Eleanor has learned that she can be bad, but just how far is she willing to go?
She'd learned how to do cheap and trashy. She'd learned a lot in her time inside.
She got to the bar ahead of Danny, and perched herself on a bar stool so he couldn't help but pause in the doorway and let his eyes track the line of her long, stockinged legs, the mesh a fine fishnet, the dark tops just showing beneath the hem of her little black skirt. Cheap black stilettos, a black t-shirt and her Muubaa leather jacket completed the outfit, complemented by plenty of mascara, teal eye shadow and lips painted a glossy bronze to pick out the darker tones in her fiery hair.
So maybe she brought a little class to cheap and trashy, but she was sure this was the kind of thing to catch Danny Taylor's eye.
He arrived a few minutes after El. He paused in the doorway, spotted her, and then he did a double take and his eyes roamed up and down her length, before finally he approached.
She'd forgotten that swagger in his walk. The gym thing again: thighs too pumped to swing easily past each other, heavily muscled arms unable to hang vertically against a broad, inverted triangle chest. He was wearing faded jeans with rips across the thighs, Adidas trainers, and a football shirt she knew she should recognize. His hair was buzz-cut short, not much more than dark stubble, and his eyes always made you double-take and wonder why they were so startling until you realized that one was blue and the other green.
What she had not expected was the complexity of her response to him.
Danny had always set off lots of triggers for her. He came from such a different world, and for the longest time she had struggled to see what it was that tied him to Jeremy. He made her feel like a snob for reacting as she did. Perhaps it was only prison that had corrected her of that guilt: on the inside she had encountered women from so many different backgrounds, if she was a snob then surely it would show up when she was inside? But they were mostly just ordinary women, regardless of their crimes and their backgrounds.
So now she was confident that her reaction was not due to snobbery, yet still she'd always felt antagonized by his cocky, wide-boy presence. A jealousy thing, perhaps? That Jeremy had seen things in Danny that she had not? It wasn't until much later that she'd come to understand a bit more clearly about her husband's criminal double life.
Now, though... Now Danny set off a whole bunch of other triggers, too, ones she hadn't anticipated. Alongside that antagonism there was an unexpected lift in her heart when she saw him. This was the first time in... in how long? The first time she had seen someone from her old life who didn't appear to be loaded down with judgment and distaste for her.
And more than that, he was a link with her late husband. He had been a part of Jeremy's life, and somehow she found herself able to think in these terms and not feel that agonizing pain of loss. Was this what had been missing, all that time she had been forced to grieve alone? Perhaps grief must be shared before it can transform into something else, something more manageable.
"Hey, hey," he said, spreading his arms as if to embrace her, then letting them drop as she hesitated – an unexpected show of sensitivity on his part.
"Sorry," she said, feeling the need to explain. "I... I'm still re-learning how to be on the outside, you know?"
He nodded. "I know how it is," he said. "Been there, seen it, done it."
He pulled a bar stool closer to her and sat. "Get you a drink?"
"Vodka," she said.
"Something in it?"
They laughed, and he ordered drinks, a pint of Stella for himself and a vodka and tonic for her.
The bar was starting to fill up with the early evening crowd now. El peered around, feeling that sense of panic rising a little. Even six weeks after her release she found this happening: crowds, confined spaces, wide open spaces...
"It never leaves you," said Danny. "Not once you've been inside a cell and they shut that door on you. Never goes."
How was it that Danny Taylor, of all people, suddenly had a sensitive, insightful side? Had the world really changed that much while she'd been locked away?
//end of extract//