Overhearing some needed truths.
Malcolm had his own problems to deal with… a whole list of them now, but they were all good ones. He wanted to know everything about her, even more than he had already learned, and was still learning.
Her revealed body haunted him, just as it had when it had been clothed, all those years ago at a distance, but it wasn’t something that he could easily talk about with her. Not yet.
That kind of conversation was usually reserved for those intensely private moments when lovers were alone together and could empty out their hearts and minds to each other in that truly meaningful confessional; in each other’s arms, as they made love.
He felt elated that he was helping Cassie; his Cassie, and not Megan. She’d thrown him for a loop at first, letting him think that she was Megan, in the confusion, with him waking up to all of the trouble that Megan would be, getting him off on the wrong foot.
This woman, now that he knew who she was, and feeling an even more intense love for her than at any time before, was already a severe test of his moral fiber, but only in an abstract kind of way… for the moment.
Cassie watched the care he took with each subsequent hook, taking care not to cause her any more pain than was unavoidable, and seeing how he dealt with each wound after that. He was patient…methodical… nothing could be rushed.
He would be the same when they made love. That, could not be so far off now. She almost melted with that thought.
She sensed his difficulty, but also grew more confident within herself as she watched him, that little had changed between them from years earlier. Except now, they were meeting, face to face instead of flirting at a distance, always skating around that over-riding central issue that haunted both of them all of the time (what would it be like to meet and to become intimate?), and they had so much to talk about.
He was striving to remain as remote as he could be, but his intense attraction to her and everything he could see of her body, was something that could never be hidden. His ears were red, and he was feeling the rising temperature, not only in the room, but between them.
Seeing these things about him, strengthened her.
He worked his way slowly down her body. The questions had stopped, as he concentrated, but the thinking, hadn’t. She’d known who he, was, before he ever got to her, but she, had suddenly blown up in his face. ′Cassie. Not Megan’. He kept reminding himself of that.
At least he now knew who she really was at last, and they could talk, where they had never been able to talk, face to face, before. They needed to talk and to open up all of those feelings they’d shared remotely through those previous years. It was obvious, in his shyness and overall reaction to her… this strangely wonderful goddess that had suddenly popped into his life... that he was still in love with her, as she always had been with him. Her whole life had come full circle… all uncertainty between them was ended. Or it soon would be.
She often closed her eyes, listening for the snip of his pliers, feeling a small tug, and sensed… where she couldn’t see for herself, what he was doing after that to get it out, before he went after the next one, and after refreshing his excited impressions of her intoxicating body, laid out for him to see; everything within reach. Everything so far out of reach.
It was a delight to sense his excitement for her, almost as they had been with each other ten years earlier, but learned only through the written words, the drawings, the poetry… the eagerness to know.
His phone announced itself.
Damn! Of all the times to interrupt this dreamy process.
He looked at it on the table beside them. It was his mother. He’d be a while here, seeing to Cassie, so he’d better get it now, or she’d phone back again.
“My mother,” he explained. We need a break, anyway.”
He put it on ‘speaker’ mode, so they could both hear it without him having to hold it up to his ear. He wanted there to be no secrets from this moment forward between them.
“Where are you, Malcolm? Your car’s here, but you are not.” Yes, this, was his mother.
“I’m across the lake.” He wouldn’t mention any names. He wanted to finish this before getting his mother involved, which she would always want to be, where Cassie was concerned.
“I’m getting fishhooks out of a careless sun bather.” He grinned foolishly at Cassie.
“She dumped a box of fishing tackle over herself, and got mixed up in them before the pain stopped her. She was lucky to catch me, I’d just finished for the day and was ready to take off when she called.”
“Where, across the lake are you?” Of course, she would ask. She might even be able to see his kayak pulled up on shore if she was using the telescope, which she probably would be, as soon as she heard where he was.
“Opposite. I took the kayak.”
His mother seemed to hesitate.
“There are no sunbathers over there, unless…. Is Cassie home? I expected her. Is it her? She told me she might come for the funeral, but I didn’t see her. I thought she would have stayed here with us… but it would be a delicate time for her.”
He let his mother talk as he worked. She’d just assumed it was Cassie. There would be no one else over here, with the rest of the family being in town for a couple of days. She’d guessed right. His mother had an instinct for those things.
“I expect she was also anxious about meeting you again, poor girl, not sure if you still felt the same way about her, no matter what I told her about what I knew. She still feels the same way about you, even if she told me nothing. At least I don’t have to get in your way this time like I had to before, but go easy with her.”
What did she think he was going to do with her? So soon?
“I’ll be sure to do that, Mom.”
“So, you’ve now met her again, at last. How does she seem?”
‘You mean, apart from being stark naked with absolutely nothing hidden?’
He’d met her alright, but he wouldn’t describe the circumstance. What could he say?
‘She’s stunningly naked, Mom… tempting as blazes, laid out in front of me like a smorgasbord of delights, tormenting me like this; lovely breasts, inviting me to snuggle between them...’
And other un-named delights too.
Those feelings were not something he could easily share with his mother.
“Yes, Mom, we met again, and yes, I think… I know... how I feel about that. I hope she still has some good feelings for me after I finish here. We’ll sort it out with time.”
Time be damned! They were both on the same page already, and they both knew it, though were not sure what they could do about it, where they were.
“By the way, I’ve got this on speaker phone, so Cassie’s part of this conversation.”
“Good. She needs to hear what we are talking about. You said something about fishhooks. I hope she’s not in too much pain. Not serious is it?”
“No, Mom. It’s more picky and painful than serious, but still bad enough.” Cassie was handling it very well, with all of these other things to distract her, so he didn’t mind where this conversation would go.
“I’ll talk to Cassie now. Don’t you dare close me off until I’ve spoken directly to you again.”
She immediately dismissed her son from consideration, as though he wouldn’t be able to hear the rest of the open conversation.
“Cassie. I hope he’s looking after you well.” If he wasn’t, he’d be in trouble.
“He is. He’s looking after me very well. Probably better than I deserve.”
The older lady, snorted.
“Fiddle. He’d better be looking after you. Fishhooks are difficult. But what are you doing over there? You should have stayed with us here, not there. I wouldn’t have minded you coming in at any hour of the day or night, you know that. The door’s always open for you.”
Mrs. Robertson had always been that way.
“I arrived very late last night. I missed both the service and the funeral, so I felt that I had to go home, first.”
She’d also been apprehensive about seeing Malcolm for the first time after so many years, and was afraid of having all of her hopes and dreams dashed if she was wrong about him, and then being trapped in the same house, but she couldn’t talk about that. Thankfully, it wasn’t going the wrong way. The signs were all good… even though she was laid out naked in front of him… or maybe it was because, she was that way.
“That wouldn’t have mattered. When my son finishes with you there, you come over here with him, you hear me? This is your home now.”
She continued criticizing her son. “He has no gentle, bedside manner, that boy of mine. He’d better be treating you properly.”
“He is… indeed he is, very gentle and attentive to everything. Very attentive.” His hand had just brushed by her breast, setting her nerves on edge, and causing her nipples to reflect her feelings about that.
She smiled up at him, seeing him blush as he apologized with his eyes.
He paused in what he was doing, shaking his head, as though to caution her about what she said. Her nipples told him too much for his own good. He wanted to touch. There were so many things he wanted to do with, and for, her.
“I’ll get a good dinner going for you both. I have time. If any calls come in from the hospital, his father can take them (it was as though Malcolm was not there and listening). Did that job offer I told you about, sound interesting to you? I put it out just for you, to get you back here. I decided to retire and take on administration, full time. The job’s yours. I did it for you.”
Cassie had already suspected that.
“Thank you. I decided to accept it. (She’d just made that decision, now that she knew what her reception would be like in the only family she really valued) as Malcolm went after two more hooks and began on her trapped hand, while she was distracted with his mother.
“Wonderful. Your room’s ready for you. Well talk about it tonight. Love you.
“Now, back to you, Malcolm.”
“Already here, Mom, listening to everything.” He sounded like a long-suffering son.
“Then you heard what I said. You are to bring her back over here when you finish. She can’t stay with that family of hers, and she’ll be alone anyway. They won’t be back for at least a couple of days, blowing Toller’s savings. If I’d known she was going to spend even one night there, I would have sent you over last night.”
He’d have gone, too, had he known he would be seeing Cassie again, except he would have missed seeing her like this.
“How long will you be?”
“Another hour, at a guess.
“Surely it can’t be that bad. Can it? How many are there? They’re not in that deep, are they?” She wished she’d asked Cassie more about that now.
“No, Mom, but there are quite a few of them, and it’s time-consuming.”
He decided to direct the conversation for himself, before she began to ask more pointed, personal questions.
“Mom?” He hesitated to ask, but he wanted to hear it directly from his mother. Cassie probably needed to hear it too.
“Why did you keep us apart as you did all those years ago? You could have let us meet, at least, under supervision, and saved us from all this… dreadful uncertainty, and the agony of separation of the last few years. Why? You were there the whole time to supervise us. You have no idea how that separation hurt me.”
Cassie wanted to hear this too. She needed to hear it. It had been just as brutal on her too, and a sore challenge for his mother.
Cassie put her free hand upon his, to try and comfort him.
“I do know how it hurt you, my dear. I felt it too. It was hard on all of us, but with that age difference between you two at that time….” She almost didn’t need to say any more.
“The pair of you worked so hard to learn about each other, so I had to give in a little, or risk driving you both to do something even more desperate behind my back. You were both too ripe for trouble with each other. I’d never sensed anything like it before. I had to keep you apart.”
He’d known that, but he wouldn’t have cared, and nor would Cassie.
They would have tried to have been careful and discreet about their intimacy, once they’d begun to think about it, but teenagers never did make the right decisions. They, and raging hormones, were a dangerously explosive mix.
“When you weren’t home, or went off to med school, I could breathe easier then, and you were so busy when you were, working with your father or at one of those other jobs, that I knew it would be okay to relax a little.”
She continued that other thought. “I couldn’t risk you meeting each other. If ever I saw two young people more ready for trouble than you two… I’d never seen the like of it.” She was gently venting what she’d bottled up for years.
“A nubile and well-developed young girl under the same roof as you… was asking for trouble, and she didn’t help (sorry Cassie), but the messages you were sending out to each other, the pair of you…. I wondered if it was something in the water, or in the smells wafting through the entire house. It was electric. I never saw two young people more ripe for trouble of the wrong kind, even if she was much younger than you.”
And where did she think it would go now, after that set of dangerous revelations about each other?
That wouldn’t have stopped him. Any man was entirely helpless when those signals got sent out. He had been helpless that way; a victim of circumstance, except that would not have been a believable defense.
“It would have caught up with you. You know all about it. It was bad enough, you two sleeping in the same house together. I lost a lot of sleep over that, listening, even if you did have bedrooms at opposite ends of that hallway with our bedroom between you, and the door wide open. Every time I heard one of you get up to go to the bathroom, I was wide awake until I heard you go back to your own bed.”
There were times she’d fallen asleep, waiting. She didn’t want to think of that, and she’d been on tenterhooks for ever, always wondering what else she could have missed.
Neither of them wanted to interrupt her. Mrs. Robertson was painting a picture that they both needed to hear. It would have taken them much longer to discuss such a delicate topic for themselves. Whether she knew it or not, she was propelling them more surely along to understanding each other, and bringing them much closer together, much faster than they would have done for themselves, though in the present circumstance, that was debatable.
Cassie still had her hand over his. He needed to feel that approving touch.
He stood there with his eyes closed for a few moments listening to what his mother was saying, re-living it all again; the agony of being denied when they had been so much in love.
“That journal was as close as I dared let you get to her. She had that dreamy look on her face when you came up in conversation.
“She knew nothing about boys like you. She knew about the other kind… enough to run from them as she did. But you…?” She had to catch her emotions before she continued.
“She was too vulnerable, too innocent, and too precocious, so I kept you apart. When you were home, which was never for long, fortunately, before I got you out of the door again, I made sure she was studying out on the sun deck, and I made sure you never, physically met. It was touch and go anyway, the way you both tried to learn about the other.”
He opened his eyes, looking full into Cassie’s face, then leaned over and brushed her lips with his own. That learning process would now take on a new life.
Words were not needed, but he’d just, unmistakably, told her that he loved her. He always had.
“When you were not home, she was always in your bedroom going through your desk, and books, and lord knows what else.
“I don’t know what it was (she did know, but couldn’t say), but you seemed to be drawn to each other like magnets. With that age difference, it was too unsafe for both of you. She had those big eyes of hers, and that innocent manner that would always be the downfall of any man, and many a girl. That age difference would have got you into a lot of trouble… then… but not now.”
She might have got pregnant. She would have got pregnant!
His mother sounded as though she was crying, the way her voice caught, but she would never admit to that.
“Was that clear enough for the pair of you? Or do you need me to spell it out any more clearly than that?”
They both kept quiet.
“There, I just lifted away all of those barriers that I once threw up around you. It’s up to the pair of you what you do about it now.”
“Now, get back to what you were doing (if you dare). I knew she’d come back eventually, especially if I helped. I knew how she felt for you. I let her read all of your letters and see your e-mails, and I showed you her letters to me. You saved them all, I know you did. You saved everything of hers.”
Cassie smiled up at him and touched him on the arm, giving him permission for anything else he wanted to do. Things were being told that she hadn’t known, but his mother, calling as she had, had distracted him, too.
He leaned over her and kissed her again.
“You make sure you bring her back with you, or don’t bother coming back.” She wouldn’t say the rest of what she was thinking, suddenly realizing that she may have just thrown a dozen foxes into the hen house. She’d said too much.
Malcolm hung up and continued what he was doing. They knew all about each other after that phone call, but they both needed time to think about it and to digest it.
Would they make love, as they’d always wanted to do, before, or after they left here? It was in her hands now, and she had just been given the power to see it happen.