When I See Your Face, Part 7
Today, he was dressed in loose-fitting camouflage summer trousers, belted rather low on his lean hips, and a light yellow polo shirt. It made him look taller and his hair appear blacker. His hair: She now saw that unlike her husband, this Michael didn’t care for gel or a comb. His hair was a little longer than Mark’s and fell loosely over his forehead, so that once in a few minutes he gave a small toss of his head to prevent it from falling into his eyes while he spoke animatedly to the cashier lady.
He constantly used his hands while talking, emphasizing and illustrating in a way that her husband with his precise words and his linear mind had never needed. When Bertha must have said something funny, his face broke out into a grin full of brilliant white teeth that tugged at her heart painfully. Unlike the rest of his manner, it mirrored Mark to perfection.
A customer had stepped up to have his items scanned, which her husband’s twin—she should stop calling him that—saw as a cue to walk into the shop and run his errands. He went exactly her way, head bent low and hands in his pockets, unaware of her standing there as if frozen in place, a deer in the headlights of a car speeding toward it.
Before she knew it, the man looked up and stopped dead in his tracks, only a couple of paces away from where she stood. He didn’t look angry so much as confused and maybe guilty, though she had no idea why he should feel guilt, registering subconsciously that it was a look she had never seen on her husband’s face and that it made his forehead crease as well as tiny wrinkles appear around his eyes.
He didn’t say anything, so she summoned what little courage she had and decided to go through with her apology and make a run for it.
“I…I want to apologize for my behavior, Mr…Newland, is it?”
An almost imperceptible nod. He opened his mouth to speak and she cut him short by adding, “I realize it must have come as a shock to you. Believe me, it was a shock for me too. I would never have reacted like this, otherwise. I am sorry to have called you names and shouted at you.”
Her voice was shaking and she was studiously avoiding to meet his eye, but inwardly she was proud for sounding so polite and for actually having said sorry when inside her head, scene after scene of her difficult life with Mark played like a movie with the sound switched off.
And now it would be better to leave because being this close to him made it difficult for her to breathe, bringing all the anxiety back. His next words stopped her.
“Well, let’s say that you nearly knocked me off my feet with that emotional outburst. Anyway, I’m not somebody to hold grudges. At least I try not to because I learned the hard way that it’s plain useless. So…Thanks for the apology. It’s forgiven, though maybe not forgotten.”
When she simply gawked at him as though she couldn’t believe to be let off so easily, he scrunched up his face and went on, “Early this morning, Aunt Grindle gave me a call and explained the whole thing to me. After that, I felt like I had to say sorry for shocking you so much. It must have been hard.”
There was something in his tone that made him sound utterly unlike Mark, although their voices were strikingly similar.
Cathy was so confused by this statement that she made the mistake to look up into his face. She was confronted by the full power of his gaze on her.
God, his eye color was the exact copy of her husband’s, a cool, brilliant, light blue that had some grey to it and made it seem as though he could look right into her soul. It registered dimly with her that, like his voice, his face was full of honest kindness, openness and feeling. It was the contrast to what she had always witnessed when being around Mark that made it easier for her to speak.
“What has Aunt Grindle told you?” she asked, dread building inside her of what this stranger might already know about her private life.
Instead of being offended by her directness, he answered, “She told me that your husband looked exactly like me and that you weren’t exactly on good terms with him. So your screaming at me makes perfect sense.”
There was a short grin on his face that was as crooked at one corner of his mouth as Mark’s. She wasn’t sure whether she could believe what he had said. Then again, her shouts had been explicit enough to imagine what was going on and spin a bigger tale out of it. She had called him "bastard", hadn’t she? Cringing inwardly, she felt the need to apologize again, although she couldn’t exactly tell why.
“No seriously. I’m glad you understand, but I shouldn’t have kept it up when you apparently reacted with such confusion. If there’s anything I could do to make it up to you…”
An inexplicable look crossed his handsome face, as though he were hatching some sudden plan.
“Actually, there is. Are you busy today?”
His voice and manner, as compelling as Mark’s when he was full of energy and enthusiasm—which usually only happened when the topic was business-related—held her captive, made her reactions impulsive.
“Do you have any experience with plants or gardening?”
“Erm…if you consider watering the orchids in our foyer as experience, then yes.”
Where did that easy, almost joking, flirty manner of hers come from? Why did his eyes sparkle and his grin widen so appreciatively? And why did she feel like putty in his hands, as she had those days with Mark?
“Hm. Orchids do require a special kind of love.”
The humor in his voice was something she wasn’t used to. As was the way he looked intently straight at her with every word, as though she mattered. She was growing more confused—and, dare she admit it, attracted—by the minute.
“Anyway, never worry, I should have enough experience for both of us. Here’s my suggestion: If you really want to make up for it, and if you would grant me the chance to have a second go at leaving a first impression, you could join me in my work today.”
When he saw her shocked reaction flitter across her face, he hurried on with his words in a way that belied his show of easy confidence.
“There’s much to do and it’s decidedly more fun if I’m not alone but in charming company. What do you say, can you help me with gardening?”
Cathy was feeling dazed. Only certain words had registered with her first: Love, experience, fun, charming company. Charming? Did he mean her? No, he couldn’t, though that twinkle in his eyes spoke of a man flirting and he had by now taken at least a step closer to her. Despite herself, even after the full meaning of his words had seeped in, she found herself answering, “Yes. Yes, I’d help you. The thing is, I don’t think I’d be much good at it.”
He was positively beaming like a high-wattage light bulb now, his toothy grin flashing at her and tugging at her heart strings.
“Let’s get this shopping done with and get straight on with the work.”
There was no stopping him. Before she knew it, he had possessively taken hold of her elbow and was steering her toward the cashier counter, not having bought anything he had come for and not asking whether she had all she needed.
She felt oddly as if having an out-of-body experience. She watched herself be tugged along wordlessly, confusion showing on her face. She watched herself smiling at Bertha again, who glanced at both of them and wasn’t successful at hiding a rather satisfied look on her face while processing her goods. She watched as he packed her shopping into two bags which he took in one hand while his other was still holding on to her elbow as though he was afraid she’d go back on her word and run away.
Outside the shop, her brain kicked back in when he let go of her and pointed to a bicycle parked next to the sidewalk with a self-deprecating, lopsided grin that made him look way too attractive.
“I’m afraid my vehicle won’t live up to your city life expectations, but I wasn’t expecting to leave with a co-passenger. I’d say we walk to where I have work today, it isn’t far. You don’t mind, I hope?”
He turned to her and she barely managed to shake her head. It earned her another high-wattage smile, making her wonder dizzily whether Mark had ever smiled that much in the span of 17 months. Michael started walking, wheeling his bike with her shopping bags dangling from the handles along and looking so energetic that it felt contagious.
God, what had she done in agreeing to this? Would she live through this day without going through hell?
(To be continued tomorrow!)
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