Alison rushed for the door, the atmosphere in the café suddenly heavy and humid.
Outside her legs trembled, her vision tunnelled. John held her, trying to channel his strength.
“I fought it too. I don’t want to unsettle your world but, I believe we have no choice.” Then quietly he added, “If you feel the same way, of course, because it doesn’t hold otherwise.”
“If I don’t feel the same?” She regained her composure, “If I decide to stay loyal?”
“I’ll disappear.” She felt the laden words sting her heart.
“I need time.” Without looking back, she walked briskly away.
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.
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.
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.”
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?”