Connections

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Andrew leaned back in his seat and watched, in a state of total relaxation, as the scenery flashed past outside the window. The comforting white noise of wheels racing along continuous welded rails and the low murmur of conversation amongst neighbouring fellow-passengers combined to induce a state of mind in which his thoughts wandered far beyond the surrounding countryside. This was his first day away from home in several weeks and he was travelling with no purpose in mind other than to get to London and follow his instincts for the day before taking a late evening northbound train home. He closed his eyes and drifted into the semi-trance state into which some passengers fall so easily in such situations.

It is strange how certain low level sounds can break through considerably higher levels of background noise, but a distinctive ‘ping’ from Andrew’s android ‘phone aroused him from his dream-like state and brought his thoughts quickly into focus.

‘E-mail from Noodle’ his display announced.

He smiled, clicked on the icon and opened up the message.

“Hi, Skim, sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner but my sister rang while we were chatting online yesterday and that’s why I had to go so suddenly. Hope you’re having a good day. Keep in touch. Noodle x.”

Andrew smiled and re-read the message. So typical of his friend. Plain, straight to the point, no frills. She had always maintained that the way she wrote was a reflection of her whole appearance and nature, but something about her told Andrew, who was by no means ignorant of people and their ways, that this was probably a case of serious understatement. He had often been tempted to ask her for her real name, a photograph and her mobile number, but they had agreed early in their online friendship that they would only exchange such details if they ever planned to meet. All Andrew knew about her was that she was 34, divorced and now living alone, also that she worked in what she described vaguely as ‘Customer Services’. This did not stop him from being extremely curious as to how she had come by the name ‘Noodle’, which had led to a considerable exchange of wisecracks and witticisms between them in online conversations that dated back several months, to the day when Skimble (an abbreviation of one of his favourite literary characters, ‘Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat’) had finally made up his mind that Noodle was, in fact, genuinely a female and not, as many of the other owners of female nicknames and profiles appeared to be, a female impersonator.

Andrew’s fingers moved with impressive dexterity across the miniature keyboard.

‘Hi, Noodle. Knew something like that had happened. Hope everything’s OK with you. Don’t worry. Sure we’ll be able to get back to chatting soon. Have a good day. Keep in touch. Skim.’

Again, his android pinged at him, but this time simply to confirm that Noodle had received his message. He was just about to re-enter the dream world from which she had awoken him when a second ‘ping’ announced the arrival of another message.

‘Tks, Skim. I’ll send you an e-mail later today. Been meaning to for a while. Noodle.’

The idea of returning to railway reverie had now evaporated. This was most unlike Noodle, but this Andrew regarded in a positive light. He quickly brought his thoughts under control before they leapt ahead of the prudent course that was so characteristic of their host. He closed the cover on the android and returned it to his inside pocket.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the train running is approximately three minutes early and is now approaching London Kings Cross, where it will terminate. Please make sure that you take all your personal belongings with you when leaving the train. We hope that you have had an enjoyable journey with East Coast Trains today and we hope to see you again in the near future. Please remember to mind the gap when stepping down from the train.”

Andrew realised that he must, after all, have dozed off again. As he awoke, he realised that the train was slowing down, sufficiently for him to recognise the name of Finsbury Park station. Already, his fellow passengers were beginning to create congestion in the aisle and the vestibule, so Andrew decided to sit tight until most of them had alighted. After all, there was no hurry.

By the time he emerged onto the impressive new station forecourt at Kings Cross, the sun had taken control of the weather and everything looked promising for a good day. Where should he start?

The sun remained in charge all day, so Andrew decided that it would be a great waste to spend the day indoors; instead, he headed down to Charing Cross and onto the Embankment, heading for the Thames river cruises pier at Westminster.

London looks very different from the deck of a river cruise-boat and Andrew listened intently to the informative, sometimes hilariously funny commentary delivered in a true Cockney accent that was not always easy for people from more northern parts to understand. He absorbed the changing scenery, the world famous architectural and historical avcılar grup yapan escort landmarks, took several photographs and hardly noticed the time passing as the vessel made its way out to the Thames Barrier, before heading back to Greenwich and on to Westminster. By the time the vessel came alongside the pier, Andrew had but one purpose in mind and, as soon as he had disembarked, he made his way to a small Italian restaurant about which his cousin had told him, in a narrow alleyway leading up from the Embankment and along the eastern side of Charing Cross station. An hour later, he was off again on his rambles around London. He decided to forsake the Underground and ‘buses and to see something of the capital on foot.

It was a weary Andrew who made his way eastwards along the Euston Road in the middle of the evening. It was coming up to 20:55 as he reached the magnificent edifice of St. Pancras International Station. Over an hour before his train departed from across the road, at Kings Cross. Perfect! Time for a quick bite before heading for the train home.

Walking along the Undercroft at St Pancras, Andrew was, as always, surprised at how many people were still milling around. Clearly, a Eurostar service had just disgorged its load of passengers from the Continent and these were now heading off in their various directions, mainly towards Kings Cross/St Pancras Underground station.

Andrew continued on his way along the Undercroft, towards the entrance to the low-level First Capital Connect platforms. As he approached the escalators leading up to the East Midlands Trains platforms, he became aware of a youngish woman in what appeared to be considerable distress. Ever the knight in shining armour, Andrew navigated his way through disinterested passers-by and approached her. It was something of a surprise to him to find that it was a woman who worked for the same organisation as he did, although he could not put a name to her.

“Hi, anything I can do to help?”

The distressed woman looked at him with what appeared to be total panic in her eyes. However, she recognised him straightaway, even though she could not put a name to him either. She looked at her watch and dropped her bag onto the floor.

“Shhh…”

Andrew frowned and then adopted his usual pragmatic approach.

“I’m Andrew, I know I’ve seen you before, but we work in different departments.”

The woman looked back at him with the expression of someone who is just becoming resigned to the prospect of total disruption of her plans.

“Hi, Andrew, I’m Nuala, I work in Customer Services.”

Andrew smiled in a way that was quite effective at defusing high-stress situations.

“What’s the problem, Nuala?”

“I can’t find the return half of my ticket. I was delayed getting up here and must have dropped it in the rush. I know I had it when I was on the Underground ‘cos I checked.”

“What train were you heading for?” he enquired.

“20:55 to Sheffield” she replied.

Andrew looked at time on the train departures display. “20:59” it read.

“How far were you travelling?”

“Sheffield” came an almost tearful reply.

Andrew suggested that a few moments to gather thoughts and make a systematic search for the ticket might help so, after a visual sweep of the area, he and Nuala made their way to the Travel Centre. Andrew suggested that Nuala sit at one of the tables and make a thorough search while he looked into her travel options.

The news was not particularly encouraging as it transpired that Nuala would only be able to travel as far as Derby, from where she would have to take a taxi to Sheffield. Nuala went very pale. Again, Andrew adopted his re-assuring expression.

“I’m f***ing stuffed” Nuala gasped in what was obviously desperation.

Andrew raised his eyebrow then returned to re-assuring mode.

“Maybe not, Nuala. I have an idea…”

For some reason, Nuala, normally extremely guarded when men were concerned, felt quite at ease with Andrew and only offered minimal protest when he suggested that she travel north to Retford with him, on the 22:00 East Coast service from Kings Cross and offered to drive her from Retford to Sheffield, to collect her car.

Uncharacteristically discarding her usual caution, she informed him that she had not travelled to Sheffield by car, but on the train from her home at Wessingley. Andrew smiled and assured her that this made the problem even easier to resolve, as his home was no more than about 15 miles from hers.

Fortified by two of the best burgers to be purchased at any railway station and revitalised by good strong coffee, the two of them eventually made their way across to Kings Cross and, via the ticket machine, onto the 22:00 service from Kings Cross to Leeds. Nuala guarded the single ticket to Retford that Andrew had purchased for her as if her life depended on it! Andrew, ever organised and calm, had assured her that they could sort out the financial avcılar masöz escort arrangements at a later date.

By the time the train reached Peterborough, Andrew and Nuala had learned a lot about each other and had managed to dispel some of the myths that circulated within the organisation that employed them regarding their respective departments. They had also succeeded in putting the world to right where their employer was concerned and had ended up in a generally convivial atmosphere for two people who barely knew one another.

Just after the train left Peterborough, Andrew made his way down to the catering vehicle, only to be greeted by a queue of hungry and parched homeward-bound theatre-goers who were chattering in very animated terms about the musical that they had just attended in the West End. Once again, despite the background noise, Andrew heard the ‘ping’ from his android.

He opened the cover and looked at the single email header: ‘Message from Noodle’.

‘Hi, Skim, what a day! Things didn’t go quite to plan, but am OK and on the way home now. Tell you more next time we chat. Hope everything went well for you. Noodle’

Andrew smiled and wondered what on earth Noodle had been up to. Knowing her penchant for mischief and dizziness, he decided not to ask.

His reply was succinct, to a degree of which even Noodle would have been proud. ‘OK, Noodle, glad you’re OK, keep in touch. Skim.’

A few minutes later, manoeuvring two plastic cups of tea along a fast-moving train, Andrew made his way back to his travelling companion.

Nuala was smiling and closing the cover on her mobile as Andrew reached her.

“At least there aren’t any more problems, Nuala. Good to see you smiling.” he commented.

Nuala flushed slightly and put her mobile back in her bag.

“Andrew, I have a confession to make…”

Andrew sat down opposite her and engaged her with a curious look.

Nuala reached again into her bag and pulled out a rectangular card with rounded edges…

“Guess what I found!” She placed the return half of her ticket, for the 20:55 from London Terminals to Sheffield, on the table.

Andrew smiled… “Well, at least you can now apply for a refund to offset against the ticket we had to buy. That does prove you had a ticket.”

Nuala rolled her eyes. “It’s just me, sometimes I panic and everything goes tits up!”

Andrew tried to conceal his surprise, but not with complete success.

Nuala blushed. “Sorry, I tend to speak before I think sometimes. I think it’s just because I’m ***king knackered.”

Andrew was no prude, but he was also somewhat conservative in his outlook. This must have been obvious to Nuala, who immediately blushed even more and promised not to say another word. Andrew laughed and said he might not forgive her for making the rest of their journey boring by staying silent! Nuala giggled and muttered “Oh yeah?,” in a manner that was at once cheekily defiant and challenging. Andrew kept his cool and betrayed nothing of the growing feeling of attraction towards his co-worker. He looked at her over the rim of his glasses. “Oh yeah!” He grinned and Nuala’s expression froze for a moment before she regained control of her train of thoughts. She realised that her pulse was getting slightly faster, but she was not sure that this had anything to do with fatigue or post-adrenalin syndrome.

The conversation flowed at a slower pace as the train sped northwards, with fatigue beginning to take hold of both of them. Now, the clear skies had given way to heavy clouds rolling in from the South-West and the rain was pelting hard against the windows of the train as Andrew recognised the reverse curves that signalled their approach to their destination. Having ensured that Nuala had everything with her and that he had not forgotten anything either, Andrew led her down the coach and stood on the right-hand side of the train, in readiness for arrival at Retford.

Fortunately, they had only a short distance to run through the driving rain before they found the dry haven of the pedestrian tunnel that crosses beneath the East Coast main line and leads out into the booking hall. Andrew told Nuala not even to think of a taxi and assured her he would be back to collect her in a few moments. Just a few minutes after completing the transaction for his car park ticket, he was outside the station building, where Nuala anticipated his gentlemanly attempt to walk round and open the door for her by jumping quickly into the car.

“I’m too used to being independent.” she said, with a cheeky grin.

The journey back to the A57 did not take long, for there was barely a car to be seen, just the occasional HGV making its way back to one of the major distribution depots in the nearby market town. A few minutes later, they were in Wessingley, a small former mining village, and it was not long before they were looking for a parking space on the terraced street where Nuala lived.

Nuala looked at Andrew and smiled. avcılar otele gelen escort “Can I at least offer you a last cup of tea or coffee before you head off home?”

Andrew nodded. “I think I can be tempted.” he replied, with a grin.

Under different circumstances, there would have been a serious risk of Andrew falling asleep on the very comfortable sofa where Nuala had invited him to wait while she went to make the tea, but Andrew’s thoughts went back over the chain of events during the day and he concluded, yet again, that it was always wise to expect the unexpected.

Nuala assembled the necessary items in the kitchen, then filled the kettle and switched it on. She then took her mobile from her bag and opened up the e-mail application.

‘Hi, Skim, really sorry I couldn’t get back to you this evening. Got rescued in London and am home again now. Chat later. Noodle. x’

The kettle was now starting to sing and soon the tea was brewing in the pot.

The atmosphere was peculiarly quiet, but not unpleasantly so. Andrew sipped his tea and looked over the top of his mug at Nuala, who was trying not to make it obvious that she was more than curious about her knight in shining armour, but she could not put her finger on the reason why it seemed as if she had known him for quite a while – and not as work colleagues. Andrew was about to speak – and so was Nuala – when the android pinged again..

“Excuse me,” said Andrew quietly, “I was expecting a message from a friend this evening, do you mind if I just take a quick look?”

Nuala smiled back at him and nodded her assent wordlessly.

Andrew opened up the ‘phone and read the message:

‘Hi, Skim, really sorry I couldn’t get back to you this evening. Got rescued in London and am home again now. Chat later. Noodle. x’

Andrew smiled, closed the cover on the android and put it down on the coffee table, alongside an envelope. Quite by chance, he glanced at the address. ‘Ms N Wardle, 64 Glebe Street, Wessingley, S82 6XC’. Andrew smiled. Now he remembered this young woman, whom he had met once or twice at works social events. Nuala Wardle. Of course! He smiled again.. then his countenance changed and he looked across at his hostess.

Nuala looked at him with a curious expression on her face, but she was now completely intrigued. Andrew smiled at her…

“Nuala Wardle.” A penny dropped very loudly in Andrew’s mind.

Nuala frowned, but not in a negative way, and tilted her head to one side as she looked at her guest with even greater curiosity.

“Y-y-y-essss, is something wrong?”

“Oh nothing wrong at all, Nuala, … or should I perhaps call you Noodle?”

Nuala put her mug down and put her hand to her mouth… speechless. This was extremely rare for her. She reached across to Andrew’s android and, emboldened by more than curiosity, asked if she could have a look at his text message.

She was speechless for several minutes, before she finally whispered, hoarsely: “You’re – you can’t be – but you must be Sk-k-imble?”

Her look of uncertainty gave way to an enormous smile as she put the android down carefully on the table. She and Andrew stood up simultaneously and in a matter of seconds they were locked in an embrace that would not have looked out of place between friends who had known one another for years.

The two of them fell instantly into hysterical laughter as the truth finally dawned upon them. Andrew, meticulous almost to the point of being OCD, was already kicking himself metaphorically for not having realised sooner what was going on, but that line of thought soon gave way to one of realisation that his thoughts about Noodle had been absolutely spot on.

Nuala’s tummy was churning like that of a teenage girl about to go out on her first date. She looked at this man, who was somewhat different from the run-of-the-mill ‘what-are-you-wearing?’ chatroom visitors. Over the months during which they had spent hours in private messaging online she had developed deepening trust in him. Time and time again she had wanted to tell him her name, give him her number and send him a photo, but caution had always overruled. She recalled all the things they had said to each other in their exchanges, the tone of which had varied from light-hearted humour to serious debate, also to matters that were somewhat more savoury. She blushed slightly as she recalled how Skimble had told her he was by no means a control freak, believing that people should be free to be themselves, but that he did find it difficult to listen comfortably to women using obscenities, a trait that always made his spanking hand itch. She recalled how his first mention of that term had made her feel, triggering the release of feelings deep within her that had lain dormant since she had read a romantic classic in which the heroine was taught the old-fashioned way of correcting unladylike behaviour.

The fact that the two of them had met in a spanking chatroom had told each of them all that they needed to know about the other’s inclinations and neither of them had succumbed to the temptation to talk about details, techniques or any other aspect of the physical attributes of the things that occupied their minds. What had become apparent to both of them was that spanking was no more than one component in something far deeper, something that went to the very core of their personalities.

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