Chapter Five

On Friday night I finally managed to get out of the office at a reasonable hour. By four o'clock I was at home and, once there, I wasted no time in setting up the usual deckchair and refreshments outside. I had been booked to attend a dinner on behalf of the company but, thankfully, I had received a letter that morning telling me that the meal had been cancelled. I should have gone over to Mom and Dad's house but I didn't have either the energy or the inclination to move. It was my time now, and I was determined to relax.

Preparations for a lazy evening were going well until I discovered that there was hardly anything left in the fridge - no food and, much more importantly, no beer. Begrudgingly, I decided to go out straight away and get in enough provisions to see me through the rest of the weekend.

Fortunately, I lived close to a little street-corner supermarket which was hidden away in a quiet side-road from the rest of the sprawling city's hungry population. I found everything that I needed there and loaded it in carrier bags and boxes into the back of my car. I drove home quickly and it was only when I was half way down a certain road that I realised I was in the street in which Samantha Hill lived.

Since our meeting I had thought about her a lot. Had I been any younger, people might have thought that I had developed an adolescent crush on her but now, in my supposedly mature state, I managed to convince myself that I just admired Samantha for what she was doing and for the determined, persistent way in which she was going about it. In reality, however, I knew that I had found her incredibly attractive and I couldn't wait to get her financial arrangements completed and agreed so that I had an honest excuse to see her again.

As I drove along the street, I slowed the car down to a speed which allowed me to make out the numbers on the fronts of the dark buildings. I passed her home - number forty-seven - and carried on towards my house. As I turned into another street, I spotted an unmistakable figure walking along the pavement in the opposite direction to the way that I drove. Despite being piled high with bags of shopping, I could tell immediately that it was Samantha who struggled to reach her home. In the fading light, I stopped the car and hoped that she would recognise me.

'Hello,' I said chirpily as I wound down the window. 'Can I give you a lift?'

She looked puzzled and unsure for a moment. She walked a little closer to the car and then recognised me. Her expression changed and she smiled broadly.

'Hello again,' she said. She put down the heavy bags that she carried and I got out of the car to give her a hand. 'Would you mind dropping me back? I didn't intend to be carrying all of this, my dad was supposed to be picking me up an hour ago.'

'Have you had far to come?' I asked as I started to load the bags onto the back seat.

'Only as far as the bus stop,' she replied as I took the last bundle from her.

'You took all of this on the bus?' I said surprised.

'I didn't have much choice!' she laughed as I walked around and opened the passenger door for her. I turned the car around in a nearby cul-de-sac and we drove back in the direction of her house. I asked how she'd been keeping and she told me that she was well.

'Would you like to come in for a drink?' she asked as we pulled up outside the house. I glanced at my watch.

'I'd love to,' I said and we got out of the car. Piled high with bags, we struggled towards the front door where Samantha's mother appeared and helped us inside.

'Mom, this is Steven Johnson,' Samantha said, introducing me.

'Nice to meet you,' I said as I struggled to find a spare hand to stretch out from among the carrier bags.

'Sam's told me all about you. Honestly, she's been working all the hours God sends on this shop.'

'I know. I'm really impressed '

Samantha disappeared into the kitchen to put away the bags of shopping before quickly reappearing again.

'Mom where was Dad?' she asked. 'He was supposed to pick me up.'

'You know what your father's like. He tends to forget things now and then.'

'You mean he forgets things when he wants to. He's getting to be a real pain.'

Mrs Hill walked into the kitchen and left me alone with Samantha. Although I was glad to be with her, I felt slightly awkward with her mother in the house and I could think of little to say. There was a brief flash of headlights in the window and a car pulled onto the drive.

'Dad's home,' she shouted to her mother and, within a couple of minutes, he was inside the house. He walked straight past me and kissed his daughter on the cheek.

'Sorry I didn't get to you. Got stuck with something important,' he mumbled. He turned to face me 'Who's this?' he asked. 'New boyfriend? It's about time you got yourself sorted out with a bloke.'

Samantha blushed.

'This is Steven...' she began. Her mother reappeared in the kitchen doorway.

'You know, the one she was telling us about,' she interrupted.

'Taking a special interest in my Samantha's case are you son?' he asked and, before I could reply, Mrs Hill took his arm and dragged him into another room.

'I think I'd better go,' I said. 'I'll speak to you soon.'

Samantha seemed embarrassed by her parents.

'Don't worry about him,' she said nodding her head in the direction in which they had just disappeared. 'He's harmless.'

I smiled and made my way towards the front door. She walked out with me to the car.

'Thanks for the lift, anyway,' she said, smiling. 'Sorry about those two!'

'That's all right. I'll be in touch as soon as I hear anything.'

I climbed into the car and drove away. I watched Samantha's reflection in the rear view mirror until she disappeared out of sight and then I sped quickly home. I was disappointed that her parents had been allowed to spoil what could have been a very pleasant evening - I sensed that her father had taken an immediate dislike to me and hoped that it was nothing personal. I imagined that he would be the same with any man who showed an interest in his daughter and I could understand why entirely. Samantha was a very special girl - a fact that I was beginning to realise with every extra moment that I spent in her company.

It was ethically incorrect, I knew, but I made up my mind on the way home to ask Sam out the next time we were together. If I was taking advantage of my position in the company to get to her then that was just too bad - I knew exactly what they could do with their job.

I felt so relaxed and calm when Samantha was around that I could not stop myself from thinking about her and I was quietly confident that she felt the same. At least her father had done me a favour and confirmed that his daughter was single and unattached at present.

I knew that I had nothing to lose (except my job - and that was becoming less important with each passing day) and I made a silent promise to myself to take her out. Could it be that my days as a single man were finally going to end?

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