Hmm. Lurve scenes or even emotional pathos. Not entirely my strong point. This is tricky for me. First of all, I have rather the wrong sense of humour to do this kind of stuff well. When my characters are as sarcastic with one another to the point where, read straight, it tends to read as if they are being rather gushy. Then there’s a bit of a problem, from the point of view of this, with spoilers. The whole thing in the K’Barthan trilogy is the will-they-won’t-they nature of the romance. They’re both crazy about each other but will they get together? I wouldn’t want to spoil that so I’m going to go for a scene that promises romance but doesn’t give the game away.
So The Pan of Hamgee, bless him, a man drastically lacking self confidence, falls for a girl who is destined to love someone else; Ruth. She, meanwhile, has to accept that her own view of her destiny counts for nothing until she can persuade other people to change theirs. Until they see her differently, she is going to be on the run with The Pan.
They start off reasonably well. Even though, when he first meets her, The Pan has been narcotically inconvenienced to the point where all he can say is “I’m a little teapot”. Unfortunately he makes a massive gaff by leaving her on a building for five minutes, at which point she is nearly kidnapped and though he saves her they have a major falling out. He spends a large part of the rest of the book trying to repair the damage and regain her trust. At the point of the excerpt, she has got to the stage where she’s quite keen on him but slightly in denial. He is plain crazy about her but taking it slowly because he doesn’t want to stuff it all up.
With any relationship between characters, I try to keep well out of it and let things develop naturally. Sometimes I get a completely different result to the one I’m expecting. This is rather a long excerpt but I hope it shows what I mean about letting the characters take the lead. I had no idea these two would become close when I started the series. But the minute they met and started talking to one another it was obvious they were going to, whatever happened.
In this excerpt they have just got to a safe haven after a couple of days on the run. They’re tired, they’ve slept in a car, they smell because neither of them have had a shower but they are delighted to have made it to a secret safe haven, hidden in the top floor of the RAC Club.
The Pan returned to the RAC Club and tried to hide his glee when, once again, they let him in. He climbed a flight of stairs to an oval atrium, where he found a set of wheels very similar to his snurd.
“How come these get to park inside?” he muttered. Close to him, someone laughed.
“You really should stop talking to yourself. It’s not parked. It’s a display you dolt, it’s a car – a Lotus to be precise.”
He couldn’t keep the smile off his face. She’d waited for him. Surely that meant something?
“Ruth, why aren’t you with the others?”
“Because I wanted some time to myself and this is about the only place where I’m safe to wander round on my own. Besides, one of us has to show you where we are staying. Oh and I can’t have a shower yet because Big Merv is using one bathroom and somebody called Trev is in the other one.”
“Trev’s here?” The Pan was laughing.
“And Gladys and Ada?”
“So I hear.”
“You haven’t met them?”
“Not yet. Where have you been? I’ve been waiting ages.”
“Sorry, it took longer than I thought.”
“You got lost?”
“You didn’t park it, did you? You let it go off on its own.”
“What am I going to do with you, Mister Pan?” she said.
“Mmm… I could think of something.”
“Stop flirting.” Uh-oh. She sounded stern.
“Are you angry with me?”
She shook her head and smiled.
“No. Although I don’t know why not.”
He nodded at the car.
“Yeh, expensive too. I always wanted one of these but just as I’d scraped the money together they got trendy and the price shot up.”
“It looks like my snurd,” said The Pan.
“I hadn’t thought but now you mention it, I suppose it does.” Ruth took his hand and led him up several flights of stairs to a door marked ‘service’. She pressed the dot of the i and it opened with a click.
“Service?” He gave her a quizzical look.
“Service,” she said flatly but she was trying not to smile. “I hope you’re paying attention, Mister Pan.”
“Good.” Behind the door was a large cupboard. Along two sides were shelves. Dusters neatly folded, tins of polish, dish cloths, rubber gloves, sponges and green scritchers were all lined up carefully, each in its allotted place. Leaning along the other wall; brooms, mops in buckets, vacuum cleaners and hanging on a peg, several pinnies. She turned on the light and shut them in. The Pan raised one eyebrow.
“Did you mean to lure me into a cupboard or are we lost?”
“I would never be so foolish as to deliberately lure you into a cupboard. I know exactly what you’d try to do.”
“Yet here we are. What happens next?” he asked her. She giggled.
“Will you behave?”
“I take it we’re lost then.”
“No, Mister Pan, we are not lost.” She pushed one of the brackets holding up the back shelf and the entire wall opened slowly into a room, on the far side of it was a large water tank. Large, in this case, meant big enough to accommodate the quantities of water required to service the entire RAC Club and probably top up the swimming pool downstairs. It was the size of a double-decker bus or thereabouts. She turned a light on, switched the cupboard light off and the wall began to swing slowly back into position. The Pan stepped smartly through to join her in the space beyond. He glanced at the tank and raised the other eyebrow this time.
“Are we here about the plumbing?”
She laughed again.
“Will you be sensible for one moment?” On the side of the water tank was a tap. She turned it but no water came out. Instead the front of the tank swung open. “Apparently, the Underground has quite a lot of money and the RAC Club are very accommodating. Sir Robin says the apartments here were built some years ago when the Grongles first invaded K’Barth. The Architrave was going to flee here but he never did…” Well, The Pan thought, he’d got beheaded, which might have made travel difficult. “Sir Robin says they are portal proof. Apparently you’ll understand what that means, heaven knows I don’t.” She leaned back against the side of the tank and gestured him past her. “There you are, Mister Pan. Welcome to Free K’Barth.”
He moved closer to her and peered in. The tank contained a flight of stairs at the top of which was a short corridor and a perfectly normal door.
“Arnold in the Skies. Now that’s impressive.” He chuckled. “Shall we?” She took his outstretched hand.
“If you insist.”
As Ruth and The Pan moved towards the door at the end of the corridor, he noticed a shift in her mood. She slowed and eventually stopped a few feet away.
“I think we’ve come up a bit short,” he said as he leaned forward, theatrically pretending to reach for the handle. She didn’t laugh. Oh. “Are you alright?” he asked her.
“Sort of. Mmm, that sounds like a ‘no’ to me. Care to elaborate, Ms Cochrane.”
She looked down at her feet.
“OK, I feel really bad saying this but I went in there while you were parking and there are people inside and they’re not… They’re from… They don’t…”
“You mean, it’s full of K’Barthans.” She was relieved but at the same time embarrassed. About as embarrassed as she’d ever been by the looks of it.
“I’m supposed to be the Chosen One and I feel like a circus freak.” It was easy to appreciate her point of view. As far as he was aware, The Pan was the only man in existence with four eyes in either of the realities he’d visited. There were many reasons he kept quiet about the extra pair, but his fear of standing out, of being branded weird, was high on the list. Neither he nor Ruth had any way of telling whether or not the K’Barthans behind that door knew she was the Chosen One. But if she was anything like him, The Pan could understand her fear that they might. He tried to put himself in her place. How would he feel? Under pressure? Conspicuous? Did she feel that everyone was watching, wondering what would happen next and worse, pinning their hopes on her?
“It’s understandable. I feel like a circus freak myself, sometimes,” he said. She smiled gamely but the ‘you-are-one’ quip he was expecting never came. The Pan waited while she stood there, deep in introspection until something seemed to resolve itself.
“I’ll get used to it. I’ll have to, won’t I? But I feel out of place.”
“Even with Lucy?”
“She seems completely unfazed but she’s on the phone to her work. She’s busy organising an emergency week off, she’s calling it ‘personal reasons’ but I think she wants to look after me. Anyway, it’s OK for her. She hasn’t been chosen by one of them.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“I thought you said you weren’t chosen, either. I thought we were here to find the Candidate and have strong words with him about picking someone else,” he chided with a smile.
“I did, but what if…” she stopped. “There are people in there who are…” she stopped again. “OK, the person who greeted us was very polite and everything but he was about three feet tall, orange, furry and he looked like a guinea pig and—”
The Pan burst out laughing. Arnold’s snot! She was feeling nervous and awkward and it wasn’t tactful at all but he couldn’t help himself. Oh well, nothing to do about it now but try to make the joke stick.
“Ms Cochrane, are you worried you’ve been chosen by one of them?” He was surprised and delighted when, instead of being cross, she seemed relieved and broke into genuine laughter.
“I’m so embarrassed. I’m sure I’m being a racist or species-ist or something. I bet you’re not bothered, are you?”
“It depends… We consider ourselves intellectual equals but certain species are just biologically incompatible. I’m not sure what a guinea pig is but if the Candidate was a Spiffle, which is what I think you’re describing, he would probably fancy someone a bit less humanoid. Another Spiffle, for instance – or possibly a Blurpon. Physically, they’re a bit more like each other.” Should he go into the emotional differences, the most laid back species on the planet versus the most uptight, violent, Olympic standard launderers? No.
“OK, OK Mister Pan. Could you possibly be a little more sarcastic about this?” asked Ruth. She was laughing properly now.
“I doubt it. I’m sorry.” He hugged her. “If it helps, I will be with you every step of the way, alright?”
“That’s not necessarily going to be an advantage.”
“No.” He smiled but the elation he’d felt only minutes before had evaporated. That had smarted more than he’d expected. Suddenly everything felt a little lacklustre. She looked into his eyes and took his other hand.
“That was a joke, Mister Pan,” she said gently. “I’m sorry if I hurt you, I’m a bit wired and I expect my comic judgement is totally off.”
“No I’m not hurt.” Arnold, why did he have to be so crazy about her? She was going to take him apart.
“Do you mean that? Only you look—”
“You’re fine.” He pulled her towards him to give her another hug. This time, she hugged him back. Properly. There was a lot of contact, almost as if she was melting against him. She put her head on his shoulder, in no hurry to let go. The Pan’s spirits soared skywards again. He closed his eyes and held her tight. “You are more than fine,” he whispered.
She looked up suddenly, smiling.
“I didn’t catch that, Mister Pan.” He looked into her eyes.
“I think you did.”
“Ooo, you’re a cool customer,” she said and she was laughing and hugging him and he was flying. “Honestly, I didn’t.”
“It was nothing worth repeating,” he said. She gave him a measured look so he qualified it, “Alright, nothing worth repeating… yet.”
“Really?” she said flatly.
“Really.” They stood there, gazing into each other’s eyes, for a moment that seemed to last a long, long time. If he tried to kiss her, The Pan wondered, would she scream? On the face of it, it appeared not. She lifted her chin and he took a breath. He leaned in and stopped. Nothing he’d ever done in his life had ever taken so much will power as not kissing Ruth, right there. But, tempting as it was to seize the romantic initiative, the entrance lobby to the K’Barthan Underground HQ was patently not the time or the place. More to the point, if he actually started kissing Ruth, The Pan wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop.