Vera

The first man Vera killed was the only person she ever loved. Ironic, isn't it?

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3. PART TWO: SLIGHTLY AFTER THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS LOVE

 

 Before I explain how Luke died, and how Vera killed him, I think it's best to begin with how they started to fall in love.

 Not so many people believe in love, anymore- but if Romeo had been blonde and Juliet had worn darker lipstick and they'd had love built up on leaving a party early instead of crashing one, that would be Luke and Vera. By the end of the month they spent together, they were regular star-crossed lovers, the real deal. And, of course, all that only made the way Vera killed Luke seem less like your everyday murder and more like a desperate lashing out against the idea of perfect romance as an ideology.

The night Luke met Vera, the moonlight was bleary in the sky, the stars no more than spittle. She was on her way back from a party; Vera was invited to lots of parties, mainly by shifty-looking men in bars whose ideas of romance weren't so much pointing out the constellations so much as checking out her boobs.

This was around five years ago.

It was easy to get tired of all these men in bars, and the trashy clubs they invited her to. Vera had had so many monotone nights in so many monotone venues that seemed they  to blend into one another the same way that generation blurs into generation and we can’t help but mimic our ancestors. That was why Vera had left this particular party early. 

Flicking her long, silky hair from her face, I imagine that she pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders, watching her breath form wispy poetry in the harsh November air.

She shivered.

Although it was only a couple of miles from the centre of London to where Vera lived, she couldn’t stomach the thought of stumbling through the night for much longer. Walking in a straight line required effort, and effort was something she only liked to put into idle pleasures like dancing or kissing.

Walking did not count as an idle pleasure.

Wishing she had a cigarette, Vera bit her lip and searched for a taxi rank. She spotted one quickly – because, you know, it’s not like it’s tremendously difficult to find a taxi in the middle of London city, even at 3am in the morning – and dragged her feet towards the queue of shiny black cars.

“Hey,” she said, leaning down and knocking on a taxi door with her fist. She couldn’t see the driver inside, so it appeared almost as if the window was rolling down through some unbidden force.

 “Hey,” repeated Vera, straining her eyes to make out the driver, “how much would it be for you to drive me to-“

“I’ll drive you for free.”

“What?” Vera laughed a little, wondering if he was making a joke. Taxi drivers are known for clinging to money like it’s the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe. Whether or not that’s a fair prejudice, it was definitely a prejudice that Vera had previously kept entertained.

The driver leaned out the window so she could see him, his blonde hair mussed up in that artful way that looked like he'd either a) just got back from seeing the world explode, b) just got back from having some really good sex, or c) was in possession of some miracle-working hair wax. 

“I’m not joking,” he told Vera, his voice playful. “I’ll drive you anywhere. Wherever you want. The end of the earth, bottom of the ocean. Completely free of charge.”

“The bottom of the ocean?” Vera raised an eyebrow, smiling despite herself.

The driver pulled a face, scrunching up his nose. “Okay, so maybe not the bottom of the ocean because that would screw up this car and I’d get fired. But anywhere else, you can go for free.”

He had a nice voice, the driver. It was American; slightly husky, vaguely lilting. The kind of voice that makes it easy to fall in love with the owner.

In case you haven’t guessed yet, this taxi driver was Luke.

Vera rolled her eyes, speaking through the tiny smirk that had made its home on her lips. “Oh, yeah? And why would you drive me somewhere for free? I can pay, you know. I have enough money on me.”

Luke looked at her, and for some inexplicable reason his gaze held Vera almost as well as if he’d wrapped his arms around her and whispered sweet nothings into the smooth velvet shell of her ear. “Why would I drive you somewhere for free?” he mused, shrugging slightly. “I guess I’m just a nice guy, and you’re a beautiful girl.”

Vera rolled her eyes again, so all Luke could see was white. And I’d tell you that the white was the white of new beginnings, or the white of the sea foam the goddess of love was borne of- but really, her eyes just looked kind of like egg whites. “Thanks.”

 “You’re welcome. I’m Luke, by the way. Best cab driver in all of London.” Luke held out his hand for her to shake through the window.

Vera took it. “Vera.”

“Nice name.”

It was hard not to blush, the way Luke fired out these casual, offhanded compliments like machine gun fire. If countries won wars through flattery, Luke would be the guy in charge of the army.

Vera clicked her tongue, looking away so he wouldn’t see the pink tinge to her cheeks. “You do realise that I’m freezing out here, right? Can I get in the car yet?”

Luke’s big, dark eyes widened. “Sure, sure.” He leaned to open the passenger door from the inside.  “Want to sit in the front?” He winked.

Vera slid into the seat beside him, her dress crinkling like a canvas of clouds. “You’re driving to Gothret Street.”

“Your command is my wish, my lady.”

Vera snorted. “You’ve got it the wrong way round.”

“What?”

“’Your command is my wish’. It’s the wrong way round.” She grinned, running her tongue along her bottom lip and hoping she wasn't smudging her lipstick. “You mean, ‘your wish is my command’.”

Luke smiled sheepishly as he started the car down the road. “Whatever. It’s impossible for you to blame me- I’m over-exhausted.”

“Should you really be driving?”

“For your own peace of mind, should you really be asking me that question?”

“Touché.”

Vera sighed, stretching her arms out in front of her. Something in her elbow made a cracking sound, but it was so soft and subtle that she didn't think even Luke had heard it. The world was funny, that way. There was tiny noise like Vera's elbow cracking surging around them all the time, an ebbing, flowing backdrop to life. Only, no one ever seemed to hear it. 

Or maybe people just couldn't be bothered to listen well enough.

Vera didn't mind. She'd always been a bad listener, herself.

"So," asked Luke, tilting his head to look at her as he drove. "What brings you out of Gothret Street to greet a night like this?"

"A party. I left early," answered Vera. "And keep your eyes on the road."

Luke's eyes didn't leave hers, taunting and teasing. "It's not like there's any traffic. It's 3am. Why'd you leave early?"

"I was bored."

"At a party?" asked Luke incredulously. 

"Something tells me you don't usually get bored at parties?"

Luke waved a hand distractedly. "Eh, I never go to them. Cabbies like me, we don't need crap like parties. If I want an exciting night out, I just start talking to the people sitting in the back of the cab." 

"Or the front," added Vera. "Like me."

"But you're not like everyone else I drive around."

"What, are your usual customers forty year old men or something?"

"Actually, yeah." Luke's laugh was loud and unexpected, like it had surprised him in an alley, stolen all his money, and started running away before he knew what was happening. "That's not what I meant, though."

"So what did you mean?" Vera tipped her head to one side, looking at him beneath her eyelashes like she'd been taught to do by movies. She paused, the silence that hung between them an almost tangible cloth painted over with all the unspoken things they wanted to say. 

"Come on," drawled Vera, "the suspense is killing me. If you don't hurry up, I'll be dead in the next few seconds."

A Brief Note From the Narrator: I don't think Vera realised at this point in time that this particular line of hers was the sort of thing that could be interpreted by English teachers as foreshadowing. Not foreshadowing her own death, of course- there wouldn't be much of a story to tell if Vera was the one who died. No, I'm talking quite frankly about Luke, and the fact that he was dead in a gutter by the end of the month. 

At this point in the story, however, Luke was the most vivid, beautiful person that Vera had come into contact with in the last year. To her, the last year seemed like at least the last century. That is to say: he was very, very alive, and he made Vera want to stay in the taxi, talking to him forever. 

Luke yawned, his eyes screwing up like a young child's. "Sorry. I just... I just meant, when you've been driving cabs for a while- and I have, about four months now-"

"Mmm, that's practically a lifetime," said Vera, her lips curving upwards flirtatiously. Because, you know, she wasn't going to deny herself the simple joys of flirting with a gorgeous taxi driver. The fact that she knew nothing would come of it made it even more worthwhile.

Luke cracked a slightly drawn smile. "Okay, so maybe four months isn't such a long time- but in four months, I've spoken to a lot of people. And the funny thing is, when they're the type of person you can start a conversation with - because too many passengers turn out to be families with kids that are literally the squabbling spawn of Satan, or straight backed business men who grit their teeth when I tell them the price - the funny thing is, the passengers that talk will tell me anything. They figure they're never going to see me again, right? And then they unload all the stupid pain they've submitted themselves to over their lifetime and they heave it onto my shoulders as if I'm Atlas and their words are the world."

"Sounds painful."

"I guess." Luke shrugged. "But you... I'm talking to you, and I'm asking you about the party and why you left, and you tell me next to nothing. And it's so damn obvious that you've got all of these secrets and dreams and stuff all bundled up inside you, but you're not telling me any of it. And I guess it's funny, because out of all the customers I've ever had, I don't think I've ever wanted to talk to any as much as you."

Silence. But the nice kind of silence, the one that people have when they've got a sort of kindred understanding sprung up between them. 

After a minute or so, Luke cleared his throat a little awkwardly. "Here we are; Gothret Street."

"Thanks," said Vera, and then she paused and didn't get out of the car. "And, um, you know, what you just said before-"

Luke shook his head, his clear blush staining the tips of his ears a darkened pink like the rows of heart shaped emoticons teenagers these days pass off for love. "Forgetaboutit," he gabbled quickly, shaking his head. "I'm over exhausted, I told you. I don't even know what I'm saying- it's just, you're so beautiful, and you're funny, and-"

Vera unfastened her seatbelt and leant her shoulder against his. Maybe she'd never met this guy until ten minutes ago, and maybe she'd had a couple too many glasses of boredom at the party, but this was an escape. This was her escape, and she wanted to stay here, with Luke, so, so badly. 

"Shhh," she whispered, pressing her palm into his. It was a warm feeling, holding hands, this inexplicably intrinsic sense of togetherness that bound them together. Vera hadn't held anyone's hand in so long. 

"You're right," she said, shivering even though she wasn't cold any longer. "You're right. I do have secrets and hopes and pain and dreams. I do. Just, usually, I don't share all that until the second date."

Vera hadn't had a proper date in seven years, but she wasn't about to tell Luke that.

He looked at her, and she felt that wonderful pull in her chest that rhymed with something that could be the beginnings of romance. 

"So," said Luke, his voice soft against the satiny quiet. Vera's elbow might have done something inconvenient like clicked again, but they were both so far engaged in the other that neither would have heard it this time. "So, if this is going to count as the first date, then, does that mean I get to kiss you?"

Vera smiled, closing her eyes. Then, in that moment, all the gravitational pulls of the universe couldn't have stopped her from falling into Luke's embrace, her lips sliding against his. 

That was all it took for Vera to jump off the cliff into amour's abyss. 

Here's the thing- it sounds impossible for anyone to become so besotted in such a short space of time. I'm telling you, though: this is where you're wrong. Sometimes, people will be spinning and spinning and spinning in this world. They won't even know which direction they're turning in, so out of control that the ground at their feet wraps like ribbons or knives about their legs. Eventually, if they're lucky, someone will come along- and instead of laughing at them for spinning or knocking them flat? 

They spin with them, keeping perfect, synchronised time to each other's heartbeats. That's what it was like for Vera and Luke, back when they first met. 

Now tell me this one small thing: are you in love with the idea of their love yet? 

 

 

 

 

 

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