Alison played with her sugar sachet. “If things were different…”
“You mean if you weren’t married, if we’d met before?” He answered the silence, “You’re just confirming we’d be together without the accident of time. Past alliances were right then but now…”
“And you meet another in the future? Will this be a coincidence of timing?”
“This is real.”
“Amy wasn’t? Stuart isn’t?”
“They felt like it, but however safe and comfortable, they aren’t enough. That cocoon is a compromise that cannot endure.”
Her eyes rimmed with tears and she didn’t resist as John cautiously took hold of her hand.
Alison, planted her elbow on the table, sobbing, her hand across her lowered brow, she scoured the floor for answers discarded there.
John yearned to take her close, hold her tight and decant all her stress into himself.
He leant forward, peering under her tumbling hair, searching for words to ease her mind.
He’d kept away to make things easier but, Fate had scorned his efforts, their efforts.
Unwittingly, his hand had strayed to within a hairsbreadth of hers, across the table. Neither withdrew nor could they dare cross the final barrier. A spark now would weld them together forever.
Alison sat down with a scowl. “I can’t cope with this.”
“You know my philosophy; destiny, love, we can’t alter any of it, but I’m giving you space to deny it, if you insist.” He paused.
Her eyes narrowed, “I just need you out of my head.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t control that,” John smiled, “And for that matter, neither do you.”
“So, it’s preordained?”
“It would appear so but, if you disagree, walk away.” She stood to leave. “After you’ve had your cuppa.”
Alison sat down again and heard herself saying, “I swore never to see you again.”
Thoughts of guilt and despair crashed through her mind. Radio and daytime TV offered no succour. She needed to get out. She’d take her Kindle and treat herself to a cream tea.
Idling through town, woollen hat and scarf wrapped against the cold, she found herself outside the Diner. Remembering the music, milkshakes and good times, she regretted she couldn’t enter; John might be there. Head bowed, she hurried by. The doorbell tinkled as she stepped into the café, unwinding her scarf.
John looked up from a table, “What are you doing here?”
“Avoiding the diner,” she groaned with resignation.
Staying in bed was only saturating the pillow. Wrapping a dressing gown round her, Alison threw herself at the cleaning, not daring to stop for a cup of tea. Struggling to control her inner debate, she turned on the hoover to drown it out.
Like a mantra, she narrated the clichés her mother would spill. “The grass is rarely greener, better the devil you know; be grateful for what you have.”
But nothing would dispel the voice of love iterating, “Compromise isn’t happiness. Love doesn’t know compromise.”
“It’ll pass,” she whispered, “No texts, no calls, I won’t see him again.”
Stuart stared at the stale mascara streaks betraying her sleepless night.
“Whatever’s up? You look awful.”
“Nothing, just a tough night, I suppose.” She averted her eyes.
“You were late. Something happen? You didn’t fall out with your friends? I know how you lot can be sometimes.”
His depiction of her and her friends’ relationship offered a welcome chance to laugh.
“No, everything’s fine. I told you, just had a particularly scary nightmare, silly to dwell on it.”
He pulled her close, “Hugs for my Darling. Don’t you worry! You’re safe with me.”
“Yes,” she echoed, “I’m safe with you.”
Alison laid down and listened to his rhythmic breathing. In the dark he was just a lumpy silhouette but she didn’t need light or him to be awake, to know the look of the ever-resident kindness in his still, grey eyes.
But, what beyond kindness? She involuntarily compared John’s dark spark to Stuart’s dullness and the pillow began to grow damp from her tears.
She felt guilty and assailed by irresistible forces. Reaching for a tissue, she sat up to wipe her nose.
Stuart stirred, “What’s up, babe?”
She stuttered a smile, “Just a scary nightmare. Nothing to worry about.”
John watched her stumble down the road, her shaky hand fumble the key. He waited until the door closed behind her.
Slowly he edged his car from the kerb and coasted silently down the narrow street. He didn’t know where to go but, home would be too soon.
He drove to a park overlooking the Christmas lit town, pulled a CD wallet from beneath the passenger seat and selected, Janis Ian’s ‘Have Mercy Love.’
Crackling fireworks chattered across the sky, interspersed with resounding, robust explosions.
“When love goes boom, it’s doesn’t work, if one of you hides from the blast.”
photo by sandritta88
She didn’t move. He twisted in his seat. “What are you thinking?”
“Nothing.” She stared him down.
“You should go to him. Stop tormenting yourself.”
Her shoulders shook.
“Don’t cry, go to him and forget me.”
She stiffened in her seat and said tautly, “You say you love me, but we’ve never even touched.”
“Is that what you want?”
Scudding clouds of panic crossed her eyes.
“It wouldn’t be just once.”
“Why do you have to love me?”
He chuckled, “There wasn’t a short list to choose from. Love is never optional.”
Wrenching the handle, she leaped from the car.
“You talk about love and my Stuart, but never mention Amy.”
John smiled, “We’re OK together.”
“But do you love her?”
He stared into the dashboard lights.
“It’s something that’s been taxing me, can you love two people? Are there degrees of love?”
She looked at him with consternation, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Love drops on you. Suddenly you’re consumed. So what was it before? A lower level of love?”
Alison caught her breath, “And what you have isn’t enough anymore?”
“How can it be?”
“Stuart’s a fine man, he doesn’t deserve this.”
“Does that make him enough?”