THE NIGHT WAS COLD, DONNA SHIVERED AS THEY WALKED TOGETHER AFTER ANOTHER EVENING OUT, THIS TIME AT A FRENCH RESTAURANT JUST ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF DEXFORD. It had been an enjoyable evening, but as they drove back, Evan seemed unusually quiet, locked in his own thoughts.
After parking the car outside the house, he appeared to hesitate, strangely not making any attempt to get out. Donna was puzzled. Something was going on in his mind, but what?’ Then he gazed into her eyes and said, ‘You know babe, you really do have the most beautiful sensuous lips. I keep trying to imagine what it would be like to kiss you.’
Donna’s heart beat faster as he moved across to her. For a second she froze, feeling sick. But she saw the anguish and hurt in his eyes and felt so sorry for him. He obviously had strong feelings for her and although she did like him, she’d avoided any physical contact so far, apart from holding hands and the odd peck on the cheek. This was the first time he’d spoken about it directly.
She did so want to make him happy, yet when their lips met she froze, and was shaking. Sensing her nervousness he took hold of her hand and squeezed it. After only about ten seconds, he moved away again giving her a warm smile. He was very gentle, and for that she was grateful.
‘See that wasn’t so bad, was it?’
She smiled. In fact, in the end she found the kiss quite pleasant.
He held both of her hands and looking deep into her eyes, said, ‘We can make a go of this, Donna. It won’t be easy, but we’ll get there, I promise you.’
‘You’ll need the patience of a saint, Evan.’
‘I’ll wait for forever if that’s how long it takes.’
She liked being told this, and even let him kiss her again, although this kiss didn’t last quite as long. Donna broke off quickly sensing he might get carried away.
‘Please stop now, you’re making me feel funny.’ She pushed him gently away.
His eyes dropped, as if he found this upsetting. ‘Wish you’d tell me what this is all about. I’ve heard all about your parents, about how they forced you into the limelight. But something else happened to you, didn’t it?’
Donna shook her head vigorously, but knew Evan would need an explanation.
‘Please Donna, you must tell me. If we want this relationship to work, we can’t have any secrets from each other. You should be able speak to me about anything. And I’ll do the same for you. It will help I’m sure, and I promise whatever you say, will remain strictly between the two of us.’
‘No Evan, no way. You’re trying to push me into a corner and if I’m not careful, I’ll go to pieces. I can’t talk to anyone, not even you – you hear me?’ She opened the car door to get out.
Without looking back to see if Evan was following, she made for the front door. Of course she had a key, but knew he was right behind her, as he leaned over to put his own key in the lock.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pressurise you. I’ll back off, all right. If this thing that happened to you was so awful, keep it to yourself, if that’s what you want. I won’t mention the subject again, ever – I promise.’ He pushed the front door open.
She was still angry with him for trying to find out about her darkest secret. She couldn’t speak about it to him because she was so frightened. Even now, at times she still had nightmares about the attack, and as no one had ever been caught. She feared her attacker was still out there, waiting in the shadows, ready to pounce, the first time she dropped her guard. That’s why when she went out, she always felt safer when someone was with her.
She ran upstairs to her bedroom, leaving Evan standing in the hall, wondering how to cure her of this problem. Did he have an inkling of what had happened to her? She feared he had.
The following morning things were back to normal, the events of the previous day pushed firmly into the background. At some point the truth would come out, but for now it was too much to cope with.
A few months later, Evan was holding Donna’s hand as they walked along a pathway overlooking a lake in the glorious Welsh countryside.
‘Donna, I wanted to ask you something,’ he said turning to her.
‘Oh yes, and what’s that?’ She was looking ahead of her as a red kite seemed to hover before plunging towards the lake in search of fish.
She had no idea what was coming and wasn’t even listening as intently as she should.
‘Well…er… this isn’t easy for me. In fact, I’m shaking like a leaf. But I have to do this, or I’ll never find out the truth –’
Donna narrowed her eyes, looked puzzled, then she started to giggle. What was he going on about now? Then he put his hand in his pocket, pulled out a small bag. He moved his hand slowly towards her.
‘What have you got there, for God’s sake - not another packet of wine gums is it?’ She joked, remembering the last time he’d pulled this stunt.
‘Well, not exactly. This is what I’ve wanted to give you for a long time. In fact, I bought it ages ago, but it’s taken me until now to pluck up the courage. Hopefully, you’ll want to wear this for the rest of your life.’
She stopped in her tracks, felt a lump in her throat, the smile vanishing from her face as the situation became clear. She reddened, even more so when he took a small black box out of the bag. With his other hand, he opened the lid to reveal a beautiful diamond engagement ring.
Her eyes widened with astonishment as she gazed at it. The diamond, which sparkled in the sunlight, had a slight yellow tinge. It was held by a band of gold.
‘Evan …no,’ she began, her whole body twitching as the enormity of what he was proposing hit her. She moved away from him, terrified out of her wits.
‘What’s wrong – I...I thought you’d be pleased.’
‘Sorry – but I can’t handle this. Put that away, take it back to the shop and get your money back, because I can never wear it.’
‘But why ever not?’
She shook her head, realising she should have expected this; after all, they’d been going out for almost a year now. They got on well, rarely had arguments, and seemed happy in each other’s company. So long as he kept his distance, just held her hand, and only kissed her occasionally, everything was fine. But this proposal was the natural progression for any couple. The longer they remained together, the more likely something like this would happen. She cursed herself for being so stupid. But he should have known this could never be. Had it not been for the rape, and what she’d suffered afterwards, it might have been possible. Unfortunately it had happened and would be forever ingrained in her memory.
‘Why did you have to spoil everything?’ She looked up at him, through tear-filled eyes. ‘Why can’t you make do with what we have, instead of wanting the earth? I can’t give you any more than I’m giving you already – I must have told you a hundred times. Now I can never be the same with you again – and it’s your own fault.’
He stroked his chin, sighing intermittently, pondering over what he’d done. He looked stunned. ‘I’m really sorry, I didn’t intend spoiling things, as you say. I wanted to make things even better between us, and I got it into my head that if I showed you some real commitment, you might finally believe what I keep telling you. If I’ve offended or hurt you, forgive me. I promise you I’d never harm a hair on your head. Haven’t I proved that already enough times in the past?’
Donna looked up at him guardedly. What he’d said was true, so why couldn’t she tell him the reason for this? She was frightened despite how sensitively he’d treated her, fearing someday he might turn out to be like Blake, especially if they were under pressure or had problems. What would she do then?
‘It’s me that should say sorry,’ she whispered, feeling ashamed of herself. ‘You don’t deserve this. I’ve told you before, you’d be better off with someone who can give you the love you need.’
Nervously he began, ‘If I went out with anyone else, it wouldn’t work – you’re the only person I can be happy with, for God’s sake.’
Biting her lip, tears came into her eyes as she realised he might actually be speaking the truth. She was as frightened as she’d been when they’d first become a couple. But she’d got through that and he hadn’t let her down since – had he? He was a decent honest and caring man who thought the world of her. If only she could find the strength to at least try – for his sake.
‘Can I have another look at that ring?’ she asked suddenly.
A tiny flicker of hope appeared in his eyes. He took it out of the box and placed it on her finger. She held out her arm and stared admiringly at this token of love, as if it was the most precious thing she’d ever worn. For a few seconds it felt good on her finger– but then the old feelings of doubt and indecision reappeared. Quickly she took the ring off and gave it back to him.
‘You’ll like it, Donna – I know you will.’
‘Maybe I will. It is gorgeous. I might wear it one day but I won’t be rushed. Keep it with you always and when I feel like putting it on for a little while – I will. Be patient with me Evan, and maybe you’ll get what you deserve.’
‘I have so much patience, it’ll be coming out my ears before long,’ he laughed.
‘You’ll keep the ring for me then?’ she almost begged him.
‘Of course I will, wherever I go. And then any time you want to see it, you can.’
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, which she decided would have to be enough for now.
‘I wonder if we might get married someday, Donna?’
‘Sorry, but I can’t think that far ahead,’ she said looking at him with those sad eyes of hers.
He nodded, but from the look on his face she realized he was hurt and disappointed. Nonetheless feeling as trapped as she had for most of her life, she knew if he didn’t stop pressurising her, the relationship would fail for sure.
Only a week later, they were sitting inside Gino’s candle lit Wine Bar in Dexford town centre. The atmosphere in the room and the wine they’d drunk had begun to take effect, and Donna was thinking about the engagement ring, and how beautiful it was. ‘Evan…’ She took hold of his hand.
‘Yes - what’s wrong?’ he began, looking straight into her eyes.
‘Er…I wondered if you had the ring with you.’
His mouth dropped open a little. ‘Of course - didn’t I say I would?’
She nodded, watching as he took the box out of his inside coat pocket, to place on the table in front of her.
Shaking slightly, she opened it, and slipped the ring onto her finger staring at it from afar.
‘Doesn’t that diamond sparkle, Evan? And it’s so beautiful as well.’
‘Like everything about you,’ he whispered to her.
She glanced up at him, shaking her head slightly, trying to ignore his remark.
‘I feel more comfortable now, not like before. Maybe I could get used to wearing it.’
‘That’s what I hoped you’d say. If you ever want to wear it permanently, you only have to tell me.’
‘Let me keep it for a few days in private, to see how I feel - all right? Maybe gradually I’m become even more relaxed about getting engaged, and about what people might say.’
‘I’ll keep my fingers crossed. No pressure babe, you take as long as you want. I just wish you’d confide in me about what happened to you.’
‘Maybe I will in the future, but for now the best I can do is to try to wear the ring – because of how much it means to you.’
‘You will, but do it for yourself as well as for me.’
‘I don’t like to speak too soon, but I’ve felt more contented about things just lately. Like work for instance. It’s done me good to get involved with the school.’
‘I told you – didn’t I?’
‘You did,’ she said squeezing his hand.
‘And who knows what it might lead to.’
‘I’m not thinking that far ahead yet, but it’s great to be doing something useful after wasting so much time.’
‘That’s how I was when I first became a nurse. Helping sick people get well again was great, although not all the patients appreciate what you do for them.’
‘That doesn’t surprise me.’ She wondered if he was referring to her at a time not so long ago.
Throughout the rest of that evening, Donna could hardly keep her eyes off the ring, imagining how her colleagues would react. They’d be so thrilled. In her heart, she knew she could trust Evan, and be sure he’d never hurt her. But a tiny voice kept saying that Blake had given her the same impression and look how he’d changed. There would always be that small element of doubt in her mind, and if something went wrong, she feared the pain would destroy her.
The following Saturday they sat watching television in her bedroom, Donna wearing his ring again; thinking how nice it was to have someone who cared for her again. He’d always been good to her in the time they’d known one another, and she felt safe in his company. Perhaps in time she would be able to express her feelings to him as it was clear she meant so much to him. This was the very least she could do.
Then out of the blue, an idea came to her that made her feel giddy with excitement, but also very apprehensive. However, realising nothing ventured was nothing gained, she said, ‘Evan would you like to show your mum this ring now?’
His eyes widened with shock and with pleasure.
‘Pardon – you serious?’ he smiled looking as if this was the best thing that had ever happened to him.
‘Yes, very much so.’
‘Are you sure you don’t want to think about it. You realise if we show it to her, there’s no going back?’
She nodded her head.
She nodded again, feeling very emotional. He didn’t understand what a huge step this was for her.
‘Come on then.’ And taking her hand said, ‘What are we waiting for?’
They went downstairs, still holding hands. Evan pushed the living room door open, to see his mother sitting down watching television. Her eyes darted from one to the other, having seen their hands locked together - something they’d never done in her presence - a puzzled expression came over her face.
He cleared his throat before speaking. ‘Mum, we’ve got something to tell you…’
In fact, he didn’t have to say anything more. He merely lifted up Donna’s left hand and showed his mother the engagement ring perched on her finger. A look of surprise, then joy came across her face.
‘It’s about time,’ was her first comment.
‘Donna needed to be sure,’ Evan told her. ‘And I don’t blame her, but I’m so thrilled she’s made up her mind at last.’
‘This is the most wonderful news. And that ring, why it’s absolutely lovely. Must have cost you a small fortune, Evan.’
‘Yes, but it’s worth every penny.’ He smiled proudly.
‘So when’s the big day?’
‘We haven’t decided yet, but there’s no rush mum – we’ve got all the time in the world.’
She turned to Donna. ‘What do you think?’
Slightly taken aback; she hadn’t been expecting this kind of pointed question. And with an embarrassed smile quickly said, ‘When we’ve saved some money, and when it feels right.’
‘That sounds good enough to me. Glad to see you’re not rushing into things. Right then, you two. This calls for a celebration! It just so happens I have a bottle of bubbly in the fridge. A relative gave me this as a present at Christmas, but I never got the chance to open it until now. This is as good a time as any. What a shame Theresa isn’t here to share the good news – she’d have been over the moon for you.’
Evan looked sadly into space. ‘She would – I still can’t believe she’s gone from us.’
‘Me neither - she’d have been so happy. I can see her now, with that big grin on her face, hugging us half to death. She’d have loved to be my bridesmaid.’
Evan followed his mother into the kitchen, and the sound of a ‘pop’ indicated the bottle had been opened successfully. They returned a few minutes later, Evan’s mother carefully carrying a tray containing three glasses brimming, with what looked like champagne. Donna took a sip of hers, finding it sweet, bubbly and refreshing.
After finishing the champagne they sat talking about the future – saving a deposit for a house and also when they envisaged getting married. Donna was getting more used to the idea of becoming Evan’s wife and what it would entail. Perhaps she really did have a future to look forward to at last.