I asked Uncle Mack if I could go to the park that day at breakfast. He assented and I let Kenny know I would be at the park in an hour’s time. After I had showered and dressed, I set out, having seen from the notepad that Kenny would be waiting for me when I got there.
‘I’ll be over the bridge,’ he told me.
When I reached the middle of said bridge (there was a river running parallel to the high street which separated the houses and shops of the village from the park), I paused and scanned the area. I saw Kenny standing a short distance away, casually throwing bread to the birds, looking completely natural and unassuming. I walked over to him and he looked at me.
“Would you like to throw some?” he asked.
“I don’t mind,” I replied.
He handed me a couple of slices of mouldy bread and I tore them up before throwing them to the assortment of mallards, geese, moorhens, coots, seagulls and swans looking for a bite to eat.
“Oxford, hm? Any particular reason why?”
“It’s just an interesting city,” I answered him.
“I rather hoped this would just be a friendship with benefits or something similar. How long have they been dating?”
“Only since the 14th. But Susanna’s really into Joel: I think they were probably close friends before they decided they wanted to be more.”
Kenny looked unhappy.
“And there’s no chance this could just be a fling?”
I shook my head.
“She thinks it’s love. And she’s not generally the type to exaggerate and over-romanticise.”
Kenny looked cross.
“I’m really starting to dislike Joel. He’s so stupid to have let this happen - or too arrogant, to think there wouldn’t be consequences. What do you think of him? That’s assuming you’ve met him - have you?”
“Yeah, he came round our house one day. He’s really handsome - ” I was unembarrassed to say this, my mind numbed from being in Kenny’s presence - “interesting and likeable, but maybe a bit too intense.”
Kenny looked moody.
“Brilliant,” he said sarcastically. “So I’m definitely the bad guy here.”
I gazed at the river, feeling uncomfortable.
Kenny finished feeding the ducks and scrunched up the plastic bag that he’d used to hold the bread, stuffing it in his jacket pocket.
“Come on, let’s walk,” he said, his expression still stormy.
I followed him to the big green stretch of grass at one side of the park on which people were exercising their dogs or kicking a football or throwing a Frisbee around. We walked inconspicuously along the side of a copse at one side of the field and sat down at a bench in front of it.
Kenny produced a long glossy black feather tied to a length of string: a very basic necklace, though the feather itself was beautiful.
“I’d like you to wear this on Saturday. It’ll help me know the threat your sister’s relationship poses. When you get back home and find yourself alone - maybe before you go to bed would be a good time - I’d like you to let me know so I can visit you to collect it.”
“Okay,” I replied.
“Keep it safe until then,” he told me as he handed it over.
I was struck at once by the sensual pleasure produced by touching the feather. It was as soft as down and for a few moments I was no longer tranquilised: I was immersed in a simple delight that was almost intoxicating. But then Kenny closed my fingers around it. I looked up to see a serious expression on his face and I knew that he wanted me to stop caressing it. I had the unshakeable feeling that the feather, however improbable that might be, was one of his own: that is, had come from a wing that he hid from my vision with the same sort of magic that the Ring of Subjugation held, the sort that made the notepad capable of sending messages to him.
I tucked the feather carefully into the zipped pocket inside my handbag, which also held my phone and my book (I intended to stay in the park after Kenny had finished his business with me: it was too beautiful a day to spend indoors).
Kenny gazed across the field, leaning back against the bench. I sensed he wanted to stay here awhile: to enjoy the summer sun like the other people in the park. I wondered what I should do.
Absently, Kenny answered my unspoken question.
“You can leave if you like. Or stay. I don’t mind.”
It was decided, then. I pulled my book out of my bag, opened it at the bookmark and began to read. As I read, I could ignore Kenny’s presence and concentrate on what was going on in the story, but if a loud noise such as a dog barking or a child shouting caused me to look up, my eyes would stray to him and check he desired nothing from me before returning to the pages before them.
I had read about four pages when Kenny said “Stop a minute.”
I replaced my bookmark and looked up at him, ready to answer whatever question he had for me or complete whatever task.
“Can you really lose yourself in a book so easily? Don’t you get distracted by ... well... thinking?”
“Not if I’m in the mood to read,” I told him. “But if I wanted to think, I wouldn’t get my book out in the first place.” A part of me was thinking ‘Isn’t that kind of obvious?’.
Kenny frowned at me.
“I really envy you, Jennifer. You’re really quite remarkably lucky.”
My eyes began to wander back towards my book.
I looked back up at him. I wasn’t annoyed to be stopped from reading, though: Kenny’s desires and questions were important... at least, insofar as they were important to him and thus required my attention.
Hesitantly, he asked “D’you think you’d run away if I took the ring off your finger?”
“Yes,” I answered without any hesitation whatsoever.
Kenny nodded slightly, though he didn’t look happy at my response, and looked back at the field.
“As you were.”
My nose re-buried itself in my book.