Under My Skin
Note this story contains adult themes and there is an episode that involves sexual violence, and may cause triggers. (Sorry for not including this earlier).
She walked into the gloomy cafe, a welcome hideaway from the teeming rain, glancing from corner to corner for the very face that she didn’t want to see. Realising it wasn’t there, she released her breath slowly. Then spotting an empty seat, she weaved between the tables and slid into a seat, shaking the rain from her coat and folding her umbrella. Scotland in the height of summer could be bleak, here in late February it was horrendous. It was the wrong time to be walking around, but she’d had to come into town. Then she’d seen that familiar silhouette in the distance, the unmistakable profile of the man she’d spent months hiding from.
“What can I get ya?” a young spotty waitress with lank drawn back hair drawled between chews on her gum.
“Tea please – and a sandwich? Something plain, maybe cheese,” she asked quietly.
With two chews and a nod, the girl departed.
Each time the door swung open Isobel's eyes shot up, straining to identify the people taking solace from the rain now driving into the empty streets, but each time it was just another anonymous patron hiding from the hideous weather.
As a mug of tea and a plate containing the requested sandwich and some salad that struggled to qualify as a garnish, was placed in front of her, she froze. It was the voice she’d hidden from for far, far too long, “can I get a coffee please?”
She looked up to see him standing in front of the disinterested waitress near the door, dwarfing her with his stature, his imposing presence summonsing a lot of attention, but he could never go anywhere quietly, he was so charismatic, so magnetic. His short dark hair was damp from the rain; a long thick woollen coat wrapped tightly around him did little to hide his strong body. “I’ll take it over there.” He added before much to her fear, he deposited himself opposite her.
“So?” his face asked all the unanswered questions that he had all at once, and as she looked at him a decade of pain flooded through her. “Are you going to tell me where the hell you’ve been?”
If only it was that simple, if only it was as easy as telling the truth. He wouldn’t understand, someone like him would never understand. Because he lived in a black and white world. A place where things were right or wrong. And if anyone knew there were a million shades of grey, it was her.
She swallowed the bile fighting to rise into her mouth and finally made contact with his eyes. Time seemed to stand still as she looked into the deep blue, memories good and bad conflicting as she struggled to fight off the tears welling in her own eyes. Just a few short months ago he’d been everything to her, but for one awful realisation, and now he represented everything that scared her, everything that threatened her.
“Well? Don’t you think I deserve an explanation?” He curled his hands into fists, and she knew he was having difficulty restraining his emotion. He wasn’t a patient man, and he was used to everything going his way, that was how his life had been, until he’d met her. “My mother’s birthday. You called to say you were on your way to my house, Claudia said she’d let in someone who could only have been you, but then you didn’t make it to the garden...as if that’s not bad enough, I haven’t seen you since. That was four months ago Isobel. Have you any idea the lengths I’ve been to trying to find you?”
She didn’t admit that Aunt Maria had told her in great detail how much he’d done to search for her, there were some confessions she really didn’t need to get into. There was only so much they could throw on the table between them, so instead she meekly shook her head.
“Have you nothing to say to me? Am I worth so little to you?” She shrugged as she tried to swallow the lump in her throat. The silence inflamed him. “For god’s sake Isobel!” He suddenly quietened his raised voice, as aware as she was of everyone stopping to stare at them, neither wanted to air their dirty laundry to a receptive audience. He spoke again, this time in a hissed whisper, “I’d bared my heart and soul to you, do you realise how hard that was for me? After all that you knew about...my brother, her...my inner demons. ” He paused exasperated. “You of all people. I thought we were getting somewhere, I thought I meant something to you, we were getting on, we were compatible, I told you everything. Even the kids were friends...” He stared at her, “I just don’t get it.”
The waitress placed the coffee in front of him, and when Isobel looked up again he was still watching her.
“I had to leave Marc, it wasn’t you...”
He laughed out loud, “Oh I get it - ‘it’s not you, it’s me’??” He shook his head, “that old line? I thought this was worth fighting for, I came here prepared to beg you to come back...but you don’t seem bothered.”
When she didn’t reply, couldn’t reply, he threw a ten pound note on the table and left, without as much as a backward glance.
She felt sick; he’d looked so angry, so lost and so deserted. She’d fought so long to keep him out of her life, and yet every night as she lay in bed alone, she ached for him. She remembered the first time she’d ever set eyes on him, the attraction had been instant, and mutual, though she had fought it for so, so long. And now her world was in tatters, but how could she tell him? How could she make him understand?