When I See Your Face, Part 21
Yesterday, she had spent most of the day in town. It had taken her roughly three hours by bus to get there and twice as much time rounding up shops that might accept her few valuables for cash. Along with her wedding ring, her anklet, her watch and her purse, she had sold two pairs of earrings for a pittance and managed to earn a handful of coins for her pair of summer sandals, which fortunately had been new and the latest fashion.
It hadn’t been easy to find people who would actually buy these second-hand items, and even more difficult to step over her own shadow to actually approach them and bargain for a pound or two more. More than half of the newly acquired cash had been spent on two baking forms she absolutely needed and a denim jacket from a thrift shop. More money left her hands to buy a ticket back to the village where she planned to stock up on flour, butter, eggs, milk, sugar, ground almonds and raisins.
Eating only a sandwich in town, she had finally knocked on Mrs. Grindle’s door and asked to have a share of her dinner. Telling the kind old lady that she would be a few days late with the weekly payment for the room had pained and shamed her more than thinking of her financial plight in general, though of course her new-found Aunt waved it all aside and pressed some more desert and tea on her.
Now, she had come to him for help. Somewhere inside, she knew he would help her indeed; another part of her, however, was reluctant to increase her dependence on him, get closer to him, and like him better.
Michael, once again shirtless, opened the door and beamed at her again, as if it meant the world to him to see her at his doorstep.
“Cathy, love! What a nice surprise! I had hoped I’d see you yesterday with another of your irresistible cake creations, but I guess being a baking queen takes some time.”
She grinned half-heartedly, her courage almost leaving her then and there and her heart skipping a beat or two when it registered that he had called her ‘love’.
“Actually, I haven’t brought you a new cake to try. I want to talk to you.”
Cocking his head to the side, he dropped his joking demeanor.
“Is everything all right?”
For a moment, she had to swallow back tears. The concern in his voice, the worry in his eyes—and the same feelings clearly displayed by Aunt Grindle last evening, though not voiced—shook her to her core. How could these people care for her so much after having known her for not even a month? Was it fair of her to act on that care? Why did it feel as though she were using the only two people who had ever shown any interest in her apart from her own parents? No, she’d better not think of her parents now or she’d really start crying.
“Can I come in? I won’t keep you long, I promise.”
“Oh, come on in and stop it with those platitudes. You’re not keeping me from anything but a new painting. And that can wait a lifetime if it means I can spend time with you.”
She blushed and brushed past him into the house hurriedly, the meaning and depth of feeling in his words cutting her to the quick.
Some minutes later, they had shared a cup of fruit tea and chocolate chips cookies and she had told him about her latest predicament, trying her utmost not to sound defeated or helpless or anxious.
“The bastard!” he cursed under his breath before shooting her an apologetic glance.
“Sorry. It’s so unfair. Then again, he has every right to act like that.”
He still sounded disgusted with Mark’s behavior, as though it touched him personally.
“Yes, it’s a logical and perfectly understandable thing to do. It’s my mistake that I didn’t think of it earlier. Anyway, so my plan is this: Instead of venturing ahead with a business that I can’t afford to start properly, I want to look for a job. I came to you to ask you for help with my job search. I thought you might know of any vacancy here. I bought the local paper yesterday and will of course check that, but I don’t see any suitable vacancies for someone who has only half of a degree and a few months of working experience.”
She knew she sounded bitter. She couldn’t help it. All of her past life looked like such a failure to her now. As soon as she was on her own and had to face reality, she was totally incapable. She hated that, especially hated belittling herself in front of him because she so badly wanted to impress him.
He had sat back on the sofa, one arm resting on his knee, face propped up in his palm. Despite all the emotional turmoil, she couldn’t stop her eyes from flickering over his body now and again, longing tying itself into knots inside her. This time, he caught her looking, making her blush.
“Uh, sorry for that. I was in the middle of painting. I usually do that without a T-shirt on because I hate getting paint stains on my clothes. Damn nuisance to wash and I have only a handful of T-shirts anyway.”
She opened her mouth to say something, but he held up his hand and got up. In the matter of a minute he was back with a lime green T-shirt on, his cut-offs with holes replaced by grey jeans. He sat down and ran his hands through his hair, turning it into a black mess that she itched to run her fingers through and brush back from his forehead.
“So. Let’s get down to business. I’m glad you’ve asked me for help. I’ll do anything I can. The thing is, with only a hundred or so people living here and everybody playing their part, there seriously aren’t any jobs for you that I could think of.”
She looked down at her hands, lying on her knees in a fake display of calm. She had thought as much, hadn’t she?
Looking up again, she had to swallow when she saw the concern on his face and heard the earnest wish to help her in his voice.
“You need to tell me more about your past life, so that I know what to look for, what you might be able to do to earn a living here.”
Getting up from the couch and walking to his bookshelf, she sought to put some distance between him before starting to pour out the story of her life. She tried to keep to the facts, to what he needed to know, but once she had started, the words kept flowing and flowing as though a dam had broken. With his back to him, her fingers brushing aimlessly at the spines of books that her blurry eyes couldn’t see, she talked and talked for what felt like ages.
(To be continued tomorrow.)
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