When I See Your Face, Part 32 - The End
With every beat, her heart asked "yes? no? yes? no?" and her mind willed her to believe that the answer would be yes.
In front of her lay a room neither big nor small, devoid of any furniture and filled with maybe twenty people ambling around. His art hung on the walls, one long wall opposite her dedicated to the pencil sketches, vivid nature paintings displayed to the left and right of her. The drawings screamed at her to come closer and inspect them.
Cathy, who had kept her woolen hat and scarf on for fear of being recognized as the person portrayed, ducked her head lower and tried as hard as possible to walk at casual speed like the rest of the people in the room. She stopped close to the biggest picture, sitting prominently in the center of the wall and showing her face half covered in tresses of hair, looking deep in thought, somehow at the same time vulnerable and strong in a quiet, inward way, as if focused on something.
She stared and stared at the drawing, feeling as though he had looked right into her innermost sanctuary and known her for who she was at a time when she hadn’t known herself.
And wasn’t that what had drawn her to this man who physically incorporated all that she had learned to fear and loathe, but in behavior and character was her dream partner incarnate? In such a short time and with such awkward situations, he had seen through everything and managed to understand her better than anybody ever had, including herself, her parents and her former husband. Remembering him and their short, mostly happy time together sent her pulse racing and her heart aching with longing. As impossibly sentimental as it sounded, his soul and her soul must have connected. Which made it all the more hurtful that he had hidden the truth from her and that she had not given him a real chance. Talking about chances…
When she broke out of her reverie and moved on to the other portrays, all somewhat smaller but no less meaningful and beautiful, it slowly registered that people were whispering comments about the pictures. A word here and there got carried to her.
All words she would have used to describe the artist himself more than his work. Only in hindsight had she realized how difficult it must have been for Michael, knowing that he had feelings for his hated twin brother’s ex-wife. The whole past that he had been so successful at forgetting must have come crashing back, just as he had looked like a demon from her past, and proven to be an angel leading the way into a better future.
How had it felt to grow attached to someone who could destroy all the peace for which he had paid such a dear price? How hard had it been for him to live with the knowledge that he was holding something back from her that might separate them forever? She had during all these months wondered about his side of the story so many times, and Aunt Grindle’s letter had made her think some more. It had brought all the warmth back that his smile, his kindness, his intelligence and his confidence had awoken inside her at a time when she had felt frozen in place. Somehow, it was as though he had been the reason for her breaking out of her chrysalis and turning from a timid caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly testing out its fragile, yet shiny wings.
When she woke from her thoughts, she overheard a woman saying to her husband that the pictures spoke of a close bond between the artist and the model, and somehow, that filled her with an even deeper love and gave her more courage than she had thought she possessed. She turned around in a pirouette slowly, searching for Michael and spotting him in the opposite corner, explaining something to a guest under a big painting of a delicate orange-yellow rose surrounded by a lighter bud and a half-opened second rose.
As though he had sensed her gaze and felt her longing, he turned in her direction.
Their eyes met.
Time stood still.
It was impossible to identify the look on his face from the distance, but she clearly saw that he had stopped in mid-sentence and didn’t know how to go on.
Cathy, her feet automatically starting to carry her closer to him, bumped into somebody. In the moment it took her to mutter an excuse without showing her face too clearly, he had moved. When she searched for him, she caught him walking out of a side door.
Feeling that there had never been anything more important in her life, she hastened after him. She went through the door and came out on a roof-top terrace that was covered in fluffy white snowflakes resting atop a hard sheet of frozen old snow. It was deserted but for Michael.
He was standing with his back to her, arms wound tightly around his torso and staring ahead. Simply being so close to him again sent her emotions on overdrive. She felt the overwhelming need to reach out and touch him, make sure that he was real and that this wasn’t one of a million dreams she had reveled in ever since their separation. She wanted him to hold her and make her feel safe the way he had as soon as she had managed to look behind the face and see the real him. There were so many things to say. Most of all, she wanted to be sure that she was doing the right thing.
Something told her that nothing in life was ever as sure as people wanted it to be. It had felt like the right thing to do to come here, and now she would not go back. Whatever his reaction, her feelings for him were true. With every breath she took, she needed him, wanted him and loved him. This was her chance to make things right. Their second chance. How many people had the luck to be given second chances?
She stepped over the threshold, all inward and outward shaking gone.
At the sound of her boots crunching on the snow, Michael wheeled around, shot her one of those intense looks she remembered so vividly, opened his mouth and closed it again.
He had changed in the few months, as surely as she must have changed too. There was a slight gauntness to his face that had been slim and finely boned before. He looked as though he hadn’t been very happy the past few months, the lines in his face slightly more pronounced now, his eyes deep and speaking of hurt in a way that she knew her eyes must have reflected those days. Her heart clenched at the thought that she must be the cause for his unhappiness, but then her spirits lifted because she was holding the key to be the cause for his happiness from now on. At least if she had interpreted all the signs correctly.
Part of her wanted to continue looking at him for some time, to feast her eyes on the face that had haunted her dreams and was inevitably connected to the rest of her life. She realized that he was staring at her in much the same manner, though probably with less hope in his heart and less determination in his mind. His eyes wandered over her as though he meant to memorize every detail of her appearance, for fear of losing her again and not having more than those fresh memories.
How she wished she knew what he was thinking and feeling right now!
Not wanting him to speak first, she gave herself a mental push and moved toward him, the few feet over crunching snow feeling like a mile-long trek across dangerous terrain. Extending a hand to him and smiling her brightest smile up into his for once unreadable, handsome face, she said, “You must be the artist whose works are displayed inside. They’re wonderful, especially the portraits! By the way, my name is Cathy Langley. Pleased to meet you.”
For a long second, there was only stunned silence, ringing loudly in her ears, but at the same time drowned out by the fierce hopeful beating of her heart.
“My Cathy,” Michael whispered, his voice breaking with feeling.
“No, no, this won’t do. Your line should have been, Pleased to meet you too. That is the way we should have met the first time. Better not to remember that messed up first time. This is our second chance. This is our new life,” she said, her own voice just as croaky and on the verge of tears.
As an answer, he swept her off her feet and spun around with her in a circle, laughing and peppering her face with kisses.
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