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Borderlines - Ruth Hay

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I

Revealed

Chapter One.

Sussex, England, 2016.

She chose the time and location with extreme care. If there was to be even the smallest hope of success she wanted the setting to give her confidence. If, as was more likely, she would be utterly rejected, she needed to have a quick exit.

It was mid-afternoon. The restaurant was recovering from the morning rush and preparations for the evening meals had not yet begun. She sat at a booth, facing the entrance, and near to the side exit.

There was a glass of chilled mineral water in front of her and she watched the condensation drip down its sides. She knew her hands were shaking so much there was no chance she could lift the glass for a sip without letting it smash onto the tiled floor.

There was still the opportunity to flee, never to return, but she had done that before and this was the last chance for some kind of normality in her life. She had learned, the hard way, the value of truth.

She would not turn back now. It was too late for that.

There you are, Rena! What’s this about? Your message sounded urgent. What was it that couldn’t wait until tonight? Do you want to order?

She looked up into his open, guileless face. It was a face she loved with a painful love because she was about to risk his total disapproval in the next few minutes or hours.

Sit down please, Steve. You know I have wanted to talk to you about my life.

He interrupted impulsively. There was something unusual in her brown eyes. Something he had not seen before and it worried him.

Sweetheart, you know it doesn’t matter to me. I know you. What happened before now, doesn’t count.

Oh, but it does. It has to or I can’t go on.

He sat down opposite her with a thump. Here it comes. I hoped she had forgotten. This is it.

He passed a hand over his face and composed his expression. Whatever she had to tell him it was better to finally get it over with. Enough of the hints and sorrowful looks. He was going to have to hear her out.

"I told you I was involved with someone in Canada but I did not tell you about the man I was involved with. Gregory Verkers was the most beautiful man I have ever seen. He was the kind of person you expect to see on the movie screen, backlit perfectly, with every hair in place, gleaming eyes and glowing skin. In the movies you would know there was a team of artists behind him. No one could look that good in real life. Gregory Verkers did.

I was out with my friend Judith Weiss. She had dragged me to this new tapas bar downtown to see the sights. I was bored within five minutes. The bar crowd was far from the venue my other York University colleagues would frequent. This was a place for drinking and wild dancing, not lofty debates and erudite arguments.

I made my apologies to Judith and turned to leave when I saw him looking at me across the dance floor.

He was a head above the twisting bodies and he mouthed the command, ‘Wait!’

I was shocked that he had noticed me at all but it did not stop me from heading to the exit. He caught up as I was walking back to my car.

He said, Stop! Let me talk to you.

I knew enough not to be forced into a car and driven away by some madman, so I kept walking and gripped my keys so that they formed a pointed weapon, should I need one.

He did not quit. He pleaded for me to listen to him. He said he recognized me from the college and I hesitated for a second, thinking he was related to one of my colleagues or one of my students.

That was all he needed. One second of hesitation and he reeled me in like a fish on a line.

Before you ask, Steve, no, I was not aware of this at the time. What I am about to tell you is informed by months of introspection, study, and bitter experience. What I know now was beyond my comprehension then, and for far too long afterward.

I am ashamed to say, it did not take long for me to be mesmerized by this man. Not only was he the most handsome man I had ever seen, ‘way out of my league’, as Judith would say, he seemed to be genuinely interested in my work, my opinions, my life, my every thought. I had never talked about myself so much to a willing listener. He asked about my childhood, my parents, my dreams, and I told him everything. Of course I asked questions about him as well, but the conversation always turned swiftly back to me. It was as if I was suddenly transformed into the most fascinating, desirable woman in the world for him.

It was unforgettable. It was irresistible.

It was not long until I yearned for the end of my teaching day so we could meet. The sight of him across a restaurant or waiting by the cinema was as potent as the first time. I would catch a glimpse of myself in a shop window and hardly recognize the new creature I had become. I felt as if some of his amazing looks had brushed off on me. I invited him back to my apartment. He admired my decorating style and praised my book collection expressing interest in my field of study and declaring he had read the classics of Greek and Roman history at university in the States.

That night was the first we made love. I woke the next morning with a gorgeous Greek God in my bed and thanked Zeus and the pantheon of gods. I called in sick. We stayed in bed until I could hardly walk to the washroom my muscles were so sore from his athletic love-making.

Things moved fast after that."

She stopped and glanced quickly across at her companion. She had been looking down at her clenched fists the whole time she had been speaking. Now she saw Steve’s face was closed and she knew he was utterly shocked.

Rena, I don’t need to know all these details. Are you trying to scare me away from you? Why are you doing this?

She took the first deep breath she had risked since she began to talk. She knew there was much worse to come. If he could not bear this, there was no hope for them.

She tightened her hold on her hands. She had rehearsed this scenario so many times and always backed down from the confrontation. It required opening up scars that were deep and dark and pain-filled.

There was no other way.

I know this is hard to hear, Steve. It hurts me too, believe me, but listen and you will begin to understand.

I hope you are right, Rena. I can’t take much more of this.

She resumed her inward look and started again, praying silently for his patience.

"I went back to teaching students but my heart was not in it. I was on autopilot. Nothing was real compared to Gregory. I was completely under his spell. I never even thought of my family on the other side of town. I did not call Judith. I left York University campus as soon as possible each day.

On the next weekend he decided we should move in together. My downtown flat was too tiny. He needed to be located closer to the airport because of the travelling he did for his work as an art auctioneer. We went out together to look for a house. He wanted a yard and a picket fence, all the traditional trappings of settled life. I agreed with whatever he said. I wrote a cheque to cover the deposit as his money was tied up in some deal to purchase paintings for his company.

Everything was moving so fast my head was in a constant spin but the centre of the whirlwind was always Greg and his devotion to me, body and soul."

Good God, Rena! How long did this last? It sounds insane. It does not sound like the woman I know at all.

He got up as he spoke and turned toward the front exit. At the last moment, he said over his shoulder.

I have to think about this. I’ll be in touch.

There was more than a hint of maybe in his voice and she slumped forward onto the table. It had taken everything in her to tell the story so abruptly. He was not the only one with things to think about. She had opened a tightly closed door in order to reveal her pain. The personal aftermath was going to be monumental.

The waitress was experienced in reading body postures. She approached quietly with a mug of coffee in her hand and placed it on the table without a word. The aroma of fresh coffee was enough of a stimulant to cause Rena to take a deep breath and bring her heart back into action. She took a sip or two, gathered her shaking legs beneath her and took the side exit after leaving a five pound note on the table.

She reached The Downs View Hotel without any memory of the roads the taxi had driven or the traffic stops it had made on the way. She took off her coat in the front hall and went upstairs to her attic bedroom without looking to left or right. She needed quiet and calm to withstand the coming storm. She pulled the blinds down, drew the drapes over the blinds and sat on the bed, waiting.

And just as she knew they would, the memories came flooding in; each one as clear as the day it had happened. Each one; seen now through a different lens; a lens that had been invisible to her when it all began.

Chapter Two.

Etobicoke. Toronto, Canada 2014.

Darling, where are you? I’ve missed you so much. I can’t wait to hold you to me.

I was upstairs in the bedroom wearing shorts and a grubby shirt already stained from flying paint molecules. Greg had left on one of his trips with the wish that the bedroom colour be changed to a lighter shade of blue. I had spent two days choosing colours, preparing and painting the walls, planning to be finished before he returned. I hoped to receive his praise and gratitude but, at this moment, mostly I wished he had given me a call from the airport so I could freshen up.

There you are! My God you look like you’ve been caught in a storm! What have you done to your hair, Rena? I was so hoping to take you out for a meal tonight and show you off, but now that I see the state of you I think I’ll just stay in and get an early night. It’s been a long two days.

Almost as soon as he arrived, he was gone again. Not a word of thanks. No apology for leaving me to do all this work. There was only the sting of criticism of my appearance and the disappointment of a missed meal out, which was clearly my fault.

No sooner had I mentally expressed these thoughts than I berated myself for small-minded behaviour.

This was Greg, the man who worshipped me. How could I be so mean to him? Of course he was tired after working all weekend. I should have realized he would want to celebrate our reunion. After all he had been gone for most of three days.

I threw down the paint brush and cast off my clothes on the way to the shower where I scrubbed at my hair and checked my skin for any lingering paint marks until I was clean, fresh and refreshed.

I would make it all good again. My darling Greg would never again have reason to find me unsatisfactory.

I dressed with care, sprayed perfume around, removed all evidence of the painting efforts and went downstairs with a jaunty step. It would all be forgotten when he saw me.

I saw his head of fair hair from the back. He was sitting on the new sofa waiting for me. When I presented myself for his approval I saw that he was fast asleep with the television going.

My heart sank. I felt cold all over. The disappointment was huge and with it came new fear of his disapproval.

I moved over to put the television off and he awoke.

Oh Rena, I guess I am more tired than I thought. I’m going up to bed. You stay here and enjoy a movie or something. Don’t come up yet. I really need to sleep. Goodnight!

I slept on the couch that night but I did not do much sleeping. I veered between blaming myself for the disaster of an evening and trying to understand what had happened from the perspective of the intelligent, educated, independent woman, who I believed I was. It was not as if I had never been in a relationship before. I had lived for brief periods of time with three quite different men and I knew they all had their personal and male quirks. Bob hated waiting while I changed my mind and my clothes for special events, Peter was jealous because I got a contract at the university before he did, and Jordan could not abide my cooking, no matter what I made from his extensive library of cookbooks. As he refused to cook for us in my mini kitchen, that relationship lasted only until I ran out of money for restaurant meals.

The problem now became the difference between these minor romances and the depth of emotion Gregory had evoked in me. I was invested in him to a degree that I had never before experienced.

I wanted him; I needed him. He was my dream lover, my perfect and beautiful man.

I concluded in the early hours of the new day that I would start afresh with Greg. I would take him up a breakfast tray and we would sit on the bed and I would laughingly explain my feelings when he first saw me in the bedroom painting, and again when I came downstairs. I would be light and ready to forgive as soon as he apologized and the whole incident would be relegated to the past where it belonged.

I made sure to tidy my face and hair before carrying up the tray of fresh-squeezed juice and eggs just the way he liked them, hot coffee and whole wheat toast.

He was still sleeping but I knew the smell of coffee would soon waken him. I put the tray down on a side table and admired my lover. Even with tousled golden hair and with sheets drawn up to his smooth muscled chest, his long legs sprawled across the bed, he was the most beautiful male creature I had ever had the privilege to be with. He loved me! He told me I completed him. This gorgeous male was mine. He made me feel like a princess.

Well hello there, sleepyhead! I said, checking my tone of voice for the required light and airy approach I had decided upon. "You must be feeling better. You’ve slept for almost ten hours.

Here’s your breakfast. We’ll have a talk once you’ve eaten. I’ll change into fresh clothes and we can plan our day."

I returned in fifteen minutes wearing a new, crisp, blue and white dress. It was the summer hiatus from the university and I had postponed all the preparatory work for the next school year so I could spend this time with Greg setting up our new home and consolidating our romance.

He was sitting up in bed with the tray across his knees and he looked amazing, as usual. My mirror had just told me I could never compete with his good looks. I had inherited my parents’ olive skin and dark hair and eyes. As a couple, Greg and I were a complete contrast in appearance. I convinced myself that was his attraction to me. He certainly had told me so, in no uncertain terms.

Darling Greg! About last night? I need you to know I am uncomfortable about the way things went.

I spoke gently and with a big smile so I was completely shocked by his response.

"Oh, you mean your ghastly state when I came home? I expected you to be ready to go out, of course, like we planned. Remember? Now you will need to finish this room. I don’t know how I managed to sleep in this horrible paint aroma.

You should get changed into old clothes for the painting. I have a meeting in town."

He pushed aside the tray with the bedclothes and vanished into the bathroom. I stuttered out something like ‘Wait! That’s not what happened at all,’ but I was protesting to a closed door.

I was confused, angry, annoyed, upset, tearful……..all the emotions crowded in on me together.

I felt I could not stay to hear more of this revised version of the truth. My mind was racing through any likely explanations for Greg’s actions but I could not find any plausible ones. I backtracked through every moment of the last day and night and just found myself more confused.

Finally righteous anger overcame everything else and I scribbled a quick note saying I was visiting my mother across town and would be back later. I almost added a note about food in the fridge but stopped myself just in time. He could get his own food. The anger began to overwhelm my more insecure feelings. What was he thinking, treating me like that? Why didn’t he acknowledge my words or my presence?

Had something happened while he was out of the city on his business trip? If so, why did he not simply explain it to me?

A horrible sense of failure, of having jumped too fast into this relationship began to grow in the back of my mind. By the time I reached my old home over an hour and a half away in Scarborough, I had pushed these thoughts aside and was prepared to see my parents again.

‘Rena! You should have called. It’s been so long since we saw you here. How are you my dear girl? Come in, come in. We’ll talk!’

And talk we did. We sat on the wide covered porch on the old cane furniture with the embroidered cushions I remembered from my childhood. Mama made a jug of lemonade and she sat with me fanning herself with a Japanese fan I had brought back from a trip to the Orient years before.

I recovered a deep sense of comfort and acceptance in this homely place. Papa was in the garage working on some piece of equipment he had promised to fix for a neighbour. He stuck his head out and said hello and went back to his work leaving his women to talk, as he often did. Female conversation was not his scene; the pub in the mall where his former work cronies gathered, was much more his place.

‘So, tell me