When I See Your Face, Part 14
An hour later, Cathy was lost in a happy world of her own, encased in a soapy bubble in which she was floating, buoyed by timid hopes. She was lying on the couch on her stomach with her head propped up on her palms, transfixed by her laptop screen. After eating a quick breakfast, she had decided to indulge in one of her hobbies that she had kept buried for much too long: baking cakes. Next to reading, it was indeed one of her favorite pastimes, and one that she had learned to be ashamed of during her time with Mark when he had looked down upon or not noticed her cake creations, dismissing the effort and dedication behind them.
Now, a thought was forming in her, eager to break free but held in check because she was still unsure of herself and her future. What if she stayed right here in this village and founded her own little business, baking cakes of the special kind and selling them? She could see herself talking to the people to ask them about their traditional cake recipes and secret ingredients and incorporating them in new creations that she would decorate beautifully and deliver to the nearest town’s bakeries. She could picture herself taking trips to a bigger city to hunt for exotic ingredients, for cake decoration and for specific baking forms.
What if she invented a never before dared recipe or found enough energy and creativity inside her to break a previous baking record and draw everybody’s attention? It would show her husband how much better off she was without him and how much brighter her light shone if he didn’t constantly try his best to keep her locked in darkness.
Oh yes, she was dreaming again, after what felt like ages of nightmares where she was never the driving force but the absorber of someone else’s force.
She was so completely lost in a website full of cupcakes with elaborate flowery designs that it took her several moments to realize that somebody was knocking at the door.
Her head whipped up.
“Cathy dear? Am I disturbing you?” Aunt Grindle’s kind voice drifted into her mind so loaded with plans and ideas and hopes. She smiled. Maybe her landlady could give her some practical tips and much needed encouragement!
“The door’s unlocked, come on in, Aunt Grindle!” she called out, realizing that her voice had a light, happy ring to it that made it sound oddly unlike herself.
“Maybe you could…”
The words died in her throat when upon turning around, she beheld not the old lady alone but Michael hovering behind her, tall and handsome and with an inexplicable look on his face.
She almost fell off the couch in her hurry to straighten up and face them, all happiness gone as if someone had swept a sponge over chalk writing on a blackboard, feeling empty and uncertain once again.
“Michael here has stopped by to talk to you about something important or other. I’m afraid I can’t stay or my beef stew will burn on the stove. I’ll leave you two young ones to it and check back in later, dear.”
With a cheerful wave, Mrs. Grindle backed out the door, closing it behind her and leaving her companion standing in the room, staring.
Her bubble burst with an audible popping sound and left her more vulnerable than ever.
Oh no, oh no, oh no. Why him, of all people, why now, when she was so positive that she could leave both of them, Mark and him, behind and move on?
She felt like crying inside. Soon, though, the despair turned into belligerence or a touch of anger.
“What are you doing here?” she asked coldly, folding her arms across her chest and blocking the view to her laptop screen.
There was no response. Michael was still looking at her as though he had seen a ghost. Irritated, she actually looked down at herself, and understanding began to dawn. So far, he had only seen her in her no-nonsense attire of plain jeans and long-sleeved sweatshirts or comfortable T-shirts, her hair open around her face.
Today, because she needed a mood booster and because it sounded like the right thing to do while planning a new life, she had donned her favorite clothes, from the few times when she didn’t mind being her artsy, girly, impractical self. She was wearing a light pink, knee-length cotton skirt with a ribbon at the hip and a white top with spaghetti straps that had a big purple rose printed across the front. Around her left wrist hung three pastel-colored, beaded bracelets and her hair was tied back in a high, careless ponytail, held together by a huge hairband with flower decoration. She must be looking like a different person altogether.
“You’re so beautiful,” his voice intruded on her self-inspection, rough and with a depth of feeling that made it sound like a caress. A thousand fingers barely touching her skin, running down from the nape of her neck over every bump and groove of her spine to the small of her back, sending a delicious shiver through her. His compliment sounded so sincere and awed that it made her blush. She steeled herself, though with what strength she didn’t know.
“What are you doing here?” she asked again.
He snapped back to his senses. Without taking offense at her hostile tone and stance, he approached, digging a hand into one of his pockets and holding something out to her, like a peace offering of sorts, a magical weapon that could penetrate her shield of cool rejection.
“I came to give you what you deserve. This morning, Mr. Thackeray paid me for the garden work. As you played an important part in it, I thought you should have this. It’s only a share of my meagre earnings, but it’s a beginning.”
For a moment, she thought she couldn’t trust her ears any more.
“Are you telling me you brought me money?” she asked incredulously, her voice a near squeak on the last word.
Not only did he nod but he was still holding out the envelope to her.
“You have the cheek to pay me?! I am not some poor unemployed tramp girl that depends on your oh-so-meagre payment! I helped you out because I thought I had something to make up for it! I didn’t do it for the bloody money! I don’t want it! I don’t need it! I don’t need you to interfere in my life!”
She had shouted herself into a fit, trembling with the effort not to bodily throw him out of the room, full of righteous indignation and disappointment. So, to him she had been a hired helper, a means to finish his job faster, somebody to be paid and forgotten.
(To be continued tomorrow.)
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