When I See Your Face, Part 11
She rubbed the spot that she had hurt in the dream, reminding her of a time when Mark had indeed hit her so hard that she fell and cracked the back of her head against the floor, sporting a huge bump for days and struggling with a headache long afterward.
It had been in the early evening after returning from one of those luncheons she hated so much, where her husband was the center of attention, the food was pricey and tasteless, and she was supposed to be a smiling, silent doll sitting by his side. She always felt more like an accessory of his than his wife at such occasions.
That day, sometime early on in their marriage, she had made the mistake of breaking the rule by trying to make conversation with the woman seated at her other side. They had been talking listlessly about the weather when the woman had switched tracks and drilled her on her husband’s latest deal, and the stuttering Cathy had been utterly lost for an appropriate reaction. Mark had saved the day by asking her to choose their dessert.
Hardly had they been at home when he started lecturing her in his cool, precise voice that everyone out there was hell-bent on stopping his success, which was why she was to keep her mouth shut on all outings. Something must have snapped inside him, maybe caused by the tears that had been falling from her eyes at the double humiliation. He had struck at her and she had fallen, staring up at the icy mask of his face through the red sparks behind her eyes.
She shivered and got out of bed, reluctant to dwell on this unhappy memory again.
It served her right to have another nightmare and remember the lessons she had learned for life. She had been all too interested in Michael yesterday, all too keen to please him, all too ready to deem him better than her husband. How could she look at this man and compare him to Mark or find him attractive? He was a stranger. And he should remain a stranger. She had gone through with her apology, which was only right, but why, oh why, had she accepted his offer to help him out again today?
Cursing herself and deciding not get carried away, she brushed her teeth rather vigorously and chose clothes fit for garden work. Her arms, her legs, her back and her neck where aching dully, her muscles were sore from the exertion. Good, today wasn’t going to be all that rosy. All the better, all the easier for her to refrain from dreaming, for daydreams led to nightmares.
* * *
As it turned out, the second day was even more interesting than the first. There was the awkward first hour or so to get over when they both probably fought inner battles and remembered their parting the night before. As soon as they had set to working, though, it was as though they had done this for years. They settled into a rhythm that felt oddly familiar, Michael explaining in words and deeds and Cathy all too happy to follow, listen and watch.
Oh yes, she watched again. It was the details that she was looking for this time. Less for comparison and more for getting to know this man better. She noticed a faint, long, slightly ragged scar next to his left shoulder blade that had totally escaped her until now. This small imperfection did nothing to mar his attraction. Instead, it fuelled her curiosity, made her want to touch the scar and find out how it had come about.
Her love for things that were not normal had never gone well with her husband, who viewed perfection as the highest goal. She had never seen herself as perfect, as capable, as talented or as valuable. All throughout a childhood spent being different from the other children and throughout years of being the onlooker while others dated and climbed up the social as well as the career ladder, she had preferred her dream world to reality, books to movies, beautiful handcraft to luxuries, loneliness to falsehood.
Then Mark had come and bewitched her like the knight in shining armor. Being with him, having him sweep her off her feet and lavish his attention—as well as a good deal of money—on her had been enough to doubt everything she had thought to be important and right. With a few words here and there, some decisive gestures, some subtle pushing and simply being himself, Mark had changed her to a person that would suit his needs. She hadn’t realized it, but she had lost herself somewhere along the way by trying to please somebody whom she had blindly entrusted with her life. Only now that she was away from his influence and dared to be herself did it dawn on her how much she had bent herself out of shape to fit a certain ideal.
Now, wearing what she wanted, eating what she wanted and living on her own, the possibilities seemed endless. It was terrifying. And it was gratifying. Take this moment, for example. How had she ended up spending her days alongside her husband’s carbon copy, and with garden work at that? What would this all lead to?
She looked up from a bag of natural fertilizer, stole a glance at the stranger beside her and focused on her task again, her mind whirring.
Today, there was less hard work. Before meeting her at the shop, Michael had transported some sacks and plants to Mr. Thackeray’s place. They dug out even-spaced holes in the soil and filled it with natural fertilizer. Afterward, to her delight, rose bushes were lowered carefully into their new resting places. He took his time to give her the exotic sounding names of the roses, explaining their shades of color and how they were to be taken care of and how they would fare with what kind of weather.
Halfway through their work, they took another lunch break. This time, he had packed a picnic basket of sorts for them, which made her embarrassed that she hadn’t considered food and was eating what he had paid for.
He used their break to give her that intense, dark gaze whenever she dared to look up from her meal.
All of a sudden, he asked, “Cathy, might I get to know more about my apprentice?”
(To be continued tomorrow.)
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