Choosing Realities

The First Morning After

November 2, 2013

Rose woke that morning feeling particularly rough. Normally, sleep was not something she struggled with. If anything, it came rather naturally to her. But last night she did nothing but restlessly shift and turn, unable to drift off into the desired slumber. All of this did nothing to help her morning mood. She was most certainly not a morning person, even with adequate sleep. Take that away and she was a bear to be around—at least until she’d had a cup of coffee or her preferred cuppa. But she adored her bakery and could think of doing nothing else, so it was an accepted annoyance. Plus, on Saturdays she closed at noon, and unless she had an inordinate amount of deliveries, she was able to have the majority of the day at her disposal.

Her morning was fairly steady and didn’t afford much downtime. But in those infrequent times, Rose found her thoughts drifting to the man she’d met yesterday. He’d been short bordering on rude. Well, to be frank, he had been rude; there was no bordering about it. Yes, she’d found him attractive—extremely, in fact. But she’d only spent all of five minutes with him; so why was he in her thoughts like he was currently? Deciding to be completely honest with herself, it was because of what she had witnessed in those few fleeting moments. What Rose had seen in his eyes had left such an impression on her that it was impossible to wipe it from her memory. She’d never seen anything like it before. There was such unfathomable anguish within those dark eyes; they were wholly bereft of hope. She had been consumed with an almost overwhelming desire to take his hand, to comfort him, to ease his pain, to even bear it with him. Rose had never felt such intensity before. It was startling, but yet somehow, it felt right…with him.

In a few short hours it was time to close up the bakery for the day, and Rose felt rather anxious to do so quickly. She couldn’t determine exactly why, but she felt restless, like she needed to go somewhere or do something. She wiped down the cases and surfaces, and decided that she would pop over and see if Donna felt like playing hooky. Maybe then she would be able to keep him out of her thoughts. Turning off the lights and locking the door, Rose turned and began walking the few blocks to Rendezvous.

Donna continued to do her prep work for the dinner hour, while Rose continued to sit next to her, aimlessly swirling her straw around her glass. Despite her best efforts, Rose had been unable to convince Donna to leave early. The new hire’s unexpected desertion yesterday put them short staffed and there was no way she could leave. Rose pouted for a bit at her plans being thwarted, but quickly brightened and decided to stay with Donna for a little while, seeing as she had no other plans.

Donna eyed Rose curiously. She was being peculiarly quiet. She just kept turning her straw around and around, her eyes transfixed on the swirling liquid. It was obvious that she was thinking intently on something. There was no way her drink was that interesting.

“What’s with you?” Donna said, nudging Rose with her elbow.

Rose looked up from her drink somewhat absentmindedly. “What?”

“You. Odd. Why?” Donna said teasingly.

Rose wrinkled her brow. “I’m not actin’ odd. What makes ya say that?”

Donna quirked an eyebrow at her. “Because you are acting odd. You’re all quiet and pensive-like. And you look like you’re about to be sucked into that drink of yours.”

“I’m just sittin’ here, s’all,” she replied with a shrug of the shoulders.

Donna snorted at her poor excuse for an answer.

There was a brief pause before Rose suddenly spoke. “So…speaking of brooding…”

“When were we doin’ that?” Donna asked with raised eyebrows.

“Pensive, brooding…it’s basically the same thing. Anyway…that bloke yesterday, the ‘no pears’ one…what do you, uh…know about ‘im?”

“Why?” Donna drawled, narrowing her eyes at Rose. She wasn’t certain she liked where this line of questioning was headed.

“No reason. Just askin’,” Rose said, shaking her head nonchalantly and avoiding Donna’s pointed look.

Donna made no effort to answer the question, and instead began rolling silverware.

“Soo…,” Rose prompted, staring at her as she waited for a response.

“What?” she asked as if she hadn’t heard Rose’s question, and never taking her eyes away from her task.

“Donna,” Rose groaned. She was still tired and didn’t feel like doing this ridiculous dance.

Donna finally stopped what she was doing and looked over at Rose. “Fine…he hates pears and he’s a prat. That’s all I know,” she grumbled.

Rose scrunched her brows together at Donna’s gruff demeanor. “Why are you being so touchy?”

“I’m not being touchy!” she insisted.

Rose’s eyebrows questioningly shot upwards. “Oh, really?”

“I don’t know,” she sighed resignedly. “I just don’t want ya to saddle up with some wanker. Not that he is one, but he’s definitely got something goin’ on. Ya can’t blame me for being a lil’ bit on alert.”

“I’m not ‘saddling up’ with anyone. It was an innocent question,” Rose assured her, doing her best to play it off as nothing.

“Of course it was,” Donna said, giving a patronizing nod and resuming her previous task.

A brief pause passed before Rose spoke up again. “So, is that really all ya know about ‘im?”

Donna couldn’t help but snort in amusement before chucking a napkin at Rose’s head.

Ian wretched for the better part of ten minutes till there was nothing left within him. He limply staggered to the vanity and braced himself against the sink. He turned on the faucet and allowed the tepid water to pool into his palm before shakily lifting the contents to his lips and rinsing his mouth. When he was finished, he turned off the water and looked at his reflection in the mirror. Even the bright lights were unable to lessen the appearance of the dark circles under his eyes. Strength slowly began to return to his feeble frame, allowing him to hobble over to the shower. As the hot water poured down and the steam billowed around him, he finally allowed his mind to recall all of the details and events he’d been keeping at bay.

He must have been drugged. That had to be the only logical explanation for what had transpired, didn’t it? It all had to have been a surreal, drug-induced dream—or nightmare, depending on how one looked at it. Quite frankly, he wasn’t sure how to view it. Every single detail had felt eerily real—the early morning chill as he rushed to the car, Rose’s warmth as she buried herself into his chest, the searing pain of her mum’s slap to his cheek, the scalding tea on his hand, Rose’s soft lips ghosting over his own. Every sensation had been overwhelming and tangible, but it couldn’t have been real…could it?

No, he decided. No matter what he thought, no matter what he felt—it was just impossible. Focusing on that, on his decided absolute certainty that it was all an elaborate drug-induced figment of his subconscious, he found more of his strength return to him. Anger and confusion are powerful stimuli, and Ian had an abundant supply of both. He hurriedly scrubbed and rinsed off. Stepping out of the shower, he allowed the steam to envelope him while he wrapped himself with a towel and walked determinedly to his bedroom closet, slamming around hangers as he searched for something to wear. He had one goal in mind—get answers. And that’s exactly what he was going to do.

Forty-five minutes later, Ian walked into Rendezvous. Well, he didn’t so much as walk as he did storm into the restaurant. It was half after two and a few customers were spread sporadically across the room. He immediately noticed a blonde at the hostess’ stand, her back towards him. In two strides he was in front of her. His heavy footsteps caused her to turn and face him, revealing a woman he'd only seen a handful of times and who was most certainly not Rose. Ian’s eyes slightly widened in surprise that his assumption had been wrong. He refocused and steeled himself, turning his cold eyes directly to hers.

She was young, no more than twenty, with her blonde hair pulled into a tight ponytail. She also had a sweet air about her which Ian found extremely irritating, especially in his current state of mind. When his cold eyes met her gaze, her normally bright smile faltered and she instantly felt herself become uneasy under his scrutiny. She nervously swallowed and willed herself to smile, though it lacked its usual cheeriness.

“Hello, I’m Lynda. How ma-..."

“I’m looking for Rose,” he curtly interrupted.

Lynda did her best to keep a kind smile on her face, even though this man’s aggressive nature put her off kilter. Rose was still in the kitchen with Donna, but Lynda felt that she should try to determine what exactly he wanted before she divulged that. For some reason, she sensed that Donna would be less than pleased with her if she didn’t try. Straightening herself up in an effort to inspire confidence, more for herself than him, she addressed him.

“Can I ask who ya are?” she said politely.

Ian’s eyes remained cold as ice. “No,” he said, his tone brooking absolute refusal to pursue the subject further.

Lynda felt herself begin to tremble the longer those dark piercing ears bored into her. However, she refused to cower. Holding her ground, she countered, “Then I’m afraid I can’t help you. Now, would you like a table o-..."

He moved closer to her, intimidating her to her core. “Now listen to me,” he said, his voice direct and manner unyielding, “I know she’s here. If she wasn’t, you would’ve just come out and said so. Instead, you asked me to state my purpose—which is none of your business. Now I want to see her. I’m not asking.”

The look that now passed over his eyes let her know that it was in her best interests to end her inquiry. Silently, she turned and went towards the kitchen. As she pushed the door open, she caught sight of Rose and Donna practically cackling about something or another. Lynda debated on informing both of them about the man’s presence, but at that moment, she found him more foreboding than Donna.

Deciding her course of action, Lynda walked up to Rose and said, “Hey Rose, can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Rose replied, smiling and looking up at her expectantly.

“It’s, uh…kinda private. Can we…,” she trailed off and motioned towards the dining area.

Donna crinkled her brow, but remained uncharacteristically quiet. Rose seemed to not notice anything abnormal, and stood up and followed her to the door.

Stopping just before exiting, Lynda whispered, “Um…okay…there’s some bloke out front who says he wants to see ya. And he’s pretty insistent on it.”

Rose furrowed her brow in confusion and slight concern. She looked through the small circular window to see the man from yesterday. He was clearly in an agitated state which further added to her confusion.

“Did he say why?”

Lynda fidgeted as she recalled their brief conversation. “I asked but he was rather…tightlipped ‘bout it. But if you want me to throw ‘im out or call the cops, just tell me and I’ll do it.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head, “that’s not necessary. We don’t need to tell anyone. Ya get me?” Rose motioned towards Donna with her eyes.

Lynda winked in understanding, and Rose went into the dining room.

Rose saw the man pace somewhat in a circle. She didn’t know anything about him, but she could instantly tell that something was off. He was nothing like he was the day before. He’d been closed off, only allowing his rudeness to come through. But today…today he was fully of barely restrained emotion, and none of it was good based on the expression on his face and his relentless pacing. She was at a loss as to what could have provoked him to such behavior. Surely he couldn’t be this worked up over a banana cupcake?

Cautiously, she walked over to him. He must have either sensed her approach or caught a peripheral glimpse of her because he whipped his head around and bored his eyes into her. The intensity in his eyes was startling. The pain and anguish she’d observed yesterday was barely visible; now it was almost completely masked by burning anger and what looked like fear. Despite this, she smiled genuinely at him. They were barely within speaking distance before he turned on her.

“What was in that thing you gave me?” he demanded all the while pummeling the bone stirring sensation he felt on seeing her face again. He did notfeel anything for this woman, no matter what he was experiencing. It meant nothing, he repeatedly told himself.

She looked at him completely gobsmacked. What was in it? What did he mean by that?

“Umm…eggs, sugar, butter…,” she listed off.

His eyes became narrow slits yet the retained their foreboding appearance. “What else?”

Now it was Rose’s turn to alter her gaze. “What exactly are you askin’?”

“Last night, I went to sleep and then…,” he trailed off as their eyes continued to meet. He was not about to relate the insanity he’d experienced.

Rose crossed her arms and looked at him in confused and irritated expectation. “What?”

“Just…something,” he evaded, “And the only thing out of the ordinary was that I ate that cupcake.”

“Look, I’m sorry if it made you sick,” she said in earnest, “I just thought you could use a pick-me-up.”

Ian could feel her warmth and sincerity, but he fought against it. He had to remain in control of this situation and himself. It was all he had left in a world he felt was beginning to crumble around him. He forced back any gratitude he might have been feeling and focused on his anger and fear.

“Well, I don’t need or want your meddling. Focus on yourself and just stay out of my life,” he snapped.

Rose flinched at his words, hurt evident in her eyes. Ian instantly felt what he identified as regret at causing her pain. Again he felt the instinctual, almost essential, need to comfort her but he remained unyielding to its power.

Rose averted her eyes and sniffed, trying to contain her building emotions. When she looked at him again, her eyes were guarded. Ian fully expected a fiery tirade after how he had just acted.

Instead, she held his gaze and simply said, “Fine.” With that, she turned from him and walk towards the loo.

As he watched her disappear from sight, he gave a low growl and tugged on his hair in restrained fury before leaving for what he suspected was the final time.

Rose held her composure until she reached the loo; but the second she turned the lock, she broke down into silent sobs. She couldn’t fathom why his words had affected her so, but they had felt like a knife to her heart. He was just another cold, self-centered git—what did she care? But the more she thought of him, the harder her tears fell.

Why did this matter so much to her?

After his confrontation with Rose, Ian immediately returned to his flat and began going through the workload he’d previously brought home. He tried to completely immerse himself in his work, but it was a continuous struggle. After several hours of fighting, he threw his pen in frustration and ran his hands angrily through his hair. He leaned back in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose in thought. He was full of conflicting emotions. He knew he’d been cruel, but why should that bother him? Despite what he’d “dreamed,” he had no relationship with her; she meant nothing to him. Yet no matter how hard he tried to engrain those sentiments into his mind, he could not shake the small sense of guilt and remorse within him.

He closed down his laptop and trekked wearily to his bedroom. He quickly changed out of the suit he’d decided on earlier and into the first pair of pajamas he came across in his drawer. He sat down on the side of his bed and scrubbed his face. He couldn’t get Rose out of his mind; and the more he thought about her, the more he recalled the life he’d “imagined” with her. He finally, and somewhat reluctantly, shook himself out of such wanderings. They were pointless. It wasn’t real; it would never be real; and that was the end of it. Those were the last things on his mind as he drifted off to sleep.

The early morning quiet was abruptly shattered by the sound of his mobile ringing. Eyes still closed, Ian fumbled around on the nightstand till he found his phone and pressed the power button once to ignore the call, effectively ending the persistent and unwelcome noise. He felt a pressure on his chest causing him to stir and bring his hand up to move whatever it was. His fingers immediately skimmed across soft skin. At the contact, Ian’s eyes flew open and he had a sudden sense of déjà vu. He looked down at his chest and saw an arm draped across him. His eyes trailed down that arm and to its source—Rose. He looked around, panic beginning to rise though not as overpowering as before. He was in the flannels and lying on top of the covers, just as he remembered. This time he remained motionless as every conceivable emotion and thought cascaded over him. He reached back over and grabbed his phone from the nightstand. He hovered his phone over the home button. Taking a ragged breath and elongated exhale, he mustered his courage and pressed the button.

It was Sunday, November 3, 2019.

He was back.

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