Epilogue - This is the end
Jill looked at the pan on the stove, it was his favourite meal. What a waste. She took it off the heat and decanted its contents into a bowl. She would leave it out for him. He wouldn’t eat it, but she would leave it there, just in case.
The table was set, she didn’t know why, but she’d lit the candles as she sat down and looked at the empty chair opposite her. The candles flickered. She picked up her wine glass and swirled the rich red liquid. What was she doing? It wasn’t even a real anniversary. It had been one year, a whole year, since they met. She had woken to his face, mistaking him for an angel, this day, one year ago. Not a real anniversary, just a special day for her.
She still couldn’t think about those last days in the hospital without feeling guilty. If Catherine had known that she wasn’t really a patient, would she still had done that? Would the result, the outcome, that night, have been different? Everyone had told her that Catherine was obsessed with Tom, but it was only afterwards that they had rationalised everything with this statement. They all seemed to be so confident that it was her delusional behaviour that was to blame. In hindsight it was easy to say this. But that didn’t change the fact that no one suspected it, no one saw the signals, before she did what she did. Did that mean that it was Jill who was the catalyst, that without Jill, Catherine might not have gone to such an extreme? Jill couldn’t help but hold that seed of doubt inside her.
But she was getting off point. Tom shouldn’t and wouldn’t recognise today as anything but another day. It was a female thing to mark these moments as significant events. Men just moved forward. He wasn’t looking back, remembering this point in time as anything to celebrate. He was too busy for that.
The year had gone fast and slow at the same time. The first couple of months were crazy. She’d moved in with him immediately after being released from hospital. They couldn’t get enough of each other. The first weeks were a frenzy of hot sexual encounters. It had been amazing, pure bliss, and she’d fallen even more in love with him as she got to know every inch of him.
While still in this heady phase, they had both gone back to work. Jill had been surprised to find that her best friend was now dating their boss and were about to set up their own accounting firm. When they had invited Jill to join them, she jumped at the opportunity, with Tom’s encouragement. He had told her that he supported her and if she wasn’t earning much, they would have his income. It was exciting. Every facet of her life was perfect. It was like a dream. Work, sex and him, that was all she needed and everything she wanted.
That dream couldn’t last forever. In retrospect she didn’t know how they managed for so long. With very little sleep, they must have been running on lust. When that wore off, everything became simpler and more complicated at the same time. His job required him to be focused and alert. He started coming home and dropping into the bed, asleep before his head hit the pillows, and was gone before she woke up. Then sex became something for his days off. About this time, the new business started gaining clients. With just the three of them doing the work, the days became long and the weekends vanished. She was needed.
She liked to be needed. It was a good feeling. Tom really didn’t need her now. When she had days off, he was at the hospital, and when he wasn’t rostered on, it was usually a weekday or at a busy period where she couldn’t devote time to him. She cooked him meals that he didn’t eat, she waited up for him only to have him asleep before she could tell him about her day or hear about his, and she’d wake to an empty bed. When they were in the house together, he was either catching up on reading some medical journal or too tired and relaxing in front of the television or game. When they did talk, they spoke about work. They spoke ‘at’ each other, as the people and experiences weren’t shared. They had no common ground. They never went out together or did anything together.
She got up and scraped the contents of her plate into the bin. She dropped the plate into the dishwasher as she picked up the phone. No missed calls. She laughed a defeated huff, it wasn’t like she wouldn’t have heard it. She scrolled through the call history. It was sad to see all the unanswered calls she left for him. He didn’t take it into surgery, he couldn’t, she knew that, but it didn’t dispel the doubts.
She hated herself for thinking about it. But his history wasn’t something she could forget. He spent twelve hours a day at that hospital, surrounded by nurses, the same nurses he’d been unable to resist previously. He’d slept with them before he’d meet her, the question she couldn’t stop asking was, what now? Was he still sleeping with them? He wasn’t having sex with her did that mean he was getting ‘it’ somewhere else?
She looked at the bowl on the bench. She’d thought about this before, picking up the food and using it as an excuse as she marched herself into the hospital to catch him in a compromising position. She would hate it but at least it would put an end to the insecurities festering inside her. She would know the truth. She wanted to do it but there was no point. She wouldn’t be allowed into the restricted area. It would only end in embarrassment and her looking petty and silly. She didn’t need that blow to her self-esteem.
There was only one decision, with two outcomes, she needed to make. Love him or leave him. If she loved him then she would trust him and have faith that everything would work out. Leaving him, was the only other option. Just the thought of that caused a penetrating pain in her chest. But what if that absolute heartbreak, which would tear her apart for weeks, possibly months, was better than dying of a slow ache over a number of years? She felt it inside her, the hollow feeling. She was becoming a shell and would eventually be a ghost in his life. He’d stop noticing her completely and she’d only end up broken and bleeding later on.
The phone still in her hand, she wanted to go out, drink, dance, feel alive and attractive again. But she had no one left to call. There was only Andrea, and she had Josh. They worked together and went home together. Andrea didn’t want to hear about Jill’s problems. She scrolled through her contacts. She’d been with Tom for a year, and in that time she’d been so absorbed with him that she hadn’t seen anyone else. She’d not spoken to anyone else and could hardly ring someone now and say, ‘Haven’t seen you in a year, but do you want to hear me whine about my boyfriend?’. No, she was alone.
She closed her eyes and felt the loneliness seeping in. She knew what this life would be like, she knew to expect this, but somehow living it was worse than knowing it. She seen what it had done to his parents, she felt an unexpected sympathy for Anna. She’d been here, but she’d not even had her career to keep her sane. She’d given up everything to sit in his house waiting for him to come home. Of course, she’d also had Tom and that should have been enough to keep her happy, but Anna wasn’t the maternal type. It must have been a prison sentence to her. That didn’t excuse everything she’d done since, but Jill did feel more empathy for the woman than before.
Jill cleared the table. She’d thought about leaving it out, but then he’d see it and feel guilty. He’d apologise. He’d promise things to her. He’d say what she wanted to hear. That wasn’t how she wanted him to be. She didn’t want to feel like she was emotionally blackmailing him. She felt lonely and unappreciated, but she didn’t want to stoop that low. If she did that she might as well leave him now.
With all the evidence gone, she turned off the lights and went to bed. She climbed into the cold bed and turned her back on the empty half. Only now did she stop fighting the tears. She cried in an attempt to rid herself of this despair, hopelessness and inevitability that engulfed her. If she could release all these negative emotions, then maybe she’d survive another day.
It was two hours later that the front door opened. He didn’t turn on the lights. He shed his clothing and silently slid in between the sheets. She could feel him laying there, not saying anything, and she could feel the anger brewing inside her. She knew that it was irrational and that this wasn’t what she wanted to do, but she couldn’t stop it bubbling inside her. She’d had enough of feeling lonely, inadequate and unappreciated. She knew it was selfish but she couldn’t do this anymore.
She swung herself out of the bed and grabbed whatever clothing came to hand, as she strode out of the bedroom. The shirt was pulled on and she was struggling with the jeans, as she fought to escape. She needed to leave this house. If she stayed here she would end up venting her rage at him and then there would be no decision left to make. Everything would end, and she’d have no choice but to embrace the heartbreak. Get out now was the only thing she could do. Once she was calm then she would return and face him.
“Jill?” he stood in the bedroom door, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going out,” she hissed through her teeth.
“Where are you going?” his voice was tired.
“I don’t know,” she pulled the jeans to the waist and did the button.
“Please don’t,” he said in a soft voice.
“I need some fresh air,” she headed for the door grabbing her keys as she went.
“Don’t walk away,” he didn’t raise his voice but there was something in the tone that caused her to pause, hand on the door handle, “Don’t leave. Don’t give up on our relationship Jill.”
“Why not?” she whispered, the tears leaking for her eyes. “Why not, Tom?”
“You told me that relationships weren’t built on running away from the problems, you taught me that. Relationships are about working out the problems.”
“Problems? Is that what this is? A problem?” she couldn’t turn to face him.
“Yes, that’s exactly what this is,” he was standing behind her, “If you walk away now, how are we going to fix this? I won’t let you walk away from me.”
“What exactly do you want from me Tom?”
“I want you to talk to me,” his breath was on her back, “I want us to work this out. Don’t be angry with me, we can fix this.”
“Can we?” she exhaled.
“Yes, we can,” he whispered as he put his hand in the small of her back, “We want the same thing. We love each other and that isn’t something that you walk away from. Please don’t go.”
“I don’t know,” she whimpered, the tears running freely, “I don’t know how to do this.”
“Yes, you do,” his voice was in her ear.
“I’m not enough for you,” she closed her eyes as she stood facing the door, “I can’t make you happy. You deserve someone better than me.”
“Your smile,” his voice was pained, “The way you bite your lip when you’re undecided, your kisses, how you fit into my arms perfectly, your laugh, the way your eyes sparkle when you tease me, your hair fanned out on the pillowcase, the way you feel when we make love, the way I feel every time I look at you, and the balance you bring to my life. That’s ten but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I love you for so more reasons than just these. You are my rock, my centre and the reason I push on.”
“Why are you telling me this?” she sobbed at the doorway, “Why now?”
“Because you should know all of this,” he breathed out, “The fact that we are standing here means that I haven’t made that clear to you. If you don’t know this then that is my fault.”
She shook her head but was crying too hard to say anything. He used both hands to turn her to him and then pulled her head into her shoulder, wrapping his arms around her waist.
“I love you,” he whispered, “You should know that and trust that. I shouldn’t need to tell you. I’m sorry. I’ve neglected you, but I’m not prepared to lose you. Don’t leave me before giving me the chance to fix this.”
She nodded but still couldn’t speak.
“Someone very wise once said to me that trust was the key to every relationship,” Tom kissed her forehead, “I trust you and I want you to trust me once again. I’m not going to leave you and I’m not going to let you leave me without a fight. I need you in my life.”
“Really?” she sniffed.
“Yes, really,” he sighed, “I know my career isn’t an easy one to live with. I’ve seen too many doctors divorce, separate or have strained relationships. I don’t want that for us. I should have told you, but I’ve been working towards a goal. I had a plan.”
She looked up into his eyes, blinking away the tears as she did.
“I like what I do, I like saving lives, but since I’ve met you my priorities have changed,” he smiled as he breathed out, “I don’t want to be the best at my job. I don’t need the accolades. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone but you. I just want you to be proud of me.”
“Tom,” his name came out all croaky.
“This was my final year of residency,” he kissed her again, “I sit the state exams next month. Once I’m board certified I have more options open to me. I was going to talk to you about this once I had all my qualifications finalised. I’ve been thinking about going into research. I’d like to look at new surgical methods.”
“What does that involve?” she bit her lip.
“It won’t be easy,” his eyes lit up as he smiled, “You’ll have to put up with me being home every night. I’ll be working in a lab more than on the wards, so I’ll have weekends too.”
“Really?” she smiled, “You’ll be home? Are you sure this is what you want?”
“What I want?” he smiled, “It should be about what ‘we’ want. I’m not making this decision, we are.”
“But,” she looked at him and forgot what she was going to say.
“There is one other stipulation,” he frowned, “I’m going to need you to marry me.”
“What? Why?” she stuttered.
“Because seeing you standing at the door, taking my heart with you,” he whispered, “Isn’t something I ever want to experience again. I know this has been tough on you, but I promise that it will get better. I will be better. I can’t lose you Gillian Arnold. I want you to be Gillian Layton and let me spend the rest of my life showing you how much I love you.”
“But,” she couldn’t form any words.
“I knew you wouldn’t fall into this without a fight,” he laughed softy, “What are your objections?”
She looked at his smile and felt herself relax. He was hers. Nothing else mattered. Yes, the last year had been difficult but she was responsible for that as much as he had been. She had stewed in silence when she should have trusted him enough to talk to him about how she was feeling. She hadn’t said anything, and the mistrust had compounded until she exploded.
He was watching her. He stood there looking at her mulling this over with a look of arrogance and confidence on his face, and she loved him all the more for it. He was prepared to fight for her. He was prepared to change the direction of his career for her. He was prepared to allow them to make that decision together. He trusted her and wanted her in his life.
She could feel her heart swelling in her chest. There was only one real thing she could do.
“I do have an objection,” she wiped the tears off her face and pushed her shoulders back, “Three.”
“Three?” he tilted his head as he frowned, “You have three reasons why we can’t get married?”
“No,” she smiled, “I’ve always wanted three children.”
Author's note -
Thank you for reading. This is a first edition draft and was written as it was uploaded - so it's raw! It needs editing and rewriting, but I think that's part of the charm of these websites - you get to see drafts like these before they are shaped into the final product. Enjoy it for what it is!
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