Jan 31, 2009
The taxi whispers along the busy highway in the midst of the evening rush hour traffic. I sit in the back in silence, scarcely aware of the frantic headlights around me, lost in thoughts of my own. The taxi driver is babbling in some language on his cell phone and driving with one hand. The music that emanates from his little radio jangles dischordantly, intruding on my thoughts.
“Which Terminal do you want, please, sir?” his voice comes to me from a distance.
“What, sorry?” I answer, returning to the present.
“It is which, the Terminal, I go, please, sir?” I am uncomfortable with his garbled English, but seem to detect a question.
“Terminal 4, please; British Airways arrivals.”
“Air Canada, please, sir?”
“No, Terminal 4,” I answer the strange confused man and put an emphasis on the number. “British Airways arrivals,” I repeat.
“Yes, sir. Very quick I take you. Thank you, sir.”
I sigh and remain unconvinced that he has ever been to the airport or knows how to navigate the maze of spaghetti-like ramps and over- and under- passes necessary to arrive at the correct Terminal. Suddenly, the taxi jolts and swerves across four lanes of traffic heading for an off-ramp from the highway. The sign above the exit says, 'Greater Toronto Airport Authority, All Terminals'. I figure, at this point, arriving alive will be the best miracle of my day.
I check the time. Somewhere overhead, Caitlyn is being told to 'stow overhead baggage, put the tray in an upright position' and buckle her seatbelt for the final approach to Toronto. Perhaps there is some joking about the weather; a cold, snowy, mid-winter evening. 'The local time in Toronto is 7:33 p.m.'
Just thinking her name sets off a chain reaction series of thoughts in my mind; memories of our history together and the two years of our separation since she has been in London.
At one time, Caitlyn and I had been inseparable friends and passionate lovers. We made frequent and embarassing displays of our affection; unable to be apart, unable to withstand the hunger for the other's touch, kiss or caress. Then things had changed. Her career was dazzlingly succesful; one night, amidst her sighs of misery, she made the announcement – a transfer to London. Yes, it was permanent.
We both fell apart. Her decision to go was a foregone conclusion; it would have been impossible for her not to go but my own position didn't allow me such mobility. We both distressed, clinging together in the night, for weeks; our nerves growing as taut as violin strings with our tension until the fights began. By the time I dropped her off at the airport, we hardly spoke; being too broken emotionally to cope with what was happening to us. My last memory of her shows her turning to walk away, a brittle smile upon her lips and tears welling in her eyes. 'I'll call you from there,' she said. The frosted door of the international departures security area slid closed behind her and she was gone.
I confess that I didn't deal with it well; perhaps neither of us did. Our phone calls, vain and feeble attempts to maintain our lost intimacy, invariably ended in anger over misconstrued meanings. Even the emailing slowed and then stopped. One morning, I awoke in a state despair that I could never have imagined and realised that she was lost to me.
Then began my odyssey in depression. For months after, I would awake from fretful sleep, my own hands trailing over my feverish body in place of her touch; I could taste her, smell her in my disturbed state. My apartment, the outward representation of my mind, became cluttered with incomplete paintings and haphazardly done scetches, like thoughts that could not find rest or termination. The floor was a scatter of books, mostly unread, after the promise to delve into a good story to distract myself. The kitchen was eventually littered with empty bottles of Jack Daniels. It was, as though, everything had become suspended, awaiting some signal or sign to part anew with life and living. There I remained, cloistered within my own darkness, lost, lonely; waiting for the sign.
The taxi bumps to a stop against the curb, startling me from my dreadful reverie.
“We are here, sir, thank you,” says the driver, turning toward me in his seat and beaming a proud smile. I look from the window and see a sign: British Airways – Arrivals/Arrivés. I silently say a prayer of thanks to a God that I don't believe in; maybe the driver is as surprised as I am that we got here. I scan the metre and pull the necessary bills from my pocket to give him.
“Thank you, sir, very kind,” he says as I open the door and step to the sidewalk in front of the Terminal. The light on the top of the taxi flickers on and then the vehicle slices dangerously into the passing traffic and disappears.
The Terminal is streaming with people and I am surprised, even though I know it is like this all day and most of the night. There is a constant flow of weary travellers through the sliding exit doors. I pause to observe them and the moods that flow from them in visible waves.
Airports are places of suspended life, I conjecture, like my own suspended life of the past two years. Here on the arrivals concourse, people have reached the end of their journey. I watch a young girl, forgetful of her baggage, run into the awaiting arms of a handsome young fellow; his arms close around her tightly and they kiss, long and deep, a happy and anticipated reunion. Other travellers bear upon their expressions the weight of the world as they trudge along lugging heavy valises; some simply look lost and far from home.
The change had come, surprisingly and suddenly, in an email found blinking benignly at me from my inbox one morning. It was from Caitlyn. She was coming back, unsure of her eventual return to London. There were unnamed difficulties hinted at, but she did not specify their nature. In the flurry of exchanged messages that followed, she hinted once, twice, and then three times at the possibility of finding temporary space with me in my apartment. I avoided the question, sitting instead at my computer, the ash of a cigarette falling on the keyboard, and trembling at the thought of having her again close to me. I said 'yes', of course while a terrible fear filled me for my own stability.
I scan an overhead monitor and collect the gate information while shouldering through the crowded place. Even now, I don't know what I am going to do, or what I can do about this: the decisions have been made and the clockwork set in motion. I near the designated gate and my eyes begin to wander, searching, over the hundreds of bodies lingering or in aggitated movement there. The door from Customs and Immigration slides open and closed repeatedly, disgorging the weary travellers from the London flight and who knows how many others.
When I see her, I almost stumble upon her. She had already exited. She is standing, still and erect, beside a pillar that bears the printed words 'Meeting Point/Pointe de Rencontre', with a bold arrow that points to the floor. I wonder at the necessity for the arrow.
Something about her has changed but I am at a loss to identify it. She is as tall, thin and beautiful as she always was to me, her head carried regally on a slender neck that I had always loved to nuzzle with my mouth. Her effect on me is immediate and it is as though we are no longer within the confines of a busy airport but somewhere secluded, just us, alone. When she turns, her dark eyes fall on me, transfixing, hypnotising and drawing me in like deep, warm pools. I catch my breath.
“Caitlyn,” I say on a whisper of escaping breath.
It is strange how a place so familiar, home, can, on arrival after a time, suddenly feel so foreign. I stand on the arrivals concourse with a large arrow pointing at the top of my head, and a queasey feeling in my stomach, as I wait for Paul to show up. He won't be late, he never is, but the fact of seeing him again renews my fears and doubts of the past two years in London. I don't know what I am going to say to him, or how.
The flight from Heathrow was pleasant enough and smooth aside from the fact that, twice, my anxiety had me rushing to the tiny bathroom to be sick. Now, with nothing left in me, I am feeling drained and exhausted to the point of collapse. I'm sure I look completely awful, despite the freshly applied make-up; not really a way to make a good showing to the man that I love.
“Ms. Caitlyn Jones?” the Customs official had said to me scanning my customs declaration.
“Miss,” I corrected him automatically, but for no good reason, and I slid my Canadian passport through the little space under the glass partition. He was an older fellow with short-cropped grey hair peaking out from under his cap which perched on his head at a angle that made it seem jaunty. Even his full eyebrows were grey which gave him a grandfatherly look.
“You've been in London for a while,” he observed and then studied my response.
“Yes, sir, two years,” I answered him and he nodded.
“My wife and I visited London about ten years ago,” he reported to me. “It's a great city.”
“Unfortunately, it wasn't too kind to me,” I answered, unsure about my own motivation in telling him that. Maybe it was just the desire to let it out after keeping so much inside for so long - like a canister under pressure.
“I'm sorry to hear that,” he said and his brow creased for a moment to accent his displeasure. His eyes were pale blue and a little tired looking; they scanned my face without malice. “You have nothing to declare?”
“No, sir. Just myself,” I answered thinking how true that was.
His hands began to fly rapidly over my papers; the U.K. Visa was initialed, and the customs declaration scribbled with an unintelligible flourish. Then with a heavy thump, he inked his stamp, and placed the re-entry in my passport. The papers re-emerged toward me under the glass and I felt my fingernails, newly manicured, rasp over the rough cover of the passport.
“Welcome home, Miss Jones,” he had said to me with sincerity and winked. I wondered if he could see the wild, unsettled feeling that was bottled inside of me, looking for release.
“Thank you,” I said. That human contact made me want to let it all out right there. I tried to smile and then took the handle of my case and trundled away, still attempting to contain myself.
Moments later, the frosted glass door of the security area whisked open before me and I found myself alone among a sea of other travellers and those come to meet them, with my anxiety, crawling in my belly, as my steadfast companion.
The whispered word reaches me, cutting through the disjointed flow of thought in my head. I turn, my hand remaining on my case for support; Paul is there, only feet away from me.
Something about him has changed, but I fail to discern precisely what that is. He is tall and thin, youthful for his age. He has always been tremendously handsome to me although he fails to see that in himself and I don't know why. Perhaps his hair is a little more grey but, were it not for the auburn wash, mine would be too. His eyes, an undecided blue-green, are studying me with an expression that I cannot identify: concern, his own anxiety, worry over the purpose of my visit; probably all of those and more. He keeps his feeling contained; the one he showed to me in the past, before our separation, was his love. His mouth creases into an uncertain smile.
There is a rush of silence around us and I stand, made dumb by the vision of him before me. It is a physical effort to rouse myself, move, and say something.
“Hi, Paul,” I say, and feel a rush of panic at the ineffectual sound of my words. “Thank you for letting me stay a bit... you're wonderful.” I extend my hand for him to take and, desperately wanting to kiss him, I lean in and my lips brush his cheek. I pull away almost immediately because, I know, if I start kissing him now, I won't be able to stop. His hand continues to clasp mine, tightly, and our gazes remain fixed on each other; both of us lost again in our closeness.
Finally, he clears his throat, looks away and retracts his hand. The little lines between his eyebrows show his discomfort and uncertainty.
“Hi Caitlyn,” he says, looking back to me, and then he looks down toward my case. “I can take that for you. You must be exhausted from your flight. Let's go get a taxi and then you can relax at...” He stops, hesitates, and then says the word that used to be true for us; “...home.”
I nod in affirmation and he smiles slightly again and mumbles something that sounds like 'it's good too see you' but he doesn't look very happy. My case tips forward under his direction, and he nods and sets off. I trail along, struggling against my own physical weakness, and my purse and heavy laptop slung over my shoulder.
Ten minutes later, we have cleared the queue for a taxi. Paul watches carefully as the driver loads my case into the trunk and then he gives instructions for our destination. He slides in beside me on the back seat and the doors slam as the driver takes his own place. The black sedan jolts into motion and merges carefully into the passing traffic. Paul is looking out the window and his fingers play nervously over his cellphone which rests in his palm.
When I left, I had never envisioned coming back here. It took me some time to realise what a mistake that was. Toronto had always been my home and I love the city, but my own success had clouded my view of what was important and meaningful in life.
The first months in London had been a whirlwind of receptions and meet-and-greets that left me breathless for the effort the company was putting into my relocation. The work, on the other hand, was astoundingly difficult and stressful. I was a financial controller, an internal auditor, for a pan-national corporation; millions of dollars in statements passed across the screen of my computer on a daily basis. I was required to ensure that all was in order. When the first irregularities caught my attention, I was surprised but thought to attribute them to computer error; I was wrong. I began to dig into the records and eventually located over fifteen million dollars in missing company funds. I knew that one of the C.F.O.'s of the company was involved; how many others was impossible to say and it was clear that a cover-up had been put in place. My fear grew with the first anonymous phone calls telling me to back off. After my apartment was ransacked, I knew that it was time to go. I carefully documented everything, in triplicate, and submitted my reports. Then I took personal leave and fled the country... back to Paul.
Paul had been the thing missing in my life the whole time. It was, in those moments of lucid honesty with myself, that I wondered how I had left him in the first place, and how I could have imagined being without him. I had cried for him nightly, feeling his absence in the physical yearning for him that emanated, hot, from between my thighs. I missed the man who he was and is; quiet, sincere and passionately honest. I only wonder now if I can make up to him what went so terribly wrong. His voice comes to me through my hazy reflections.
“We're home,” he says. He looks at me with a fragile smile and then busies himself with paying the driver and collecting my case. I step from the taxi and look up at the apartment building that towers above me.
“Home...,” I repeat and the word resonates with comfort.
I receive Caitlyn's case, lifted from the trunk of the sedan by the driver, and thank him. He nods and wishes me a pleasant evening. I turn away to find her, descended from the vehicle and gazing off, apparently completely disinterested in me or the fact of where we are. For the first time, I am struck by a pang of regret; for having said 'yes', for having re-admitted her to my life although I do not really know what is going on in her head.
The 25 minute ride back to my apartment had passed in chilly silence. I really didn't know what to say to her so I kept quiet, not wanting to disturb her in her thoughts. That she was thinking was plain to see; her expression was as mobile as her hands which fidgeted in her lap; clasping, unclasping and toying with her rings. She would look at me, seeming on the cusp of saying something important, her eyes intense and tired, and then she would give me a shallow smile and turn away to the window of the sedan, focussing instead on the traffic and city lights streaming by.
Now, standing in the chill of night in front of my apartment, the handle of her case in my hand and the sound of the taxi diminishing behind me, and watching her gaze off into space while shouldering her purse and laptop, I wonder if she still has any interest in me at all.
'What would you have wanted her to say?' The inner dialogue forms spontaneously in my mind as we move toward the entrance. I hold the door for her and she enters, thanking me.
'I don't really know,' I answer that disembodied voice. 'Maybe something, after all this time.' We move toward the elevators and Caitlyn presses the call button. I arrive behind her, the wheels of her heavy case squeaking loudly on the tile floor.
'You didn't say anything, either,' the voice points out to me. 'Maybe she was waiting on you.' The door of the elevator rattles open and we enter. Caitlyn automatically presses the button for my floor and then looks at me for confirmation. I nod.
'What was I supposed to tell her? How I've missed her? How I've been a basket-case for two years?' The elevator presses against our feet, accelerating upward.
'Oh poor Paul,' says the voice, condescending. 'Have you been hurt? Is it her fault you were so caught up in yourself? Have you stopped a moment to think how she has been?' Those imagined words are like a slap. The elevator glides to a stop with that slight feeling of weightlessness, and the doors open. We step into the carpet-muffled silence of the hallway. Caitlyn is yawning and looks miserably worn out from her flight and who knows what else. Her stomach gurgles loudly in the quiet of the hallway.
'Have I been selfish...' I ask myself, 'or would anyone react like that to the apparent end of a relationship that was everything to them?' I pull the keys on their large fob from the pocket of my jacket. I stop absently before the door of my apartment; the locks click briskly and the door opens on darkness as we enter.
'Well, I would give her a bit to adjust, but I think you guys have some things to talk about. Why don't you just ask her?'
'I'll give her some time,' I answer, 'maybe we'll talk tomorrow.' I then tell the voice to shut up.
A short while later, Caitlyn has showered and changed. Her straight, auburn hair is tied back in a loose pony-tail revealing the pleasing contour of her face. She sports two heavy sweaters and thick sweat-pants that transform her thin body into something resembling the Michelin Man and I can't help smile. I have heated some soup for us and serve her as she sits at the little dining table and twirls the stem of her wine glass absently between her fingers.
I am struck by how pale she is now that she has been scrubbed clean of make-up and I wonder if it is the effect of the long flight from London or something else. Her dark eyes are reddened and seem to roam listlessly, lacking focus, in their sockets. The skin around her eyes is shadowed with weariness while her lips and cheeks seem to have lost their usual rosy vitality; she appears to be, quite simply, exhausted.
Still, she eats avidly; cautiously spooning the steaming soup to her mouth, nibbling gratefully on some crusty slices of oven-warmed garlic bread, and savouring some fragments of a strong, aged, Italian cheese. Our conversation is stilted and sparse as we slowly sate our appetites.
“How was the flight from London – smooth sailing?” I offer as an opener. Some bread crunches in her mouth and she takes a sip of wine before answering.
“Surprisingly smooth,” she answers, and then adds; “there's usually some turbulance over the mid-Atlantic but there wasn't this time.”
“That's good. More wine?”
“Yes, please,” she answers, and that unsure and porcelain-fragile smile appears again as she extends her glass toward the proferred bottle. I notice how thin and white her fingers are; almost as delicate as the crystal they are pressed against.
The wine gurgles happily into the glass and I am struck by a strong urge to kiss that fragile smile and to take those delicate hands in mine, holding them close to me and warm.
“How have you been? Long time, no see, right?” Her expression is open and non-committal, but her eyebrows draw inward slightly as she watches me for my response.
“Ah, busy,” I answer, distractedly looking away and sliding my spoon around the bottom of my empty bowl, “been doing a lot of things.” I don't really want to tell her how I have been, not until I know something about where she is, or if there is even an 'us' to talk about. I feel my frustration grow at the waiting and pour more wine from the rapidly depleting bottle into my own glass. I mentally check that there is more and am relieved that there is.
“You've been painting alot,” she comments, referring to the numerous canvases facing against available wall space here and there.
“Yeah. I guess.” I'm sure my answer comes out sounding like a reproof, but it is more my own embarassment for the dark images there and the testament they form to my state of mind. “I went through a period, about 6 to 8 months ago, when I was painting every day. Then it kinda dried up,” I add and grimace as punctuation. I take a swallow of wine; I am not enjoying it, I just want to drink. As an afterthought, and to take the focus off me, I hazard the question: “Uh, Caitlyn, what all happened in London?”
She seems to freeze into tableau suddenly; an actor waiting for the curtain to fall, or a rabbit caught in headlights. Her glass remains suspended midway between the table and her lips which are slightly parted to receive the cool, crystal rim.
When she resumes, her movements are sluggish and slowed, as though that single question had sapped what was left of her energy. She drinks from her glass and then places it on the table closer to me for more. I fill it and then excuse myself, stepping into the kitchen for another bottle and the cork-screw. When I return, her eyes are fixed and distant; her expression that of a painful memory. She begins to speak, slowly at first, then more rapidly. She recounts the ordeal in a quick, verbal short-hand punctuated now and again with sighs, revealing her disappointment and growing anxiety with the progression of the story.
“...so, I knew I had to leave, for my own safety, or I would have become an unidentified body in the Thames. I copied everything and submitted my reports. I gave my notice of leave, and took a cab straight to Heathrow. I called British Airways and booked the flight from the car.”
“Oh my God, Caitlyn. Why didn't you tell me about this?
“I couldn't Paul; I would have been in breach of trust but...,” She pauses and her pause is full of the emotion and tension that she has just communicated to me. She continues, “but I sure would have been happy for you there.” She drinks from her glass again and I can see her hand tremble. Again I want to take that hand and draw her close to me, but she seems lost in her own thoughts again, staring out the window at the twinkling cityscape in the cold night.
She yawns once and then again. I can see that her eyelids are sagging with the combined effects of exhaustion and the wine consumed. I suggest that she might want to sleep. She looks at me as if just realising my presence and then smiles, nodding and saying that she really doesn't think she can do much more this night.
In truth, I understand. I usher her off to brush her teeth while I collect the dishes and stack them in the sink to be attended to in the morning. Then after quickly swallowing the last of my own wine, I carefully place the two antique glasses on the counter. I go down the hall to the bedroom and collect some fresh sheets and blankets and return to the living room. In a moment, I have pulled the sheets snugly into place over the seat cushions of the couch and made a fair representation of a bed. The blankets go on top to finish it off as Caitlyn returns.
There follows some awkward small talk. She tucks her toothbrush away in her case, and yawns. She thanks me and then, seeming to rethink, she steps closer. She puts her hands on my shoulders, like she used to, and draws me toward her.
“Thank you for everything, Paul. I just need to rest now.” Her voice is barely a tired whisper.
“I know Caitlyn,” I answer, hoping she is going to kiss me. When she does, it is not what I had hoped for. Her lips press briefly to my cheek, but they are warm in that gentle pressure and I can smell her minty breath. I look away, embarassed by my own desire to put my arms around her, enfold and pull her close to me.
“Have a good sleep,” I say, backing away.
“You too,” she says.
As I walk away, I see her slump, sitting on the edge of couch.
Sometime in the night, my emotional exhaustion having overtaken me along with sleep, my eyes fly open at the unaccustomed sound of stirring in my room. I look about, bewildered and fogged with drowsiness, while a shadow in the darkness materialises at the edge of the bed. My eyes regain focus and I discern the shape of Caitlyn's slim body. My mind whirls in wonder at what she intends in her silent approach.
Paul shuffles off toward the bedroom that I used to share with him. I can feel his desperation and confusion like chill waves of emotion off his body but, at the moment, I am helplessly controlled by my own distress. I feel a desperate urgency to go after him; to try to explain better my own state but I already know the extent of his hurt and how he may react in anger – at least, tonight, we were not reduced to that and it's best avoided while we both get some rest.
I sit on the edge of the couch, carefully made up by Paul with crisp, tightly-drawn sheets and fresh-smelling blankets. A sigh escapes me and, suddenly, as I turn off the light, I feel my defenses collapse. I sob once and then the tears come in a rush; all the stress and fear releasing and my chest heaves as I try cry in complete silence.
A half hour later, still desperately lonely for him and anguished for my own situation, the tears are abating and I dab at my face with a sheet of paper-towel from the kitchen. Unexpectedly, my Blackberry, hidden within my purse nearby, starts to buzz. I quickly wipe my nose and, still trying to control my hitching breath, I reach for the device and recognise the number of my office on the little screen. I push the button and speak.
“Hello?” I say, immediately knowing how terrible I sound in my current state.
“Miss Jones?” comes a clipped and precise Oxford accent from the end of the line.
“Yes, who is calling, please?”
“My name is Gerald Falconer, Miss Jones, I would like to speak with you for just a moment if you could, I recongise that it is terribly late in Canada.”
My jaw drops and I am left without words. Gerald Falconer is the President of the company; it is his unwavering hand as Chairman of the Board of Directors that brought the company to it's current international leverage position. He is reputed to be a business genius and a man of solid personal values, preferring to be, when possible, with his family in Sussex.
“Mr. Falconer... Sir...,” I stumble, incapacated.
“Miss Jones, you are very kind, I am sure, but it is I that must address you with respect. It has come to my attention that you have done, through your skill, diligence and surpassing honesty, a great service to my company. Please understand that I speak, not only for myself, but also on behalf of the Directors and of the Shareholders.
“Miss Jones, it is also my understanding that, while in the process of attending to your rightful responsibilities, you endured certain 'violations' that should never be the domain of one of our employees. I want to assure that we are truly sorry for that. The documentation that you provided was approved by the Board and forwarded to Her Majesty's High Commission on Securities; the individuals responsible have been terminated with considerable prejudice and are all now subject to Her Majesty's inquiry.”
“Oh my God,” I mumble, not intending for him to hear but the line, evidently, is quite clear.
“Indeed, Miss Jones, indeed. Now, I want to be very clear, Miss Jones, that it is not my intention to lose a person of your integrity because that would be a great detriment to the organic of this company. Please allow me to make a proposal to you: return to London, if you would so kindly do that; join me in my office for tea with your area managers, and we will renegotiate your status in a manner that will be sufficiently rewarding to you. It so happens that the company jet is on the ground in Toronto as we speak. If you allow me to arrange a limousine, you will have ample time during flight to rest before joining us tomorrow.”
His words speak directly to my professional wants and needs and I am immediately aware that he is making a pressure sale to get me back; it is not every day that a girl is wooed back by the President of the company.
My mind stumbles and falls, knocked off balance by the content of his discourse and by its smooth, professional delivery. Who would not be enticed by such an offer? I begin to speculate on it in terms of a nice, warm flat near Piccadilly, a new car and a living room suite in walnut. With the question hanging there, unanswered, the possibilities seem endless and pleasant.
Then I do a double take and the room around me falls into sudden, sharp focus. Paul is here; that kind and quietly sincere man whom I hurt terribly now, hopefully, sleeping soundly and tranquilly in the bedroom where I would love to be also, with his arms around me and his breath against my neck. This place was home to me before I left; London never quite felt like home but perhaps that was the pressure and terrible stress of the situation rather than the fault of London. The fact is that I had managed to visit the National Gallery, once, before things got so bad, and had sat before a self-portrait of Drer for almost two hours, lost in musings of that strange man and his immense talent. I had emerged refreshed and relaxed, having utterly forgotten my growing sense of unease at the numbers which continued to stubbornly not add up.
I look about, drinking in the comfort which exudes from the familiarity of the space; the books stacked neatly on the shelves, the walls strung densely with Paul's own paintings and others purchased, the little photograph of us together, smiling shyly and clearly in love. The sense of longing, of painfully missing that sense of home while away returns to me like a stab of remorse; I remember the evenings spent, chilled and sobbing, crying out for Paul's gentle touch and the security of his presence.
“Miss Jones?” The line crackles at me and I realise I have been transported away by my thoughts while Gerald Falconer, one of the richest men in the U.K., has patiently awaited my response. “If you would be so terribly kind as to give me some indication of your intentions, I'm sure we can come to an agreement.”
I hesitate for an instant and then my mouth opens and the single syllable, already clearly formed but wanting only of articulation, speeds off across the Atlantic.
“Very well, Miss Jones,” he answers. We speak for another moment and then I end the call. The feeling of pins and needles rises up my legs as I perch precariously on the edge of the sofa and count the beats of my heart.
I shift in the bed, startled by movement, as the shadowed form of Caitlyn approaches. Her coming to me, softly, in the dark of night, is like a fantasy playing out and, momentarily, I imagine the light gently playing over the pale curves of her body before she slides under the covers and presses herself to me; I reach out, my hands desiring contact with her skin and the feel of her warmth.
“Caitlyn...,” I whisper and, to me, the sound of her name alone is a declaration of love.
In my mind, she answers.
“Paul, I'm so sorry that I hurt you.” Her vocalisation is no more than than breath.
“I know, love, we can go past this, if you want.” My desire for her is boundless and I feel my own earnesty; my voice sounds a little loud to my ears.
“I want nothing more than a future with you,” she answers and I can tell that she is soundlessly sobbing, releasing her stress and heartache.
“I am here,” I respond to her; “that is all that I have ever wanted.”
She presses her lips to mine and she is close to me; the perfume of her body invades my senses and I am drifting, warm and liquid.
She speaks and I awake from my dream of love and reconcilliation.
“Paul, are you awake?” Her voice is timorous and faint.
“Yes,” I answer. My voice sounds flat and tired. “What's going on?”
She moves closer and the bed curves slightly, pulling the covers tight across me, as she sits at the edge of the mattress. My hand twists to escape the confines of the sheets and then reaches out toward her. It finds her thigh.
I start, suddenly fully awake as though jarred by the late night clangour of a phone ringing: my hand touches, not night-cooled skin, but the finely woven wool of a tailored business suit. She takes my hand firmly in hers, but it is not with the fervency of love. She remove my hand from her thigh and gently presses it against the covers of the bed.
“Paul, a few hours ago, I spoke to Gerald Falconer. He wants me back.” Her breath seems to come in little gasps as she pauses and then continues. “I can't say 'no' to him; it would ruin me and ruin my career.” Her words are like running against a plate glass window; I feel the impact and then the sting of the deadly shards neatly cleaving into my body.
“What?” I rise to sitting in the bed. “After what happened, you are running back to London?”
“Yes. A limo will be here to get me in a few minutes.” Her voice has turned business-like, cool and professional; reporting the necessary and retaining the rest as unnecessary complication. “They're flying me back.” She nods summarily, rising. “I just wanted to thank you for all you've done for me.”
I shake my head to clear the shards of glass from my mind and an idea spakles in one of those shards. It is a vague and distant spark; a star among the heavens that slowly draws closer, becoming brighter.
As I watch, the business-suited Caitlyn gradually grows dim to me, retreating into shadow and then nothingness amid the brightness of the sun which draws toward me. The light shines brighter and I feel it's warmth invading my body; a surge of comfort against the threatening darkness of night. I open my eyes.
“Good morning, sleepy-head.” Her voice is soft and drifts over me like the sensation of finely woven wool. Her eyes are heavily lidded, drowsy and sensual.
I blink trying to see cleary through the fog of sleep. She speaks again.
“Can I just stay here with you from now on?”
Her lips meet mine and I have no need to say 'yes'.