The hard hitting cold breeze of winter slowly pushed away the golden leaves of Autumn. It was that time again, Christmas. The time of year that Lacey particularly despised. All the fuss about presents and Christmas dinner, and oh, the lights! All they ever did was give her a migraine! And she could feel one coming on now, as she walked down the path of Gordon Square as she did every morning, having worked four long hours at the book store. Though, she would have hardly called it working, more like sitting-and-drinking-coffee-ing. Her colleague, Chelle, liked to do most of the work, recommending books and scanning books and pricing books. So many books. Lacey estimated that she must have said the word 'book' over two thousand and fifty two times that month (Not including weekends, which she spent at her flat, being as book free as one person could be.)
So as she brought her behind down onto the almost frosted bench that she sat on every day, she sighed and put her bag down next to her. It was Friday, and thanks to having rather well off parents, she didn't have to worry about working on the weekends, and even in the week she only had to work part time. Wrapping her slowly freezing fingers around her delightfully warm Santa Clause coffee cup, she brought her gingerbread spiced latte to her mouth and breathed in a breath of sweet air. Flavoured beverages had to be the most wonderful thing about the Holidays, if there was, in fact, anything wonderful about the Holidays.
Lacey looked around the Square. It was unusually quiet, but then again it was only one o'clock on a Friday afternoon, two weeks before Christmas. Everyone had to be busy on the high street, searching for 'that perfect gift'. Lacey hadn't bought anyone a present this year. No one except herself, that is, but she didn't want to categorize it as a 'present'. It was a full spa set from Debenhams, and she intended to use it on the night of Christmas eve, hopefully releasing every last molecule of stress from her body, so that she wouldn't completely burst with anger when she had to visit her parents the next day for Christmas dinner.
Starting to feel the chill after sitting still for so long, Lacey tugged her camel coat around her and tapped her feet on the floor, hopefully instilling some warmth into them. When her ears started to feel the bite of the cold, Lacey tucked them into her beret, feeling entirely stupid, but knowing she would look even more ridiculous when they turned red with the frost, as if she was some dopey little boy. Though, that was what she felt like most of the time. Being just about 5 feet tall and sporting a short pixie cut hairdo, Lacey often felt as if she was constantly being compared to a boy who hadn't quite hit puberty yet.
Still hiding her blushing ears, a voice came from above; "Have you got a lighter?" Lacey looked up and saw a rugged looking man. His hair was pushed upwards into a sort of 'quiff' and his eyes were a mossy green. Lacey shook her head and rolled her eyes. She knew his type, loitering around, looking for trouble. The type of man who would hang around with twelve year old boys to 'look cool'. The type one may call, 'a chav'.
After the man stayed for a few moments, obviously waiting for Lacey to add something on to the fact that she was lighter-less, she opened her mouth, "I think there's a shop down the road, you can buy one there." She gave an awkwardly forced smile and returned to her latte, pouring the hot liquid into her mouth and burning her tongue, though hiding every ounce of pain she felt as the man was still there, standing. Lacey turned the the side and rubbed the nape of her neck with her right hand, trying to show him that she had absolutely no interest in conversation. Finally, she heard his footsteps as he walked away, crunching the frost bitten fallen leaves. Lacey made a 'phew' sound, thinking that she had her bench all to herself again, when yet someone else came to ruin her somewhat private place.
This time, the man was in a light blue shirt and chinos, looking down at an Iphone, sitting next to Lacey. He was at a good distance, fifty, maybe sixty centimetres away. His hair was long, longer than you would have expected from a business man, anyway, and that's what he seemed to be. Lacey made a quiet laughing sound as she realised every person she saw in London she seemed to analyse, how could she not? It was a place full of varied characters.
"Excuse me, were you just..." He made a sort of gulping noise, "laughing at me?" The man next Lacey spoke, and she opened her mouth to reply immediately, but having not planned her reply, she simply fuddled through the sentence.
"Uh-uh no! It was just, um, something I was thinking about." Lacey felt as if she hadn't been in a more awkward situation and now her worries were not of her crimsoning ears, but of her reddening face.
"Oh, good." He seemed equally as embarrassed and turned away too, returning to the phone in his hand.
Lacey swallowed hard and sipped her latte one more time before an immense force had shoved her forward and it had been knocked straight into her chest. Inhaling rather sharply as the coffee leaked through her coat and burned her skin, she stood up and turned around, seeing the 'chav' from earlier running away with her polka dot bag, containing her purse-which contained her credit cards and an old, neglected boots card-phone and house keys. Not being able to think straight, what with coffee burning her chest and neck skin, she started to run after him, when a hand stopped her. It was the business-y man, now running after the 'chav'. In some ways, she wanted to tell him to stop, that she could fight her own battles, but in all fairness, she hated any form of physical exercise and right now, she just wanted to cry.
Helplessly, she stood there, watching the two run off. First the thief disappeared, and then the business-y man. Lacey fell back onto the bench, burying her face in her palms. Luckily the coffee had just about cooled off now, thanks to the cold weather, but her skin felt a little on the scorched side. Pulling off her beret and throwing it on the floor in a tantrum-like manner, Lacey felt the tears coming.
* * *
Once she had waited for one and half hours on the bench, Lacey had decided to leave after neither of the men had turned up with her handbag. Upon arriving at her flat, she remembered once again, that her house keys were in her handbag. After having a little stressed sob, she trudged down to the phone box and gave her Mum a call, thanking the Gods that she still had a few quid left in her coat pocket. Her Mum had to drive all the way from the other side of London, meaning Lacey was sat on the curb next to the phone box, weeping silently in the dark as people walked past her, looking at her as if she was having a mental breakdown, a sort of amused but sympathetic look. Lacey saw the silver Golf pull onto the curb, and she stood up, relieved.
"Oh, love, what happened, then?" Her Mother buttoned up her seatbelt from the drivers side as Lacey got in and was still busy wiping the snot and tears from her face to bother about seatbelts. After she had buckled her in, her hand went to Lacey's shoulder and she patted it in an awkward motherly fashion. She looked like any sixty year old house wife would, with a beige turtle neck jumper and a pair of trusty old black slacks. A white puffer coat kept her warm and a pair of pearl earrings dangled from her earlobes. Her face was wrinkled, but not to the point that she looked haggard, but more sophisticated and perhaps a tiny bit snobby.
"Some scum bag made off with my bag, which had my phone, pretty much all of my money and my house keys!" Lacey said, drastically, as she put her face back into her freezing palms. "Please can you just take me home. I need to use your key" She looked up at her Mother and pleaded with her eyes, which were surrounded by blotches of mascara.
"Of course, sweet." Her Mother gave her a sorrowful look and put both of her hands back on the steering wheel.
* * *
The short car journey home was quiet, save for the sound of Radio 4, which was playing a debate about 'why kids violent these days'. Lacey's Mum piped up every few minutes saying something like, 'bloody video games' under her breath. Once they pulled up, Carol, Lacey's Mum offered to come in for a cuppa, but Lacey insisted, three times, that she was fine on her own. She knew that her Mother would only complicate things further and get her even more wound up. So, as she pushed in her Mother's spare key and turned it in the lock, she sighed heavily, knowing that she would be able to relax as soon as she got in. She didn't have the will power to go down to the police station to report the thief, so she decided to use her Christmas Eve spa tonight and go to the police station tomorrow. After the day she'd had, she needed to soak herself in warm water for an hour or so.
Five minutes she had been in the bath before she was once again disturbed. The door bell rang, and Lacey thought about ignoring it before it rang again, and again and again and again. Making a annoyed growling sound, she stepped out of the sweet smelling bubbles and onto her cold bathroom tiles, yanking the towel off of the towel rack and wrapping it around herself. "JUST A MINUTE!" She yelled, frustratedly. Her feet padded along the soft carpet of her living room, which had only been put in about 3 months prior and still had a fluffy spring to it.
As Lacey got to the door, she got onto her tip-toes and looked out of her spy-hole. To her surprise, she saw the business man from earlier. Lowering herself from her tip-toes, she gulped and ran her hand through her damp hair. Laughing at her self, because she was making herself seem pretty for some stranger, she loosened the latch and opened the door. There he was, looking rather better than he had before, wearing a long coat now and a suit jacket underneath, but she could still see the collar of his light blue shirt peeking from underneath. The sun had gone down now and so the moon cast a striking shadow over the man.
"Ah, sorry if this was an inconvenient time." He looked rather awkward, as he had before, but now he too was running his hand through his long, dark hair. Lacey noticed, now, that he had cold, grey eyes, almost blue, but not as impressive.
"It was a little bit inconvenient, but as long as you've got my bag, it's fine." Lacey smiled slightly, wishing he would hurry up as she wanted to get back to her bath.
"Yes, right." He held up his left hand, which was holding her familiar cream New Look bag.
Lacey snatched it up immediately, but had to tone down her happiness, as her towel nearly dropped when she reached out for the bag. Coughing to hide any embarrassment, she spoke, "You're a life saver. I'll just grab you a tenner," She began to dig her hands into her bag, "One secon-"
"No, no, no, no." He waved away her attempt to repay him, "There's really no need. It was a pleasure seeking out such a beautiful lady's bag." He smiled, cheekily. Lacey noticed that his accent was very polished and posh. He sounded nothing like she did, with a rough East-End tone. She hated to call herself a cockney, and her Mother forebode it. They were not middle class, they were upper class, rich and respectful. That's what she had to be, but hanging around with the kids at her school didn't help. They made her sound 'common', her mother used to say. But, Lacey had heard her Mother slip out of her façade sometimes, and had noticed a slight 'commonness' to her voice.
"Well, if you're sure." Lacey was about to close the door, to hide her blushing cheeks, when the man put a foot in the way.
"Before I go, I was wondering if you would like to go out for dinner with me?" He looked hopeful and Lacey thought he was the kind of guy who asked loads of women out and was never turned down, what with his luscious eyelashes and riveting voice.
"No, sorry. I'm busy. Thank you for the bag." Lacey said, confidently. She preferred her own space, and she wasn't looking for a guy. And even if she was, he wasn't her type. Sure, he was her Mother's type and how excited Carol would have been if she had taken him to Christmas dinner. But no, Lacey wanted someone more down to Earth, and he seemed way above the clouds.
"But I didn't even suggest a date!" He persisted. "Hm?" The desperation left his voice and he turned on the charm once again. "How about Italian? The Bello Pane." His voice was fluent and Lacey wondered if he actually knew Italian, or if he was just pretending that he did.
"I would," Lacey said, sarcastically, "But for a start, I don't know your name." Lacey tried to turn the tables and charm him herself, but it didn't seem to be working too well.
"Leonardo, but call me Leo." He answered straight away, "So, will you come?" Just as Lacey was about to reply, he said, "I tell you what, I'll be there at seven, tomorrow, if you don't come, I know you didn't want to see me, if you do, well, I'll know that you did, how about that?" Once again, he smiled and stepped back, releasing the door.
"Fine, I'll think about it. But don't be disappointed when I don't turn up." She couldn't stop herself from smiling, and she didn't know why.
"Oh I will be devastated!" He backed away down her path and made a huge hand gesture when he spoke the word 'devastated'.
Lacey shook her head with laughter and watched him walk down the road. Finally, she closed the door and put the latch back on, biting her lip with anticipation.