When I See Your Face, Part 12
“What do you want to know? There isn’t much to tell. My name is Cathy…Nolan. I am 26 years old. Used to work as a secretary, currently unemployed. Hobbies: reading, baking cakes. Favorite color: purple. I think my height and my weight I’d better keep to myself.”
For a second, she knew her biting tone was wrong. He looked as though she had hit him, but a moment later, a huge grin formed on his face.
“Well, you certainly know how to get to the point. I can see you must have been a good secretary, all practical and politically correct.”
There was a joking, flirty tone to his voice that unsettled her. Why hadn’t he taken the hint and kept things impersonal? It took the wind out of her sails, made her prone to being spontaneous and all too honest, like when she blurted out, “Oh, I’m not practical at all! When I get lost in a book or in a detail or when I bake a cake or I fall in love with artsy-crafty stuff, I’m not practical at all. And I wouldn’t know how to fend for myself because I’m so focused on the impractical.”
Tilting his head slightly, tossing his head to get some hair out of his eyes, he fixed her with his piercing gaze. All the humor had left his eyes and voice when he leaned closer and asked, “Why do you hold yourself in such low esteem? Why do you make it sound bad that you love reading and baking? How can you be sure that you can’t fend for yourself?”
“Oh, believe me, you would know if you were told that at least once every other day!” she snapped, biting her tongue before more could slip out.
His eyes grew less blue, more grey, deeply emotional and unreadable.
“By your husband?”
He bit out the last word, with much more resentment than she thought natural. She nodded.
“Why do you let him have so much control over you? Still? Aunt Grindle told me that you’re filing for divorce. Wouldn’t it be correct to leave things behind now and define yourself anew, without all the restrictions of a husband who has obviously treated you wrong? You will never get on with life and be yourself if you keep looking back, if there are past values and experiences tainting the new ones.”
He spoke with a heated conviction as if he knew exactly what he was talking about. Instead of taking offense that he was lecturing her on how to live her life from now on, she found herself replying, “That is much easier said than done.”
“I know. Believe me. I’ve been through this myself. Maybe Aunt Grindle has told you that I’ve been living here for a few years now. I’m not from this village and I wasn’t always a gardener. I used to live in the city and went to office from nine to five and after that, I went through hell, as well. And I overcame it. I have been able to start a new life because I cut all ties to my past. I am different now. I am a new me. You can be too. If you honestly want to.”
The insistence in his voice had intensified, as though he took a personal interest in her making a new start. She felt shaken to her core because she knew he was absolutely right. More than ever, she was burning with curiosity to know more about Michael. Maybe that was the better way? To actually get to know him and thus stop comparing him to Mark, making it easier to forget one while letting herself get closer to the other?
It took her a second to realize that he was speaking again.
“Why don’t you introduce yourself to me again? Tell me something about you that really is you, not a bland fact that you would fill into an application form.”
Grinding her teeth and trying hard not to snap, she forced an answer out.
“Oh, are you an expert on application forms? You seriously are too full of yourself. Why do you think it matters what I tell you about myself. And has it ever entered your mind that I don’t want to reveal anything else about myself to you?”
He raised his eyebrows and looked at her for a long minute, his jaw set as stubbornly as hers. Then, in a softer, almost apologetic voice, he said, “I thought it would help us to become friends.”
She let that sink in. become friends? With him? With somebody who made it impossible to forget her horrible past? It sounded totally wrong. So, why did it also feel right? Why did her heart scoff at her head and beat faster at the thought of being friends with him?
They continued to stare at each other for a while, her expression softening gradually.
She huffed, hating to give in, yet at the same time wanting to.
“What do you want to know?”
“What do you want me to know?”
She wondered how their conversation had turned personal so quickly, how she could open up to someone after less than two days. Then she remembered how ready she had been to believe every word of Mark’s when he had swept into her life and turned it upside down. How she had told him all about her and months later found out that most of it must have gone in one ear and straight out the other ear. How he had never been interested in her, only in having her and shaping her according to his needs. He hadn’t loved her or seen her as someone to love him, but as a partner who would look good, fulfil all his requirements and be meek enough to stay beside him.
Well, she had proven that she wasn’t so meek after all, hadn’t she? Here she was, separated from him and looking forward to a divorce. And dangerously close from making the same mistake again.
She drew back and got up.
“Well, I can tell you that I am taking a liking to roses. Maybe you could tell me more about them?” she asked, trying hard to sound nonchalant.
He let the matter rest.
“Always glad to be at a lady’s service,” he joked and joined her in rinsing their plates off and repacking the picnic basket.
* * *
The rest of the day went by in a rush. Looking back on it, she couldn’t remember anything particular. They were finished with the roses soon and started on the next job: trimming the evergreen hedge that ran along the front of Mr. Thackeray’s property. He trimmed and she collected the fallen twigs and listened to him getting all enraptured with the plants again. When it grew dark, they packed up. He told her that their work was finished and thanked her for her help, his voice laced with an emotion that she couldn’t put her finger on. Sadness?
Without asking, he accompanied her to the guesthouse again. He hadn’t brought his bicycle this time, so he wasn’t occupied with wheeling it. One of his hands swung freely by his side while the other carried the picnic basket. Once they walked so closely that his empty hand brushed her arm. When she veered away, he shoved it into his trouser pockets, and she felt dejected.
At the same spot as the evening before, she turned and fished for the key to her room. She was at a loss for what to say, the fact sinking in that they wouldn’t meet for gardening tomorrow and that the best and most natural thing for her to do now would be to avoid seeing him again and start thinking about what to do with her new life.
“I’d better go in.”
He made it sound like a question, not like a way of saying goodbye.
“It’s a small village,” was all she managed to say, wanting and not wanting to answer with a yes.
Again, he nodded, pressing his lips together, the tiny lines in his sharply etched face deepening ever so slightly with some feeling or the other.
“Good night,” she replied.
Her feet wouldn’t move to carry her through the door and inside.
(To be continued tomorrow.)
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