like Stamford, the chances of meeting up with Clem again had to be good. Strange, though, that I hadn’t encountered her before, I would surely have remembered.
But what were the chances of another encounter on the meadows? Was this something the girls did regularly? I thought it was well worth finding out, and so, having consumed my pint and sandwich, I set off for my less than luxurious lodgings with my intentions firmly set on a return to the meadows tomorrow.
Disappointingly, the following day it poured, so any hopes of a repeat rendezvous with Clem were dashed from the outset, though I did brave the elements in the forlorn hope that maybe she’d do likewise.
Of course, she didn’t, so I wandered back to college and prepared for my afternoon lecture.
With the following week being mid-term break, I’d practically written off seeing her then, but my luck turned, or at least I thought it had because crossing Red Lion Square on a bright Wednesday morning was a tall, slender girl in a pale, yellow dress who turned out to be none other than Mary-Anne, Clem’s schoolmate.
I’m sure she saw me crossing towards her from the slight turn of the head in my direction, but be that or not, she hurried off towards the bus station.
I wasn’t giving up, though, lengthening my stride, I cut across to her before she reached the narrow lane leading to the bus station.
“Hey,” I called out. “Remember me? The guy from the meadows.”
She stopped and sighed, obviously unhappy that I’d inhibited her progress to the bus station. “I won’t keep you a minute … I was hoping to catch up with Clem again …”
“She’s gone home for the break,” Mary-Anne replied, her dark eyes glaring at me.
“Ah, I see.” I was going to ask where ‘home’ was but held back, and then suddenly I had a flash of inspiration. “Look, I’m going to leave a note. Can I impose on you to hand it to her?”
Her eyes bore into me, giving every indication that she thought it wasn’t a good idea, but then she nodded, and reaching into my back pocket, I drew my notebook from its home and scribbled out a note. “Nice meeting you the other day, if only briefly. Care to meet up sometime?” I scribbled my phone number and name and thrust it into Mary-Anne’s hand. And then with hardly a word spoken, the willowy girl headed towards the bus station at an increased pace, whether it was fear of missing her bus or to put distance between us, I had no idea.
But at least it was a breakthrough of sorts. So wondering what Clem would make of my note when she got to read it, I headed back to my room intending to concentrate on my college revision.
Little did I know that the fate of my note had already been sealed.
A week went by, and gradually my hopes and spirits drained away. There’d been no reply – nothing. Each time my mobile illuminated, I felt that stir of excitement inside, but it quickly faded. Not that I didn’t appreciate calls from my mates or my parents, but they failed to provide the same adrenaline surge. I chastised myself that it was foolish and juvenile to harbour such feelings for someone I didn’t even know. But like that did any good—
I returned to my parents’ home in Melton Mowbray at the end of that week for a short weekend break – it was good to see them, of course, and to spend a couple of nights out with my mates, Ryan and Harry, but unbeknown to me, they’d met a couple of girls during my time away and established relationships. It made me feel like a third wheel when they turned up with the girls. I felt that they might have warned me, although the only effect it achieved was to turn my mind back to Clem again and keep my eyes magnetised to my mobile in the increasingly unlikely event that it would flash with a message from her – or better still, a call.
Of course, nothing happened, and despite my fascination for the girl, my mind began to level out, to return to normal as I gradually accepted Clem had no desire to see me again and that I was behaving in typical love-struck teenager fashion.
Return to normal, that was, until one breezy afternoon when I was picking up some stationery supplies in Stamford’s St. Mary’s Street. I collected my debit card from the machine, slipped the stationery into my holdall, slung it over my shoulder, ambled straight out of the shop, and into the path of the girl with the tumbling golden hair.
“Well,” she said, “if it isn’t my little meadow stalker.”
I was gobsmacked, but my rapidly rising adrenaline was partially obstructed by the way that Clem had addressed me. I felt immediately degraded by her words, but Clem was nothing if not astute. She pinched my cheek and laughed. “Don’t take it to heart, joke, okay?”
I sighed, feeling embarrassed in her presence, turning full on to face her, thereby relieving myself of the glaring gaze of Mary-Anne, who, of course, was accompanying her.
I said, “Well, okay, but when you didn’t reply to my note, I thought—”
Clem frowned, her long fair eyelashes meeting as she looked to Mary-Anne. “Note?”
“Yes,” she said, looking sheepish. “He gave it to me, but I forgot to give it …” Her delivery was hardly convincing, but then in a flash, her expression changed as she quickly shook her head. “No, I didn’t forget it. You need to remember who you are. I’m tired of getting you out of fixes, and so must your minders be.”
I scratched my head, looked from Mary-Anne to Clem, “What’s this all about?”
Mary-Anne snorted through her long nose, her face reddening with irritation. “This here is Lady Clementine St Lodes, daughter of the Earl of Hamborough,” she rasped with her arms crossed, rapping her fingers furiously on her forearms.
“That may be,” Clem fired back, her flawless features now flushed with anger. “But I still maintain the right to make my own decisions. You should have passed his note to me, so where is it?”
“I threw it in the bin,” Mary-Anne snarled, a nasty curl to her thin lips. “And as you know, making your own decisions tends to land you in all sorts of trouble.” Glaring at both of us, she added, “I’ll wait for you by the church; don’t be long.”
So Clem was nobility. I’d thought there was something about her, but I hadn’t put it down to that. Thinking about it, though, her accent was ultra-sophisticated, not the sort you could easily put on, and of course, that name.
“So how do I address you, Your Ladyship … Your Poshness?”
Her brow furrowed, well, as much as Clem’s brow could furrow, “Try to be smart, and you won’t be addressing me at all.” But then her features softened, and her gorgeous blue eyes settled on me. Clem was quite tall and able to look me directly in the eyes, only barely raising her head.
“She sees herself as my minder, or one of them, and in a way she is.” Clem turned her fair head in Mary-Anne’s direction, “Though not of my choosing.”
I frowned. Beg pardon?”
“Never mind.” Clem swung back, fixed those startling eyes on me. “So that note that I never got to read—what did it say.”
“Just my contact details,” I replied as nonchalantly as I could, “and wondering whether we could meet up.”
“Hmmm, I see.” Clem made a great play out of musing with her palm beneath her chin, her bright eyes wandering over me. “You are kind of sweet in a way.”
“In a way?” I asked, wondering what that meant.
“Plus, I’d need to give my minders the slip,” she said, ignoring my question, and with a quick turn of her head in Marry-Anne’s direction, “including her.”
“Minders?” I repeated, and this time she slammed her hands on her hips. “Are you going to keep repeating everything I say?”
“No, but …”
“But nothing. Now look …” She produced a wallet from her shoulder bag. “Call me Friday evening, put this number into your phone.” She rattled off her mobile number, and I barely caught all the digits. And with that, she was gone, ringlets of golden hair sweeping around her face and shoulders in the wind. A fleeting look back to see if I was still watching, and of course, I was, embarrassment at being caught out flooding my features.