The Prince and the Paladin Chapter Two

Image from Unsplash, taken by pietro de grandi

Kayley was glad to stretch her legs by the time her early lunch came around. “That novel is outrageous,” she told Drake as they walked briskly up to Roundhay Park. “Poor Sabitha! I wonder whether she’ll escape the sinister gang of navvies on Call Lane?”

“I’m sure that the handsome Lord Allerton will find her in time,” Drake grinned. “They’ll have a passionate kiss and then some dreadful accident will have her swept off to something dramatic – again!”

They found a bench and sat. “It’ll soon be too cold to eat lunch outdoors,” Kayley said. “Perhaps we can start having a brisk walk and eat at my desk.”

“I’m glad that I persuaded you to take exercise at lunchtime,” Drake said. “It’s put a spring in your step.”

Kayley smiled and pulled out her lunchbox. Mentally she handed over a second box to Drake. She always had extra rations for her imaginary friend. “It’s one of the perks of the job,” she said. “I get to walk in Roundhay Park every day.” She opened the box and took out a chicken wrap. “And I’m eating a little healthier.” She took a moment to enjoy the view across Waterloo Lake. “And it gives me more time to spend with you.”

“And to plot your imaginary love life,” Drake said. “Your mum is going to want an update next week.”

“I’m going to stall for a couple of weeks,” Kayley said. “Then I’ll come up with someone like the chicken factory worker. I can make him a philosophy graduate and watch her get conflicted.”

 She imagined Drake chuckling. Then he paused and Kayley could almost see him turning to look at her as if struck by inspiration.

“How about making me your boyfriend?” Drake asked. “Next time you speak to your mother, tell her about me. It would make perfect sense.”

Kayley thought for a moment. “My imaginary boyfriend but on another level.”

“There aren’t any pictures of me elsewhere to prove anything, are there?” Drake asked.

Internally Kayley shook her head as she finished up her wrap. “I used an AI programme,” she said. “But I saved all the details so I can create a variety of pictures of you.”

“And you already have a good idea about me,” Drake said. Kayley imagined him snapping the lid shut on his plain lunchbox and sliding it back to her. “You know my favourite foods, my favourite drinks, my favourite films and even my favourite aftershave.”

“Why did I choose something so expensive?” Kayley slid her own lunch box away, pulled out an apple and mentally handed another over to Drake. “But we never decided what you did for money.”

“I never felt comfortable with just being rich,” Drake said apologetically. “It seemed lacking in detail and would involve a lot of family that I don’t want to be bothered with.” He took a bite out of the apple.

“You have to be someone who is active,” Kayley thought as they stood to start their usual walk along the lake’s edge. “But I didn’t like police or soldier. You always felt too much of a free spirit.”

“I want to be someone with a little bit of culture,” Drake strolled next to Kayley. “But we decided against a professor. It wasn’t active enough.”

“I quite fancied you as an actor or rock star, but it seemed so hectic and you would always be away.” Kayley paused and nodded to the owner of Kif, her favourite large Alsatian mix, who was came up for a cuddle before wagging his tail at Drake and her and moving on.

“You ought to bring treats for Kif,” Drake observed.

“I’m not sure his owner would appreciate that. He might worry that I’m spoiling him or affecting his training,” Kayley said.

“What training?” Drake asked, reasonably, as they watched Kif suddenly race after a duck pursued by his hapless owner. “How about a writer? I could be an expert in nineteenth century Leeds. It’s how I met you. I was helping Mr Perrigo with research for his novels.” They turned up the path towards the main road, dodging the small kids and dogs as they headed for the gates.

“I thought we had tried writer but didn’t like it because it wasn’t active enough.” Kayley was distracted by a poster for a ghost hunting event. “Do you fancy going to that?”

Drake stopped suddenly and Kayley found herself almost stopping in reality. He grabbed her arm. “That’s it. I’m only pretending to be a writer. Obviously I specialise in nineteenth century Leeds, and I write some books, but I’m actually an occult investigator. I fight vampires and werewolves, protecting the ordinary people from the darkness that lurks around them.” Drake grinned. “I could have access to all sorts of books and have links across the country to other occult investigators. We could join against evil creatures of the night.”

Kayley tried not to giggle out loud, then thought for a moment. “Actually, that sounds interesting. I’d obviously keep that side of your character from mum, but it would explain your workouts at the gym.”

“And my martial arts training,” Drake added. “Did we decide what style of martial arts I would be doing?”

“I can’t tell the difference,” Kayley said honestly. She hesitated. “I’m not sure about werewolves and ghosts and that. It’s a step too far. An imaginary boyfriend is one thing, but at least boyfriends could be real. If I go insane and believe that you actually exist, that’s one thing, but I don’t want to be in a mental ward screaming about vampires. Or even worse – trying to stake someone.”

“Come on,” Drake coaxed. “It’s the best idea yet. It’s not as if you would be joining me.”

“As if I’m going to sit at home waiting for you to come back from secret labyrinths under the city?” Kayley crossed the road and headed towards the bakery. “Of course I would join you, or at least do the paperwork.”

“Do you live with me?” Drake said provocatively. “Would you be washing the blood stains out of my clothes as I recover from another night of fighting unholy terror.”

“I most certainly do not,” Kayley said primly. “We’ve not known each other that long and I’m not one to rush into that sort of commitment. Especially if you have money. It makes me look cheap.”

“I would have to have money.” Drake agreed. But we’ve been dating nearly eighteen months. I think the conversation ought to come up.”

“Okay,” Kayley thought as she pushed open the shop door. “Where do you live? And is there enough room?”

“I could live in one of the new flats in the city centre, with a startling view over the city,” Drake as they joined the lunch time queue.

“Would there be enough room for the occult books and anti-weird stuff?” Kayley whispered back sceptically. “I mean, you’d have to have silver bullets and fancy swords and, I don’t know, boxes of garlic and stuff. I think you’d need a big house.” She smiled at the assistant behind the counter. “I think Mr Perrigo left an order”

Surjit smiled. “I’ve got it ready,” she said. “There’s plenty of sandwiches, two quiches and an assortment of pasties. That Mr Perrigo. It’s all or nothing with him. And I’ve added some cakes as well.” She leaned forward, filled with curiosity. “It’s more than he usually orders. Is it a birthday or something?”

“I’ve no idea,” Kayley said. “But if there’s anything juicy then I’ll share.” She watched Surjit bustle into the back room to fetch the order. “Do you think I’d be spending a lot of nights with you?” she asked Drake, tentatively.

She could feel the spark in Drake’s eyes. “If I was your boyfriend in real life, I’d want to spend every minute with you, so I think that would be a yes. We would have got used to each other.” He tilted his head as he thought about it. “But there would be more of your stuff at my house than my stuff at your house because of my secret life. Those coconut jumbles look tasty.”

“I don’t like coconut much,” Kayley said. “I prefer chocolate or strawberry.”

“I like coconut, but I think I prefer it in a drink.” Drake leaned closer to the cabinet. Then he straightened and looked directly at Kayley. “I’m getting more independent. I don’t think that’s a good sign. I don’t think that’s a good sign at all.”

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