“How do you know my sister?” That might be safer than what she really needed to ask, though her sister wasn’t a good subject to start with.
“Your sister.” He realized that he had to be careful what he said.
“I don’t know her at all, other than by reputation, except for a couple of times the sheriff called me in to see to her in the jail, or after a bar fight.”
“And you thought I was her?”
He nodded, almost ashamed to admit it. “I saw her name on that call. What else could I think? I’d never met you, up close, to know any different, and I certainly didn’t know she had a twin sister… you. How could I not assume you were Megan?”
He apologized for that mistake with his tone of voice, but it had been an understandable mistake, not knowing they were twins.
“I didn’t know, and it was unforgivable, the mistake I made, assuming you were her. I thought you were… her.”
He was beating himself up, over that.
“I know I shouldn’t have thought that, but when I tended to Megan in the past, it was darkish where we were, and she always wore too much make-up.” He was repeating himself.
He continued, anxious that she not get the wrong impression.
“Also, I hadn’t seen her for a year or more, and thought that maybe she’d cleaned up and straightened out. You were nothing like what I expected; put it that way.”
Nor was he. She’d been walking on eggs, like he had, for nothing.
“Megan hasn’t changed. She’s just as bad as she was.” She didn’t want to go there. “Your turn to ask, now.”
Seeing how he was dealing with her, professionally, despite… everything, she was beginning to lose her concerns about what he was thinking of her. The signs were all good.
He paused as he recollected where he was and what he was doing. “I already asked you about swimming across the lake.”
He thought of something she’d said earlier. “Did you really have such a crush on me?” He would like to know more.
She was nodding.
“What does that mean? What did it mean, then, for you?” He needed to know, and the more she talked, the more comfortable they would both become.
She was able to summon a weak smile.
“I had the worst kind of crush on you. I was a girl, confused with my own feelings, and I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I was in love, I suppose.” She continued to open up. “I imagined myself in all kinds of girlish dangers, with you, always coming to my rescue. As you did, just now. I dreamed, endlessly about you.” She sighed. “Forbidden pleasures.” She wouldn’t go any deeper into those romantic adventures.
“It was the stuff, poets locked themselves away for, as they pined away. I was a bad case. I used to sneak into your room while you were at school, writing exams, and I looked at your books and... things.” She wouldn’t tell him the other things she’d snooped into. “I wanted to know everything about you.” Just as he had, with her.
“You didn’t keep a diary. I looked. I used to read a lot, but I had only a very few books of my own that I got from the library when they gave them away, so your books were real treasures for me. I looked into your computer too, when you left that behind. I wanted to know everything about you. I hope you can forgive me.”
He still had a smile on his face. “I’ll have to think about that. You may have to pay a forfeit.”
“Oh. What kind of a forfeit?”
He grinned. “Just kidding. I forgave everything. I knew someone had been digging around in my things, and that it wasn’t my mother. I figured it had to be you. I didn’t mind. There was nothing too sensitive in there. I wanted you to know about me. It actually gave me quite a nice jolt. A girl, interested in me? Unthinkable. Once I knew what you liked to read, I brought some of those books from the library.”
He warned her. “There is another hook that might be awkward… by the side of your breast.”
She raised her arm to see, what he saw. She hadn’t been able to watch him do the others. It was nice to see that he was so deeply interested in her body, and that he was having some difficulty with that.
She almost giggled, watching him push her breast out of his way with the back of his hand, and spray around the hook with something, inject a little of that lidocaine, waiting a short while for it to take effect as he snipped-off the rest of the hook, and then went after those two prongs still digging into her. She didn’t feel anything as he teased those out, which surprised her.
He put pressure on her breast, doing that, as he took hold of the metal with the pliers, gently pushed the hook shaft to the side, and lifted it at the same time, trying to bring the barb out, along the same track it went in on. He alternately watched what was happening, and was looking at her face as he did that, to sense if she was feeling any pain, or would object to his familiar and personal touch, in personal places.
She said nothing.
She could see that he’d done this before, but definitely, not on a woman’s breast, nor with this degree of attention.
Three minutes later, the pieces rattled into the pan, and he cleaned around the area again after squirting something over that same place. There was a little blood, but not much. He put a bandaid over it. Smoothing it flat with his fingers once everything was dry.
Question time again. It was time for her to get a little more personal with the questions.
“That second night I stayed at your mother’s house, I noticed that someone had brought all of my clothes from home. Was that you?” Her first good memories went back ten years, just as his did.
He nodded. “My mother got me to take the boat over there the next day before I went to study. She’d got a call from someone over there. Some relative sympathetic to your situation. (Her uncle). There were a few bags of your clothes, and shoes and things, on the jetty, but no one else to be seen. I’d seen your sneakers on another jetty. I assumed they were yours, the red sneakers, so I got those too.”
They had been hers.
“I didn’t have a clue who lived over there. I brought everything I saw, that looked like it was important to a young girl. Even a couple of dolls.”
They’d been important to her.
“I didn’t know you were the one who did that. Thank you.” She had one more question to ask.
“Did you ever think about getting married, Malcolm? Or come close to it? There must be someone in your life. Young doctors don’t seem to survive for very long, single.”
He looked at her and smiled, liking where this was going. “I never gave it much thought. I never found the woman that interested me that way. I was still carrying memories of another girl I once knew, but, one that I didn’t know well, and that I had never met, face to face. I only knew her at a distance. Until now.” He blushed as he told her that.
He was describing her, of course. And she knew it.
“What about you? You’re, what?... twenty-three? Still unattached, unmarried?” He could ask those questions too.
A welcome breeze seemed to spring up out of nowhere, rustling the curtains and sending a breath of cooling air, wafting over them both.
“I’m not married. I never came close. No prospect of it, either. Like you, I never found anyone to interest me enough... once I left here. I focused upon becoming a good teacher.”
As he, had concentrated on medicine, though never losing her from his thoughts.
“I stayed in close touch with your mother, though.” His mother had kept her abreast of everything he’d been doing.
He took her up on what she’d said. “No prospect of marriage, you say? I wouldn’t say that, Cassie. Things happen when you least expect them… like now. You couldn’t know about this, this morning, any more than I could. What a shame that it took an injury to you, to bring us together again. You’re still very young. There are lots of eligible bachelors in this town. If you decide to stay.”
He knew of one. So did she.
I’d marry you in a cotton-picking minute.
But he didn’t say that out loud
He didn’t wait for her to continue, but looked directly at her.
“I’d like you to stay… in touch, at least. We could explore possibilities and fill in some of those gaps since you left. We could have that long-overdue talk we never had, several of them, over a coffee or tea, and find out what little we didn’t know about each other.
“Those five years difference in our ages, are not so daunting now, or as threatening as they used to be for us both. I doubt my mother would complain, or stand in your way, or mine, this time, even though she did, before.”
And thank god, she had. If she hadn’t, everything could have gone, so... so wrong for them both. The way he was at that time… it would have been really dangerous.
Cassie decided not to respond as she wanted to. She wasn’t in control of this situation. It was too early to tell him everything she’d felt back then, or even now, but she liked what she was hearing.
“After I came back from medical school, five years ago and worked my way into the practice, I often thought of you, Cassie, without ever having a clear picture of you in my mind to see you, as I now see you.
She blushed. “Naked?”
“No. Not only that. Vibrant, Alive. Assured. Beautiful. Mature. I never had a photograph of you, or I wouldn’t have made this mistake, assuming you were… your sister.”
He told her more. “I saw you… then… as a girl I desperately wanted to get to know, after the way my mother spoke of you so constructively. However, my mother also knew about boys my age, and about the downfall of girls your age who got close to them, so she stood guard over you as she needed to, like a mother lion, and she laid the law down to me… ‘hands off’.”
His mother had warned her about him, too. She should never trust him; never tempt him.
But she had done the latter, as much as she could.
“When I heard the door close behind you of a morning, as you both walked out of the house to go to school, I used to leap out of bed, and watch you walking with her, down the driveway striving to get a good look at you; your school satchel on your back. I wanted you to turn, and look back so I could see your face, for once. I so ached to see you, to learn all about you.” Often in ways he couldn’t, or wouldn’t dare describe… as at the breakfast table, or as he’d hovered over her in her bed.
“Then one day, you did look back. I was afraid you would see me staring, so I backed away from the window. You were too far away for me to see much of you, so I stepped back out of sight.”
She knew he’d been interested in her, but she hadn’t known that.
“I didn’t see you, Malcolm, but I had the feeling that you were always watching me (as she’d tried to watch him). I knew that you’d read my journal. I hid it for a while, after that first time, afraid you would see too much of what I had drawn or written, mostly about you, and about my own dreams and fantasies, also involving you. Then I decided I should leave it out for you to read. It excited me to think that you were reading what I was writing, and that you liked it, and approved of it.” It had formed a beginning bond between them.
“It did excite me. That, was why it was dangerous. You expressed yourself very well.”
“I often envisaged myself sleeping in your arms.” She blushed to admit that even more daring desire. One day, when his mother had stepped out to do something, leaving her alone, she’d curled up on his bed, and let her imagination go wild, her head buried in his pillow, the only thing separating them at that moment had been, time. She’d tried to sense his warm and eager body occupying exactly that same space, but a few hours earlier.
He chuckled nervously. “So, we each dreamed about the other in improper ways, despite us never having properly met.” He wouldn’t tell her how often he’d dreamed of making love to her, or what it cost him, with him constantly masturbating to make up for that loss.
“Perhaps it was ‘because’, we’d never met, Malcolm, and couldn’t, that our imaginations had to take over.”
This conversation meant that there would be many more questions and much more that they would need to talk about. It would go in the right direction now. He knew what he was seeing and hearing.
He so much wanted to kiss her on the lips and to tell her exactly how he felt, as if it wasn’t already obvious.
“Are you okay with this continuing? …the hook removal, and this very revealing conversation?” She nodded.
“You are handling this very well; being very courageous.”
A little bit of praise had been called for. She was being good about it so far.
“What part of it?”
“All of it. You haven’t sworn at me once, or struck out at me as your sister would have done.”
He’d better not tell her how challenging her hand would be, when he got to that, or how difficult it would be for him when he got to those other hooks, the ones trapped either in that other hair, or between her legs, close to the same place. He’d have to be between her legs for that, and he would be staring up at her..., as he’d often dreamed of doing.
They’d both be unnerved for that one, so it would be better if they could laugh about it. They were already making a good start on it.
“You came back for your uncle’s funeral?” He knew she had.
“Partly. Your mother told me of a job prospect that was opening at the same school where she’d once taught me, and where she still is, so I came back to see about that. Had it been just for the funeral I wouldn’t have bothered coming back.”
She wouldn’t tell him about the other reason; coming back to meet him; or at least to see if they both had those same feelings about each other. The signs were all good.
His mother had insisted they both should land on their feet, first, and now they had, so she’d been able to get on with the rest of her matchmaking that she’d planned for years for the two of them, though never quite envisaging it happening in this way between them, or happening so suddenly.