It was nearly 5 pm, almost the entire Saturday wasted. I was stuck in another Bi-annual Company Meeting, and it had gone on the same way the others always did: Lots of talk from Management, accompanied by badly drawn PowerPoint slides; “morale boosting” team building exercises; greasy pizza for lunch – cold, by the time it was served, and invariably not enough to go around. Luckily, I’d learned my lesson and had packed a sandwich “just in case”.
I’d seen Alexis over on the other side of the auditorium, but hadn’t been able to get close enough to talk. Alexis was my twice-a-month lunch buddy - tall, dark hair and steely blue eyes – the heartthrob of the Company. He worked in the Legal Department while I worked in Human Resources, so except for our regularly scheduled lunches, we didn’t see much of each other.
We wouldn’t have gotten together at all if it hadn’t been for that one Friday. I’d ended up working through my normal lunch hour, he’d been stuck in a meeting, and we had both gotten to the Staff Cafeteria just in time to grab the last sandwich . . . well, he’d grabbed it and when he heard my sigh he’d asked me “Oh, did you want this?”
“I was hoping." I admitted. "It’s so late, they’ve already shut down the main line. I can make do with soup, however.”
He’d shaken his head. “It’s not fair to you, I’ve had their soup and I’d rather drink rainwater. You take the sandwich. I’ll have the soup.”
“If it’s not fair to me to have the soup” I’d replied, “It’s certainly not fair to you either!”
“Please. I’ve been accused of being a gentleman before, and I’d like to live up to my reputation.” He’d smiled, and I’d felt myself soften.
“All right then, let’s compromise. We can split the sandwich and I’ll get the soup and an extra bowl. That way we only need to suffer a little bit.”
He’d chuckled, agreed, and we’d sat together. After the initial “getting to know you” banter, we’d had a very nice “gripe about the Company’s latest employee policy” session. He had turned out to be that dreaded thing: “a nice guy”, and as we bussed the table and got ready to leave he had blurted out “I enjoyed this. Maybe we can do it again? It’s a nice change from sitting with the guys in my department.”
I’d been pleased. “I’d like that, too. Most of the time I just eat at my desk. I’m not interested in what passes for conversation when I eat with the usual lot -- I don’t care about the latest episode of whatever show is currently the rage, I get bored when they want to discuss the latest celebrity scandal -- I’d rather just read a book.”
“I know exactly how you feel! If the guys aren’t trying to out macho-posture each other, they’re rehashing the latest game – and I really don’t “get” sports. To be honest, I’d rather see an opera.”
“Really? That’s interesting. We definitely need to do this again. It’ll be nice to have someone to talk to who not only has a brain, but knows how to use it.” I caught myself, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that. I sometimes have a hard time knowing when to shut up.”
His face had lightened into a grin. “I’ll let it pass. Tell you what, why don’t we plan to do this again say, a week from today?”
I’d hesitated. “I’m sorry. I’ll be in a lunch meeting next week. Maybe the week after that? My lunch starts at 1:00.”
“Mine usually is for 12:30, but I can adjust. Half the time I end up going late, anyway.”
“Then it’s settled. Two weeks from today, 1:00 pm. Here?”
“Agreed” he’d said, glancing at his watch. “And now I really do need to get back. It was nice meeting you.”
"Ditto” and we’d headed out our separate ways.
That had been a few months ago, and since then we managed to get together twice a month to talk about the subjects most people found boring – Art, Culture, Music, Drama, Philosophy - and over time we had also begun sharing more of our personal stories.
I learned he was a second generation American-Ukrainian, that his grandparents had come to the US during WWII while fleeing the Nazis. His parents had both grown up in the same neighborhood, but when they’d married they’d moved into the suburbs. Alexis had been a typical American kid but had adored his grandparents’ old world ways. He still had a strong interest in Ukrainian culture but admitted he was more American than otherwise.
He’d started at the Company working in the mail room one summer, had gotten interested in corporate law and then studied at a prestigious Eastern college. While he was studying to pass the Bar, he’d been hired by the Company as a paralegal, and once he was officially a lawyer they’d taken him on in the Legal Department.
As for his personal life, he had not married – yet – but was living with his long-time girlfriend. They’d met at college. She’d begun a mildly successful modeling career under the name “Donna Bell” (her real name was Donna Belinski) and was starting to make a name for herself. I’d met her a couple times, once on the way to the office Christmas Party when we three had shared an elevator. She had been one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen – long honey-colored hair, deep brown eyes, skin like creamy satin – but after watching her with Alexis I’d begun to suspect her beauty was only skin deep. She had a voice like a harpy, and at first she spent the ride berating and belittling him, but when she noticed me, she began cooing and fussing over him instead. I suspected she knew who I was and wanted to prove that he was HERS; while I just wanted to say “Look, lady, you don’t have to worry. I like your guy but he’s made it very clear that he is only interested in YOU.”
However, ever since I’d gotten back from my most unusual weekend, he’d become . . . distant. He’d cancelled out on our usual lunch, then cancelled out again on the next one – so I’d been hoping I’d have a chance at the bi-annual meeting to find out what was up.
No luck, however. The meeting ended, everyone streamed out of the auditorium, glad to be given their freedom, and he’d disappeared into the crowd. Rather than leave during the rush, I had decided to try to catch up on some of the work I had yet to complete – I just needed to run a few statistics and set up the New Hire paperwork for the upcoming week. It only took half an hour. Soon, I was ready to go.
As I gathered my purse and jacket, I looked over at the clock and groaned. I’d been looking forward to catching the Season Finale of “The Poppies of Flanders”, the surprise hit series about England in WWI. Tonight, we were going to find out if Jimmy was going to make it home in time to propose to Helen. They’d had quite a correspondence while he was overseas, and he had spent this latest season recuperating from his wounds – he’d been shot during the Marne Offensive, the last big battle before Armistice - and then facing one setback after another in his quest to return home. Helen, meanwhile, had become a hospital nurse and was in the process of falling for one of the patients. There had been hints that this patient might propose as well, and the question remained – would she chose him, or our hero?
I headed into the parking garage, which appeared deserted. My car was the only one left. I started up and headed down the ramp, but as I turned onto the next lower level I heard the sound of another car’s engine laboring – turning over but not catching. I slowed down, and there it was – an expensive black sedan, the only other car I’d seen in the parking garage. I pulled alongside, opened the passenger window and called “Need any help?”
To my surprise, it was Alexis who looked over at me to me and said grimly “Are you a mechanic?”
“No” I replied “But I do have brothers who were into cars. Maybe I can take a look?”
“Go ahead. I’ve been fighting this thing for the last 15 minutes. And before you ask, yes, I’ve got plenty of gas.”
He’d popped the hood for me. I leaned over and said “Try again.”
The engine labored again, nearly catching a couple times, but it was clear that this was not going to be an easy fix. Plus, I could hear the engine was beginning to crank a little slower now.
“Sorry. I think you’re better off calling a tow, I don’t think this is something I could help with. And it sounds like your battery is running low as well.”
I overheard a string of expletives. Alexis punched the steering wheel twice, then leaned back and groaned. "I'll call Triple-A, but I doubt there’s any place open now. Weekends are the worst!”
“Tell you what, you call Triple-A, I’ll wait here with you in case you need a ride home.”
He shook his head. “No, I’ll be ok. I’ll just call a taxi.”
“No, you won’t. You probably would be stuck there for at least an hour – it IS the weekend after all and you know how hard it is to get a taxi on a Saturday evening. Look, let me see if you need the ride, and if you do, I’ll make you a deal. I was planning to watch the finale of Poppies . . .”.
“Yes. I want to see what happens with Jimmy and Helen. Have you been watching, too?”
He sighed. “I catch it once in a while. Donna doesn’t like it much, says it’s boring.”
“Well, anyway,” I replied “If you DO need a ride, could you let me watch the finale at your place? I’ll leave as soon as it’s over, I promise.” After a pause, I added “Unless Donna would object, that is.”
“She’s on a shoot. She won’t be home.”
“So, would it be ok?”
He gave a sigh. “I suppose.”
The tow truck arrived not long after, and I followed it and Alexis to the repair place. After a cursory inspection, the mechanic said the car would take at least a couple days to fix – something about the alternator – and Alexis could pick it up on Monday. By then it was getting dark, and Alexis readily agreed to letting me drive him home.
Other than giving directions to his place, Alexis was silent during the ride. When we got to his building I found a place to park, and followed him into his apartment.
We passed through his foyer into the main room – a combination living room, dining room, kitchen area. He plopped down into an overstuffed chair and motioned me to turn on the TV.
We’d only missed the first few minutes and were quickly caught up. The hour passed swiftly, leading up to the ending we’d waited for. Jimmy had just made it home and had run to Helen’s house, eagerly anticipating seeing her face again. Her parents greeted him at the door, telling him she was at hospital. Before they could say anything more, he’d thanked them and started running down the road.
The next scene opened in the hospital ward, rows of beds filled with men and women, some bandaged, some just ill. At the far end was a bed surrounded by screens. Jimmy burst into the room, and nearly was run down by two orderlies carrying a stretcher with a sheet-covered body – someone had just died. The room was filled with the noise of coughing, gasps, and a faint sound of retching. Jimmy stopped, looked about the room, and asked a passing nurse “Where is Helen Shaw? I’ve come to find Helen”. The nurse pointed toward the screened bed, and he ran the length of the room, burst ‘round the corner, and . . .
The bed was empty, neatly made. No sign of Helen anywhere. He was about to turn away when he saw a letter on the floor next to the bed. He picked it up – and the audience recognized the handwriting right away. It was Jimmy’s writing, it was the letter he had sent Helen saying he was on his way home at last.
Jimmy rushed back to the hallway and accosted a doctor. “Where is Helen Shaw?” he asked. “I was told she was here. I found this. . .”.
Although the doctor’s face was stoic, his expression spoke volumes. Jimmy collapsed against the wall and began to wail “No! Oh, dear God, NO!!” Everyone watching began wailing as well. It was a stunning blow – they’d killed off Helen!
“It was flu,” the doctor told him, “that Spanish Flu that’s going around. She insisted on staying late and treating the worst cases until she caught it herself. She was so worn down she didn’t have a chance.”
The last shot was of Jimmy slumping to the floor, sobbing, his tears streaking the ink on the letter.
I’d succumbed to the emotional ending as well. My face was wet and I snuffled, trying desperately not to sob out loud. “I can’t believe they DID that!!” I blurted, voice shaking. “WHY would they do that?”
Alexis said nothing. The room had grown dark, and the only light was that of the TV.
I grabbed a Kleenex from my purse, blew my nose, and wiped my face. “I really wasn’t expecting that.” I said. “I don’t usually get emotional from a TV show, but this one, well . . . “
Alexis stayed silent. After a moment, he muttered “It’s getting late. You should be going.”
I had to agree. I picked up my purse and said as I turned to go “Thank you for letting me watch this last episode. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how late it was.”
He didn’t reply. In fact, he was unusually quiet. He seemed “off”, somehow, which made me uneasy. But I didn’t say anything.
Then, in the foyer, I stopped. Something CLEARLY wasn’t right, and I didn’t think it was the ending of “Poppies”. I waited for my Talent to manifest. Should I stay, or go?
Nothing. No compulsion, no “feeling”, nothing. Just the niggling suspicion that *something* was not quite as it should be.
I took a deep breath. If I wasn’t going to be shown what to do, I would just have to trust that I’d figure it out on my own.
I went back into the main room. “No.” I said.
He looked up, startled. “What?”
“No. Alexis, I have a feeling something isn’t right. You’ve been avoiding me for the last least three weeks, and I’m thinking now that you would have been happier taking the taxi if I hadn’t pressed the point. What’s going on? Is it something to do with me, and if so, what can I do to fix it?”
He sighed. “It isn’t you. I’ve been dealing with – stuff – lately. I really don’t want to talk about it. I’ll be fine. Just, please go.”
I stood my ground. “No. I don’t feel right about leaving you like this. I’ll just sit here on the couch and I won’t say a word. I won’t disturb you at all. But, please, don’t send me away just yet, because I can’t ignore this feeling that there’s something wrong. I’ll be right here if you want to talk.”
I sat down and pulled my book out of my purse. I turned on the table lamp beside me and began to read. Alexis simply stared into the dark.
This went on for almost an hour. Finally, he stood and said “I need to get some water. And it IS getting late. You really should be going now. I’ll be fine.”
He left the room. As I stood to go, I knocked my purse to the floor, spilling its contents everywhere but mostly under the sofa. In the near dark, it was hard to see what I was missing, but I felt my way around and grabbed everything I could. As I was re-depositing everything back in my purse, I noticed I was holding a crumpled note – and it wasn’t mine.
Before I could say anything, Alexis came back into the room and saw me with the note in my hand. “Where did you find that?!?” he exclaimed.
“It was under the sofa. I spilled my purse and grabbed it by mistake.”
“Give it here. I meant to throw it away.” He reached out for it, the look on his face oddly tense.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“It’s just a note. It doesn’t mean anything. Please, just give it to me.”
He wouldn’t look me in the eye. I definitely had a feeling now, that he was lying to me. Something about the note WAS bothering him.
“Alexis, why are you so upset? What is it about this note?”
He threw up his hands in exasperation and shouted “Fine! You want to know what’s bothering me? Go ahead, read it. Read it!”
I uncrumpled the note and began to read.
“Lexi” it began. “I’m gone. I can’t take any more. When we first met, you and I couldn’t wait to be together – it was like Wow! Pow! every night! But since we’ve been living together it’s been different and frankly, I’m bored. Bored, Bored, BORED – so bored I could scream! You never want to go out, you never want to do anything I want to! It’s the same old-same old, same dull routine stuff. Sex with you is just, well – nothing ever changes, there’s no excitement, no spark. It’s like living with an old man.”
I grimaced, and read on. “You’ve been saying I seem distant lately – well, you’re right. The truth is that I’ve been getting together with Marcus – you know, the photographer? The one from Belize? The first time we met I got that shivery feeling I first got with you, but with him it was tons stronger. When he suggested we get together, I turned him down – I couldn’t do that to you, I thought. But he wouldn’t take NO for an answer, and finally I gave in. He wore me down, I guess. But, WOW!!! Sex with him . . . I’d forgotten how it was, what it’s like to feel like that. I liked it then –I LOVE it now! It’s so intense with him – nothing like it is with you! Anyway, Marcus has asked me to join him – he’s going to do a motorcycle and photo tour of the US and he wants me to go along and pose for him. We’re going to just ride until we want to stop, take some pics, and then we’ll do it again until we’ve seen everything there is to see. No routines, nothing to get in our way; it’s exactly what I’ve been needing for a long, LONG time!”
There was one more paragraph. “So, I’m going. I can’t take one more day of this endless boredom! Being with you isn’t vanilla, it’s tap water – there’s just nothing there anymore. I can’t stand to look at your face, I can’t stand these four walls, I can’t stand my life as it is. I need adventure, I need danger, I need Marcus!” At the bottom, she’d scribbled “So, this is it. Goodbye, Lexi. Wish me luck!”
I looked up at him. He turned away, nearly whispering. “I got back from work that day, and the place was gutted. Everything that was hers was gone – her clothes, her shoes, the bathroom clutter, everything. She’d made sure she wouldn’t have to come back. For a while now I’d sensed something was – off - between us, but I had no clue she felt like this! I walked in to find the place so . . . bare . . . the only thing she’d left behind was the note.”
As he spoke I’d been struggling with myself and I finally couldn’t hold back. “That . . . that . . . BITCH!! That sneaking, conniving, vicious, horrible BITCH!!! I’m sorry, but I confess, I’ve never liked her! The way she was always picking at you and nagging you, it made me so MAD . . .!”
“STOP IT! JUST STOP IT!!” Alexis was shaking. “You don’t know what she’s like. You don’t have any idea what she’s like! She wouldn’t have done this if she hadn’t been pushed into it!”
“That doesn’t excuse her behavior!” I snapped back. “She just up and left without talking to you, she didn’t even give you a chance to try to fix things. That is just so . . . SELFISH! Why you put up with that is beyond me!”
“Because I LOVE HER! I LOVE HER! AND I STILL LOVE HER! And she won’t talk to me . . .” He gasped, swallowed hard, and began to cry. “I’ve tried to get in touch, but she’s blocked me on every website, she won’t take my calls, she won’t explain . . . Oh, God!” He began sobbing convulsively. “Please, just go away.”
There was a long silence. Finally, “I can’t.” I told him. “I can’t stand to see you in pain. And I’m sorry about what I said, it just makes me so – furious! – that someone could treat someone I care about that way.” He paused and I heard a catch in his breath. “Yes, I said “someone I care about”. Alexis, you’re my friend, and I’d like to think I’m your friend, too. I wish you had let me know what had happened. I might not have been able to do anything about it, but at least you wouldn’t have had to go through this alone.”
I moved over and put my arm around his shoulder. He leaned into me, weeping even harder as he buried his face in my neck. I pulled him into an embrace, holding him and letting him cry as he shook against me, his tears wetting my shoulder.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!” he kept murmuring brokenly. “I didn’t plan for you to find out . . .”.
I didn’t say anything. I could only let him cry. Finally, he pulled away and began wiping his eyes. I handed him another Kleenex from my purse and said “Will you be ok now?”
He couldn’t talk; he just nodded.
“It IS getting late, and I really should be going soon.” I told him.
He reached out for my arm. “Don’t go just yet. Ever since Donna left it’s been so quiet, I don’t know what to do with myself! I can’t sleep, I don’t eat, I can barely function. . . just having you here is helping.”
I hesitated, but the plea in his eyes made the decision an easy one. “All right, I’ll stay a little longer. What would you like me to do? I’m willing to talk, or I can just sit and read – whatever is best for you.”
He blinked, and one last stray tear tracked down his face. “Just stay. Please. I don’t know what else I need, at least, yet.”
“Maybe a cup of tea? Or a sandwich? I don’t think either of us has eaten since the meeting today.”
He’d reluctantly cracked a smile. “I think tea and a sandwich would be a good idea.” I started to get up but he shook his head. “Let me get it.” He walked over to the kitchen area, saying “I’m afraid I don’t have much on hand. Is turkey on whole wheat ok with you? And do you want sugar in your tea?”
"Whatever you have is fine, and I don’t need sugar, I always have a supply of my favorite sweetener on hand.”
"It’ll be just a moment,” he hesitated, then added, “And, thank you.” Without another word, he started the kettle boiling as he started on the sandwiches. “Mustard or mayo?” he called out. “And is herbal tea ok? It’s chamomile, if that’s all right.”
“Chamomile is great! And just a smear of mustard, please.”
A little bit later, when we’d finished eating, I stood and said “Now I REALLY have to go. It’s after 11:00, and it’s getting very late.”
He stood as well, and put his hand on my arm. “I’m . . . reluctant . . .to ask this, but . . . could you stay the night?”
I could feel my eyes widen in surprise as he added “No! I don’t mean it like that! It’s just that, I really would feel better if there was someone else here. We have a guest room – I’ve been sleeping in there since Donna left. I just couldn’t - can’t - face our bedroom alone. I won’t disturb you, I promise. You can even lock the door if you feel safer that way, but I don’t want to be alone in this apartment, again, not after what’s happened. Not tonight.”
I thought it over. Alexis WAS a gentleman, and I trusted him. “I guess I can stay, but I’m hardly prepared for a sleepover. I don’t have a toothbrush on me, for starters.”
“I’ve got an extra. I always keep a couple around for guests. And I think I have something you can wear to bed, if you don’t mind, that is . . .“. He blushed. “I’d been planning a romantic getaway for Donna for our anniversary, and I bought her something.”
He left the room, heading into the bedroom. I could hear him rummaging through the closet and followed him into the room, just in time to see him pluck a box off the top shelf. “I think this should fit you,” he said.
“You have a lot of faith, then.” I murmured. “Donna is, well, obviously a much smaller size than me, for one, and we’re not exactly built the same either. Plus, are you so sure you want me to wear something you picked out for her?”
“Trust me.” He handed me the box. I opened it, and inside was a gorgeous white satin nightgown, like something out of a Jane Austen novel. It was long and full, with a high lace collar, lace yoke, and long sleeves with ruffles at the wrists. It was, in a word, gorgeous – the kind of nightgown I’d have bought for myself if I’d ever had a reason to wear it – or someone to wear it for.
“I know it wasn’t exactly her style – she preferred the usual Victoria’s Secret kind of thing, but I hoped she might make an exception for this. Sometimes she could dress a bit . . . “
I hesitated before saying “Trampy?”
He winced. “Not the word I would have chosen, but the description fits.” He heaved a heavy sigh. “Maybe she was right. Maybe I am boring! I’ve always favored women who were ladylike, like in the old days.”
“Meek and mild?”
“Not like that, just . . . who understood about manners, who knew how to be feminine and strong at the same time. Women who know how to be Ladies, I guess.”
I smiled. “You really ARE a gentleman, then. Only a Gentleman can truly appreciate a Lady.”
He insisted on having me sleep in the bedroom. He’d found a brand-new toothbrush, still in the wrapper, and showed me to the Master Bath. It didn’t take me long to get ready for bed – brush teeth, brush hair, wash hands and face – then I undressed, folded my clothes and put on the nightgown. Alexis had been right – it fit me perfectly. When I peered into the mirror, I looked like a heroine in a Bronte novel, and I felt like a princess.
I climbed into bed and prepared to read a bit when I heard Alexis from outside the door. “Would you mind if I shower in the Master Bath? All my stuff is in there, but if it bothers you, it’s ok.”
“You won’t bother me. Just keep the bathroom door closed, please.” I replied with a chuckle.
He’d quickly darted through the room, a “thanks!” trailing after him. I heard the lock click into place, then the water came on.
I hadn’t read more than a couple pages when I nearly split my face in half with a yawn. I was more tired than I realized! I turned off the light, rolled to one side, and closed my eyes.
The pillow had a faint scent of something woodsy and spicy – I recognized it as Alexis’ scent, and it made me feel strange, oddly intimate but in a nice way. I inhaled deeply once, and within seconds I was nodding off. I don’t know how much time had passed but I was at the brink of sleep, the moment when the last bit of consciousness is loosening its hold, when I felt something warm press against my cheek.
I rolled over and opened my eyes. Moonlight streamed through the window, just enough to illuminate the look of horrified surprise on Alexis’ face. “I’m sorry! I thought you were asleep! I didn’t mean to wake you, I just saw you there and . . . ."
"And what?” I asked, just as I realized what had happened. I sat up, blurting out “Did you just kiss me??”
He hung his head. “I’m sorry! It’s just that you looked so peaceful, and I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for me today, and I couldn’t find the words, and I didn’t want to wake you but I felt so grateful, and I just, well . . . “
“You kissed me.”
He couldn’t look at me. “I’m truly sorry. I hope you aren’t angry with me.”
“I’m not angry – a little surprised, maybe, but not angry. I just wish I’d been awake so I could have appreciated it.”
Despite the darkness of the room, I could see him blush. He stood and turned to leave, saying “I’ll just see myself out now.”
I heard the reluctance in his voice. “You don’t have to go just yet. If you would like to talk a bit, I won’t mind.”
He sat down heavily, staring at his hands as he muttered “I really don’t know WHAT I want to do. I can’t sleep, my mind keeps circling through everything over and over and over – I can’t get it to stop long enough for me to get to sleep. I just keep going over it all, trying to figure out what I did that was so wrong. . . !”
“I don’t think you did anything wrong. You didn’t even know there was a problem! Donna is the one who had the problem here.” I sat up straighter. “I still can’t believe she didn’t even give you a chance to fix things between you!”
“She hated confrontation.” he muttered. “She just expected everything to go the way she wanted it to go. In the beginning, I wouldn’t give in to her, and that just made everything awkward, awful. As long as I made sure she was happy, we both were happy. After a while it became second nature to let her call the shots.” He sighed. “Maybe I was too much of a pushover.”
“You mean, too much of a Gentleman.” I chided kindly. “It sounds like she might have favored bad boys who are strong, controlling, dominant types. And you could never be exactly like that. Thank heavens!” I added.
“She wasn’t always like that.” He said. “In the beginning, everything was fine. Maybe we shouldn’t have moved in together.”
“How long had you been living together?” I asked.
“Nearly nine years – it would have been nine years next month. That was the anniversary I mentioned.” He sighed again. “I had it all planned – we go to a B&B in the mountains and spend the day skiing, sit by the fire, have a wonderful dinner – I’d even planned to have the nightgown laid out on the bed. I thought she’d appreciate it after a day in the cold.” His eyes began to shimmer. “And I was going to have a fire in the fireplace, some champagne and strawberries, her favorite music – everything for a romantic weekend.”
He had turned away from me. “She would have hated it. I see that now. She really wasn’t the type to appreciate romantic gestures. I kept hoping someday she’d understand how much it meant to me to make her happy, but I guess . . .” his voice broke “. . . I guess I was wrong.”
I heard a soft sniff. I pulled myself closer, and sat beside him. He looked over at me, and I saw the trace of tears on his face. “What did I do wrong?” he wondered.
"You didn’t do anything wrong.”
He clenched his jaw. “Then why does it hurt so damn much?!?”
I couldn’t answer. I just put my arm around his shoulder. He stared at his hands and in the moonlight, I saw the occasional tear fall.
“It wasn’t your fault. In the end, maybe you just weren’t suited to each other.” I squeezed his shoulder. “Alexis, there are tons of women who would be thrilled to be the Lady of a Gentleman like you. Give yourself some time to process this, and then go out there and find someone who is worthy of YOU, exactly as you are.”
He leaned in to me, resting his head against my shoulder. “I wish I could believe you.”
“You just wait and see. The right woman is out there, and you’ll find each other. Trust me.”
“I’ll try.” He pulled me into a tight hug and I hugged him back. After a minute or so I noticed his eyes were drooping and his breathing was slowing. I broke away, saying “Do you think you can sleep now?”
"I think so,” He replied.
“Then I’ll say goodnight for now, and I’ll see you in the morning.”
He nodded, and left the room, softly closing the door behind him.
Now I was too wound up to sleep. There was something about this whole situation – I felt such empathy for him, such understanding, such . . . I didn’t know what.
Maybe this was what my Talent had intended me for. Alexis had kept everything bottled inside until, somehow, I got him to open up. I remembered Gram’s words “You don’t MAKE them cry, you help them cry.” I thought back to earlier in the evening, when Alexis had finally broken down. It had pained me to see him so unhappy, but it had felt good to be there to help him through the hurt.
I couldn’t make heads nor tails of it all. There were too many feelings to process. But I was left with one question: How, exactly, did I feel about what happened?
I’d finally fallen asleep and was having a strange dream. I was wandering a dark hallway, hearing a sound like a child crying, and desperately trying to find where the child was hiding. The hallway stretched on endlessly, there were doors everywhere but none of them would open, and the child sounded so lost . . .! I could feel myself getting tired, but I couldn’t give up . . .
Then I woke up, and realized I was still hearing the crying. I got up and went into the main room, and saw the door to what I realized was the guest room was cracked open. I went to the doorway, and opened it further.
Alexis was curled on the bed, crying helplessly. “Are you all right?” I asked, but there was no reply. I took a couple of steps into the room and asked again “Are you ok?”
Nothing. No response at all, just the weeping.
I walked over to the bed and gently shook Alexis shoulder. “Alexis, wake up. You’re having a nightmare.”
He gasped, rolled over toward me and sat up quickly. “What happened? What are you doing here?”
I explained. “I heard you crying. I was just coming to check on you. Are you all right?”
He shook his head to clear it, then reached up and wiped his face. “I guess I was having that dream again.”
“The one I’ve had ever since Donna left. I’m a child, in our old house, it’s dark and I’m all alone. I know the family has moved away but I don’t know where they’ve gone and I’ve been left behind, and nobody is coming back for me, they’ve forgotten me and I’m alone and scared and there’s no one around, and . . .”
He was trembling. “I HATE that dream! Lately it seems like it’s all I ever dream about, being abandoned . . .”
“And no wonder!” I replied. “After what happened, I would be surprised if it didn’t stir up some unpleasant thoughts.” Then I asked “Did anything like that happen to you when you were younger? Where you were left alone at home while you were sleeping?”
“Not really. Well, there was the one time when my father had to go to the hospital unexpectedly – he’d had minor surgery earlier that day and the stitches had burst. Mom had to drive him to the hospital to get re-stitched, but she didn’t leave me alone. There was a neighbor who was looking after me.” He paused. “Well, the neighbor had gone back to their place to get something but they came right back. But I woke up in the dark and . . . “
“And there was nobody there. You got scared. Right?”
He nodded. “But the neighbor came in the door right then, so I wasn’t alone for more than a minute or two.”
“But your parents weren’t there.”
“No, but the neighbor told me what had happened, and said that Papa would be all right but he needed the doctor to sew him up again, so Mama took him to be fixed.” His eyes lit up. “I just remembered! When our neighbor said he needed to be sewn up, I thought he’d been ripped like my teddy bear, that his insides were coming out! Luckily, our neighbor cleared up that misconception. I’d known about Papa’s surgery, I just hadn’t put two and two together.”
“Wow!” I cringed. “That must have been VERY scary. How old were you?”
He pondered a moment. “I think I was about four or five – I don’t really remember.”
“Obviously, you must have remembered some of it. I’ve read that childhood traumas can often surface when we least expect them to. And having Donna walk out must have brought back feelings of that night when you thought you’d been abandoned. It might have seemed minor then, but clearly that experience when you were a kid made a big impression on you.”
“It must have done.” He agreed.
“Well, hopefully now that you’ve made the connection, you can put the trauma behind you and, maybe, get some sleep now?”
He agreed. But as I started to get up, he put his hand on my arm. “I know this is going to sound really childish, but. . . could you stay with me awhile?”
I could see the frightened little boy in his expression, and I relented. “Ok, I’ll stay with you, but this is strictly platonic, and this stays just between us as friends. Got it?”
“Of course, I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I just . . . I just don’t feel . . . safe . . . being alone.”
I was about to speak, but yawned instead, and he added “Oh, you must be exhausted! You’ve spent so much time looking after me already, and you need your sleep, too. No, go ahead and go back to your room. I’ll be ok.”
I was watching him closely, and even though I could see he was sincere, he was also shaken by the dream. I didn’t feel right leaving him alone. But how could we share the same room – same bed – and be sure nothing untoward would happen?
Then I had an idea. “Tell you what. I’ll stay the rest of the night with you here, BUT” I added firmly “You are sleeping under the blanket and the sheet. I will sleep under the blanket but on top of the sheet.” I paused. “That’s how my youngest older brother and I would share a bed on family vacations. With my three older brothers and me, my parents decided it just made sense to rent a double and a single room for the night, and have all four of us kids share two beds, rather than pay extra for a rollaway just for me.”
“You were kids! Why make you sleep on top of the sheet? It shouldn’t have been a problem.”
“You don’t have siblings, do you?”
He shook his head. “I was an only child, I never had to deal with anything like that.”
“Well, it’s very different with siblings. In our case, Kenny insisted he was allergic to “girl cooties” and that I was horribly infected with them. If I got girl cooties on him, he’d die. He’d DIE!! Poor Dad finally had had enough of Kenny and his histrionics and proclaimed that girl cooties couldn’t transfer through motel sheets, so if Kenny slept under the sheet and I slept on top of it, Kenny would be safe. And it worked, at least until I hit puberty – and by then, motel vacations were not happening anymore. Dad and the boys preferred camping by then, and Mom and I just had to tag along.”
Alexis mouth twitched, curling into a half-smile. “I’m not worried about girl cooties, but if you feel safer sleeping that way . . .. Of course, you can still go back to your room.”
“I could, but I suspect I wouldn’t get much sleep. Mind you,” I added sternly, “This is JUST for the rest of tonight. I have to get home tomorrow and get ready for the usual Sunday Family Dinner. And, frankly, I don’t want to have a lot of explaining to do if I’m late.”
He laid back down. “OK then. I’ll see you in the morning.”
I smoothed the sheet on my side of the bed, then laid on top of it and pulled the blanket over me, turning my back to him. “See you in the morning,” I sleepily replied as he turned out the light.
Later that morning I woke with a start. I was disoriented for a moment – the room was unfamiliar, and I wasn’t used to feeling my mattress sag under someone else’s weight. I rolled over and saw Alexis reach toward me. His eyes met mine and he quickly reversed the motion. “You’re awake!” he blurted out.
“Uh huh.” I sat up, and asked “What, exactly, were you doing just now?”
If anything, this blush was even deeper than the one the night before. “I wasn’t thinking. Honestly! I wasn’t even awake, really. I just rolled over and saw you and I wanted to, well . . . I wasn’t even conscious of thinking anything. And then I saw you were awake, and I realized what was happening, and . . . .”
I’d already slid out of the bed and was standing nearby. “Well, at least we both got some sleep.” There was an awkward silence, and I added “This has all been, um, “interesting”, but I really do think we need to get back to our normal lives.”
"Easy for you to say.” he’d muttered under his breath, and I winced.
“Well, I didn’t mean it quite like that! But you understand, right?”
He saw up and nodded. “I think I do. But it’s going to be hard, getting back to “normal” again. Just having you in the same bed made me realize that I haven’t lived alone before. I’m not sure I know how.”
“Look, I know the last few weeks haven’t been easy for you, but I think you’ll do ok. Besides,” I added, “I have someone at home who will be wondering where I’ve been, and he won’t be happy that I’m neglecting him.”
“You’re living with someone?!” he burst out.
I grinned. “Not in the way you think. His name is Bartleby and he’s a big gray American Shorthair felis domesticus.”
Alexis grinned. “So, you’re not living with a man. You’re a crazy cat lady?”
I grinned back. “Cat lady, yes. Crazy is in the eye of the beholder.” He chucked, and I went on. “As long as I’m home before noon he’ll be ok.”
“But you didn’t go home last night! Doesn’t he need to be fed? I thought all cats needed to be fed daily.”
“Actually, he has a dry food auto-feeder and a kitty fountain. Bartleby could go all weekend without me being there. The main thing is taking care of his litterbox, and I’ll do that as soon as I get home. Barty will probably give me the cold shoulder for an hour or so, but I guarantee by the end of the day, once I’m home from Sunday Dinner, he’ll be curled on my lap.”
Alexis had grown quiet. “I never had a pet growing up. Mom was allergic, and I never saw the allure of goldfish or birds. I’d always wanted a puppy, but it was never meant to be.”
“I grew up with dogs.” I told him. “Samson was a German Shepherd, Aloysius was a terrier of some sort, but my personal favorite was Buster. He was pure-bred mutt – not hyper, but energetic. I was in college when he died and I was broken up about it for weeks. When I graduated, I moved here and lived with a couple of college friends for a few months. When they moved out I kept the place and got Barty for company instead. I thought about getting a dog, but it didn’t seem fair since I’m at work all day for him to be alone for so long.”
“So, you got a kitten?”
“Barty was already grown when I adopted him – “pre-owned” you might say. Evidently, his previous owner died. He’s an excellent roommate. He doesn’t leave dirty dishes in the sink, won’t show up with unannounced overnight guests, or forget to pay his share of the rent.” I shrugged. “Actually, having him around has been wonderful. I know how lonely it can be, coming home to an empty house, and with Barty around, I have someone to talk to.”
“That’s an interesting name, Bartleby. Is it from the Herman Melville story?”
I laughed. “You caught that! It IS from the story. Barty’s original name at the shelter was “Thomas”, but he didn’t behave like a Thomas at all. He’s always been stubborn – nearly as stubborn as I am – and about a week after he became my fur-roommate I was reading the story and realized the name fit him. It was the catch phrase “I would prefer not to” that did it. That describes Barty’s philosophy perfectly. He’ll do what HE wants. If it’s something I want him to do, well then . . . .”
“He prefers not to.” Alexis laughed.
“That’s right.” I stole a glance at the bedside clock and gasped. “And I really need to get ready and get home soon. If I’m late for Sunday Dinner, I’ll never hear the end of it.” I paused. “Alexis, would you like to come to dinner with me? I can take you there and bring you back here since your car’s in the shop.”
He thought about it for a while, then said “I’m not sure I’m ready for a family dinner just yet. I think I need to spend a bit more time getting used to being alone. But can I take a rain check? I would love to experience a genuine family Sunday Dinner sometime, just not today.”
“No problem. Just let me know when you’re ready, and I’ll let Gram know to set an extra place. But now, I really, REALLY have to get ready to go.”
I dressed, grabbed my purse, and was headed out the door when Alexis stopped me. “Right. First, before you go, let me get you some coffee. You take it with milk, right?”
"Right. And I’ve got my sweetener, so no sugar.”
“And second – which shelter did you go to for Bartleby?”
I blinked in surprise. “You’re getting a pet?”
“I don’t know yet. But you’ve given me the idea and I thought I’d do some research. You’re right, it might be nice to have a warm body to share my bed – and get fur all over it.”
He handed me a travel mug. “Coffee to go – I’ll get the mug from you at work.” And then he threw his arms around me and hugged me tightly. “Thank you for everything” he choked out, and I saw his eyes were beginning to brim again. “I don’t know why you’ve been so good about this, but thank you.”
Without thinking or hesitating, I leaned forward and quickly kissed him on the cheek. “I did it because you needed the help.” I said, adding as I walked out the door “And because . . . you’re worth it.”
Last edited by caircair (April 8, 2017 8:30 am)