Chapter Forty Eight: My Funny Valentine (Part Two)

What follows is very difficult for me to write.  It concerns events that I’m not proud of, and it hurts to remember what happened, but I know that I must.  There are only four people in this world that I will let hold me, firstly, my mother, secondly Nat, thirdly Fliss, and fourthly… but he will never hold me again.  The weather here is cold now, with a sharp breeze and stinging April showers.  It helps me to remember.

  This is what happened on that bleak Sunday the day after Valentines Day, after I returned home.

  My diary and biro lay abandoned next to me, I had finished writing by then and the despair had begun to seep back into my bones. I couldn’t move.  My head rested on my hands, my elbows against my knees, and my eyes were closed.  I didn’t feel safe, if I moved, something would happen, something undetermined but bad, and I couldn’t risk it.

  Far, far away, I heard a key enter a lock, and heard the key turn.  The door opened, and there was a voice, saying my name.  I heard footsteps, and then they halted.  That voice again, saying my name, then warm hands on my icy skin, as he said, “Look at me.”

  But I couldn’t move.

  Carefully, he prised my hands away from my face, and I was forced to open my eyes.  The first thing I saw was his face, directly in front of mine.  He didn’t say anything, but he held me for a very long time.

  He seemed to sense my frozen state, so it was with almost natural ease that he carried me upstairs to the living room, where he cautiously set me down on the sofa, and walked over to the gas fire, switching it on with the elaborate series of dial twists and clicks that Fliss and I have gradually mastered.

  As he sat down next to me, I leant my head against his shoulder and clung to his waist, he put his arm around my shoulder and murmured reassuring words to me, “Everything’s going to be alright.”  But I didn’t feel reassured.  Inside, the panic had turned itself down a few notches to fretting and, then, to fractiousness, but I still felt as though I wasn’t safe, I still felt as though I had been bruised all over.  “Tell me what’s wrong,” he said.

  “Everything,” I was shaking.

  He stroked my right wrist with his thumb, through the sleeve of my top I sensed him touch an inflamed scab and I winced.  Misunderstanding, he let go and moved away from me, leaving me alone once more.  “I didn’t come here for that,” his voice was quiet, almost a whisper, “I came here because you said you needed me.”

  I nodded, “I do need you, please,” I met his eyes, “hold me again, don’t let go of me.”

  His eyes revealed the concern that the rest of his face was trying to hide, but he did as I asked.  He held me again.

  I must have fallen asleep, for when I woke up it was early evening and I could hear voices singing, one high, one low, a man and a girl, singing ‘My Funny Valentine’.  It was coming from the kitchen.  The door opened, and Fergus and Fliss emerged, bearing bowls of soup and a plate of bread.  Fliss set the plate of bread down on the coffee table; she smiled awkwardly but nicely at me, and then retreated to the armchair facing me.  Fergus placed a bowl of soup in front of me, and then sat down next to me on the sofa, “Eat it,” he said kindly, “you’re too thin.”

  I gingerly picked up the bowl of soup; it was balanced on a plate, which was sitting on a tray, and evidently no one was taking any chances.  I placed the tray on my knees and picked up the spoon, it felt heavy in my hand, heavier still when loaded with soup, and my hand began to shake.  I set the tray and its contents down on the coffee table.  Without saying a word, Fergus took the soup back through to the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later with Fliss’ ‘Xena…’ coffee mug, “If you won’t eat it, try drinking it,” he suggested as he handed me the mug.

  Eventually, I managed to drink half of the soup, and by that time the liquid had cooled so much that it was almost cold.  Fliss attempted to ply me with bread and margarine, but backed off when she saw that I didn’t want any.  She left us alone after that.

  We spent the evening lying together on my bed, I clung to him as we kissed, unable to say anything to him, even when he told me he loved me and would never leave me again.  I don’t know that it was love that made me cling to him, or even happiness, I think it was need.  I believe I loved him, as I know that I love him now, but whether I felt it then I don’t know. The entire evening, when I look back on it now, feels like the last night, the very last night, the final night.  It was an evenings intimacy spent in the arms of the man I love, and I trusted him to keep me safe, to protect me from the panic and despair that I could feel welling up inside me, seeping through my skin, into my blood, into my bones.  He felt like the only one who could save me.

  Around midnight, he carefully disentangled himself from me, and said, “I have to go.”

  I sat up, “What do you mean?” the fear must have crept into my voice, for he squeezed my hand and told me, once again, not to worry, everything would be alright.  He leant in close and kissed me, very softly, in a final sort of way, then tried to extract his hand from my grip, “We have work in the morning,” he pleaded.

  “We work in the same place,” I pointed out.

  He wouldn’t look at me, and I increased the pressure on his hand, “Let go,” he cried, “that hurts.”

  “Look at me,” he still couldn’t meet my eyes, “LOOK AT ME!” His eyes bore an expression of surprise as he met my gaze, and I let go of his hand, “It isn’t work, is it?” I demanded, “It’s me, you don’t want to be here with me.”  He bent his head and began to lace up his boots, “Is there someone else?” I persisted, quietly but tensely.

  His head jerked up as though he’d been stung “No!” he flushed with anger “I just need to sleep!”  There was a heavy silence before he added, more calmly, “You don’t sleep, and if I stay here you’ll keep me awake.”  He got to his feet and turned to face me once more, “I worry about you,” he explained in broken tones, “and when I worry about you, I can’t sleep.”

  It felt like a stab to the heart, “You don’t love me,” I whispered, “You just feel sorry for me.”

  “No, that isn’t it.”

  “Isn’t it?” the anger that I had felt coursing through my veins so much earlier in the day decided to return, I felt a burst of energy and fury so intense that it almost made me feel light headed.  I got to my feet and barred his exit, as I demanded, “Isn’t it true?”

  He tried to move me away from the door, but the anger and adrenalin was giving me new strengths.  I could meet his eyes again, and stared at him, unblinking, as I demanded an answer from him.

  “Let me go,” I could sense that he was afraid, so I stepped aside, feeling ashamed.  But I couldn’t let him go, not without one last plea. The fury coursing through my veins made me fast as I pulled off my top and threw it, violently, across the room; the jeans were next, and I kicked them off equally aggressively.  Soon, I was stood before him in my white cotton knickers, yelling at him to “Take a good look!” because “I’m going to give you what you wanted all along!”

  In the silence that followed, I could feel my heart beating too quickly as I watched him.  His eyes were wide with shock; his mouth was slightly open, suggesting the same emotion.  His eyes took in every part of my body, from my huge, shadowed eyes to my ribs, showing through my skin, to the gashes and scars, and cigarette burns on my arms, legs, and chest… He stepped back a pace, his face a mask of horror.

  “What are you waiting for?” I demanded, but the anger was evaporating now, and there was a slight tremor in my voice as I added, “This is what you wanted.”

  “No,” he said at last, “Not like this.”

  “Not anymore,” I muttered bitterly.

  “Never like this” He whispered it with such gentleness that I stared at him, his face was full of pity as he gazed straight into my eyes, and the last vestige of anger I had felt disappeared completely.  I suddenly felt very, very tired as I began to shake.  Tears were leaking from my eyes and trickling down my cheeks as I sank to the floor, on my knees, I stared up at him through tear blurred eyes, and part sobbed, part ranted, “Why do you pity me? Why are you so repulsed by me? I’m not a monster, I’m not…” my sobbing grew harder as despair overwhelmed me like a wave, “I’m not…” I couldn’t speak anymore; I could feel my body shutting down as I sank further and further down to the floor, burying my face in the carpet as my sobbing grew harder and uglier.

  I didn’t know that he was next to me until he touched me, I flinched, and he moved away from me once more.  I heard the floorboards creak as he got to his feet.  There was a rustling noise, and then something soft and warm was placed over me.  I heard footsteps as they moved away from me, and then there was the creak of the door, “Stay with her,” I heard him say in a voice that was neither cold nor warm, “see that she doesn’t hurt herself.”

  “Where are you going?” that was Fliss’ voice, high with anxiety.

  “To phone Rachel.”

  The footsteps moved out of the room then, I heard them move along the hallway, and as he walked away, I knew that I had lost him forever.

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