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"Mum, Mum," shrieked Chloe from her bedroom.
Helen groaned. The half-light of the early morning reached her through bleary eyes. "Not again..."
"I've seen it Mum, come and look."
Helen sank back into her pillows for a few moments.
"Mum you'll be too late, it's going behind the clouds."
Throwing on her dressing gown, Helen stumbled to Chloe's room.
"Yes, love," she said "what have you seen this time?"
Chloe's eyes were glazed over with childlike wonder.
"A spaceship, Mum," she whispered.
Helen rolled her eyes.
"Of course, love," she said, trying to disguise the mockery in her voice.
She had failed; Chloe's face was a reddened mask of outrage.
"It was there," insisted the little girl, in the sort of indignant voice that only a child could have. "You missed the moment."
"I'm sorry love," she said wearily. "I've got to get back to bed."
"But, Mr Taylor said," started Chloe.
Helen exploded inside. "Chloe," she snapped. "I'm really tired of hearing that name."
"You don't know him, Mum," she said, her eyes shone with admiration.
"He's wonderful; he says he wants to help us open our eyes to the world."
"Yes, that's all very well and good love, but if he's got you seeing spaceships every morning at six-o-clock, I'm not sure that's such a good thing for you.
And I know it isn't good for me!"
"But it was there."
"Chloe, go to back to bed, and let me get back to mine."
Chloe dived back under her duvet, dragging it aggressively over her head.
Helen wondered vaguely what her daughter had 'seen'.
She was always making up stories.
She hoped Chloe wasn't crying but even if she was, there was little she could do. There was no reasoning with her when she was in a duvet sulk.
As Helen climbed back into her own bed, she found herself too annoyed to sleep.
Nothing had been the same since that supply teacher had been in charge of Chloe's class; she had been like a different kid.
He had been filling her head with nonsense, tempting her to live in a fantasy world, seeing spaceships...it wasn't on!
As she spread her arms across the lonely, empty sheets, she wondered what her husband Tom would have done. But Tom wasn't here; she would have to deal with it herself.
Not a problem, after work she would go and see Mr Taylor.
By the time Helen arrived at the school she was already flustered.
She thought the half hour drive from work would have calmed her a bit.
The snaking metal procession of the school run had annoyed her further.
Chloe was waiting with the crowd at the school gates, holding out a drawing with a proud smile on her face.
Helen took it, impressed, but her heart sank as she realised it was a spaceship with aliens.
She pressed it back into her daughter's hands.
"Look, Chloe, love," she said. "I've got to speak to Mr Taylor."
"Mum, don't be mean to him."
"Of course not," she lied. "I won't be long; you stay with Carol and Danny for a moment, OK?"
"It's all right Helen, I'll look after her," said the other Mum. "For a few minutes anyway!"
Helen dashed through the double doors, following the twisty disinfected corridors until she came to the old part of the school.
The main hall was cavernous, with kid-sized chairs stacked obediently on desks. It was cool and dim with a line of dusty sunlight pouring in from an arched window.
For a moment, Helen remembered her own school days with a wonderful shiver.
At the far end of the room a lone grey figure sat at a large desk.
He looked like he was marking the kids' work.
"Yes. How can I help?"
He looked up from his work, turning on a boyish smile.
He was younger than she'd expected, a pair of deep blue eyes sparkled intelligently.
Maybe it was professional politeness; but it seemed that his smile was meant exclusively for her.
"I'm Chloe Weston's Mum."
"How can I help you then, Mrs Weston?"
Her confidence failed her and her anger died on her lips as he looked up at her with those bright calm eyes, they looked like wild oceans shining in the sun!
He was quite devastatingly handsome.
His crisp, perfectly tailored suit looked a bit pretentious,and his old fashioned parted hairstyle was probably an attempt to make himself look older.
In this he failed, he certainly didn't look the twenty-four that Chloe had claimed he was. Only four years younger than herself!
She still fancied him though, and stared for too long.
The young teacher didn't seem to notice.
Then she reminded herself she was here on business, and Carol was waiting outside.
"Mr Taylor," she said in her sternest professional voice. "I'm concerned about your influence on Chloe."
He looked taken aback. "I'm sorry to hear that, though I can't think what I've done."
"Yes, well," she went on. "It's since you've been teaching her, it's Mr Taylor this, Mr Taylor that, and she's been having the strangest ideas."
"She's an imaginative kid," he said.
Then he offered his hand in the sweetest old fashioned way, "I'm Chris."
"Helen," she said, taking his hand.
"I think you'll find Chloe has loads of ideas of her own. I just try and encourage kids to express their ideas; I try to open their minds."
"I just don't think she needs any encouragement to live in an unreal world!"
Chris looked a bit put out.
"Like I said, she's bright and imaginative, give her a bit of scope to express that imagination and she'll be fine."
Helen thought him cheeky, offering parental advice!
"Yes, well, I do know my daughter."
"I'm not saying you don't. Just perhaps you could encourage her a bit more, be a friend to her as well as a Mum?"
She felt a surge of anger.
"Look, I don't need a lecture from you on how to bring up my daughter, thank you, Mr Taylor!"
"Sorry, that wasn't my intention at all. I was just saying..."
"Well, don't!" she snapped.
There was a long awkward silence.
Helen glared at him, heart pounding. This handsome, intelligent arrogant man.
Who did he think he was?
He sat there for a few moments, clearly shocked into silence by Helen's outburst.
"I'm...sorry," she offered at last. "It's just I've been worried about Chloe, she's been seeing things."
"What sort of things?"
"Well, a spaceship!" blurted Helen. "She got the idea from you."
Chris did not laugh, his ocean eyes lit up mysteriously, he looked enthralled.
"Have you spoken to her about it?"
Helen was unwilling to engage the topic any further.
"Just stop filling her head with such stupid ideas, OK?"
"But what did it look like?" he persisted.
Helen was too ashamed to admit that she hadn't asked Chloe for details.
She'd just assumed it was a kid's wild and untruthful, story.
"I don't know," she said.
"I'd like to see what Chloe has seen, or I could discuss it with you, maybe."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, perhaps I could come round sometime, maybe we could talk about in a more relaxed setting?"
"How do you mean?" she said, wondering where this was going.
"Well, maybe over a drink even?"
His words should have sounded presumptuous, but somehow did not.
They were open, honest and sincere, he seemed as intrigued by her as she was by him.
But, taken aback, she couldn't find words to reply to his offer.
She opened and closed her mouth like a goldfish.
"Well?" he asked gently.
"I just don't think it would be very appropriate," she said, in a faltering voice.
Chris turned and stared towards the wall.
Helen followed his eyes.
On that wall, shining in that slant of afternoon light was a collection of kiddie drawings, bright scrawled things, erratic blazes of light and colour, but all on one theme.
There was one, clearly superior and drawn by an adult, with C Taylor scribbled underneath.
But she was suddenly, wildly envious of his ability and imagination, and totally, unaccountably fascinated by him.
She didn't know whether to be flattered or outraged by his offer.
"Just a drink, that's all," he said, I'd like to hear about Chloe's spaceship."
Seize the moment she thought, remembering Chloe's words.
No matter how inappropriate or unexpected.
She stared back at those ocean eyes.
Seize the moment!
Yet she couldn't find words to express her feelings, and they came out as anger. "No," she said firmly. "It wouldn't be right."
"Look, no offence. I'd just heard from Chloe you were single and a bit lonely and..."
Helen drew in her breath sharply.
This was too much! "How dare you, Mr Taylor." she said in a low cold voice.
His face turned crimson. "Look, that came out wrong! I'm sorry."
"Just leave my daughter alone will you, and stop filling her head with nonsense!" she blasted. "and leave me alone too. Creep!"
He didn't answer her, but he looked mortified.
Helen turned and rushed from the room.
Retrieving Chloe from the other Mum, she bundled her into the car and drove home.
Chloe cowered silently on the back seat.
Only when she was half way there did Helen realise she was sorry for what she had said to Chris.
Helen woke up at 6:30 the next morning as was her habit.
This time though, there was no abrupt wake up call. Chloe was probably sulking again. As it was Saturday Helen laid back and let sleep take her.
When she woke up again, the clock said 7:52, a real lie-in by her standards.
Then she noticed something odd, it was still quiet.
She called Chloe's name softly, then louder.
She then went to her room.
The bed had been slept in, but Chloe wasn't there.
Pulling on the first pair of jeans and t-shirt she could lay her hands on, Helen rushed from room to room, calling for her daughter.
Then she looked through the window to the empty streets beyond.
Chloe was nowhere.
With a hammering heart and trembling limbs, Helen rushed to the phone. "Please, please..." she whispered as she jabbed in the first of three nines.
But then she slammed the phone down again as the doorbell rang.
Helen ran to the door, knocking over a vase of flowers.
There was Chloe, in the dubious custody of a scruffy teenager!
Helen nearly collapsed through relief.
Ignoring the lad, she grabbed her daughter and hugged her.
Then, in a sharpened voice, she demanded, "What did you think you were doing? Never go running off without telling me! Do you understand?"
"You wouldn't listen to me about the spaceship, so I had to tell someone else!" she accused.
The words burnt into Helen.
"I've brought her back safe, Mrs Weston," said the lad.
"Who are you?" she said, wondering how he knew her name.
Then she looked at him properly.
Ragged jeans tumbled over well worn trainers; a floppy hooded top; a mop of tousled hair broke from under a tight baseball cap.
And he had a pair of ocean eyes, this was no teenager.
"Mr Taylor!" she gasped. "I'm sorry - you look so different!"
"I'm not surprised, now I'm out of those penguin clothes."
Chloe piped up, "I went round to Mr Taylor's house this morning."
Chris looked at Helen, embarrassed. "I think she must have found my address from the Internet."
Chloe ran upstairs.
Helen shook her head at her, but felt too relieved to give her a telling off.
"Come in for a moment Mr Taylor - Chris."
"Look, I'm sorry for my behaviour yesterday Chris," said Helen between sips of tea. "And thanks for bringing Chloe home."
Chris was munching through a slice of warm buttered toast.
"No, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound so presumptuous, totally wrong, especially for a teacher, very unprofessional."
"It's OK. But, I suppose, now that Chloe's teacher is returning next week..?"
"I'll be off to pastures new, yes."
Helen felt a pang of disappointment, so would Chloe when she found out.
He sat at the table, ocean eyes shining in the morning sun, looking quite at home with his tea and toast.
"Maybe," she ventured, "...maybe you could come round again some time?"
"Mum," yelled Chloe from upstairs. "Come quickly!"
Helen leapt to her feet. "What?"
"It's the spaceship, come and see it."
Helen groaned inside, but Chris's eyes lit up.
"Come now!" insisted Chloe.
"Can I look?" said Chris intensely.
"Come on," said Helen, leading him to the little girl's room, "if it'll put an end to this nonsense."
Chloe was sat on the bed, motionless, staring out of the window.
Lifting the curtain high Helen looked out, searching the morning sky for whatever Chloe had imagined she'd seen.
The sky was completely blue, except for a sea of hazy orange creeping up from the horizon.
There it was, unblinking, unmoving, a single bright circle of light, it was bigger than a star, smaller than the moon.
Helen could hardly believe it, her pulse quickened.
"What's that?" she hissed. "What is it?"
Chris stared at it, deep in thought.
Everything in the room was still.
The morning was perfect, a hush settled over everything, it was one of those moments, still and calm, where magic could still exist.
Helen was a little afraid, and instinctively slipped her hand into his.
He did not pull away.
None of them dared disturb that tingling silence.
But then, a knowing look came into Chris's eyes.
"Ah, that would be Venus," he said softly.
"Are you sure?" Helen asked, still clutching his hand.
"Yes, we're very close now.
People have often seen it and jumped to wild conclusions."
Chloe still stared, transfixed. "Another world..." she whispered.
Just for a moment, Helen had allowed magic back into her life.
She had let Chris and Chloe open up a world of magic for her, something she had almost forgotten.
But Helen also felt an idiot.
A helpless idiot, holding the hand of her daughter's teacher, a stranger!
The magic in the room died.
Chloe's 'spaceship' was just a commonplace ball of rock in space and she was a single Mum with bills to pay, who had no time or dream of spaceships, or fit in teachers with beautiful eyes.
The sun was rising now, bringing harsh reality back to the land.
Venus would soon be obliterated, and so would her silly ideas of romance.
Helen let go of his hand and stepped away.
He looked at her, surprised and disappointed.
"I bet you've got plans for today," she asked, hoping that her embarrassment didn't show too much in her voice.
"Well, actually," he started.
Helen was desperate to retrieve her dignity.
Her voice was cold and professional.
"Thanks for bringing Chloe back home, but I mustn't keep you any longer."
Chris nodded, he'd got the message. "I'll see myself out."
He went down the stairs and through the front door.
Both Mum and daughter were silent, watching him walk away, out of their lives for good.
"Thanks anyway, for coming to see my spaceship, Mum," said Chloe, beaming.
Helen sat there for a few moments in silence.
Then, without warning she rushed down the stairs, flung the front door wide open and caught up with Chris.
She had only one thought, seize the moment.
Chris turned round, looking puzzled.
She was breathless, panting, and self-conscious.
Then she remembered that she was wearing no makeup and her hair was a mess.
Seize the moment? Seize the nettle more like!
She had made a complete imbecile of herself, and there was no going back.
"Come round for dinner tonight?" she asked.
"No," he said. "I've a better idea. Come to mine. I'll cook something for you, and maybe Chloe would like a look round my observatory?"
"Thanks," she said, trying to control her thumping heart. "Maybe I could look too?"
Venus had risen just above the rooftop.
"Chloe's Spaceship" she whispered.
Chris gave her a huge, rather surprised smile.
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