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Women on the Rebound
When I finally found her, Kerry was huddled behind a sand dune, lost in a melancholy reverie. I'd always considered myself to be relatively perceptive, but not until now did I truly realise the extent of her vulnerability. When I approached her relatively quietly, she jumped violently for the second time in as many days, and it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I wasn't the only one with unresolved issues. When no objection was forthcoming, I sank down next to her, trying to determine what exactly she found so fascinating about the crystal clear ocean stretching before us. I didn't dare to speak without invitation, and her stoic silence was almost suffocating. With nothing better to do, I reverted to covertly studying her hunched physique, once again awed by the extent of her beauty. She appeared so chaste and innocent, but looking at the almost palpable pain clouding her emerald eyes, I was forced to acknowledge that this woman was no stranger to anguish. Her hair, tied loosely in a lop-sided ponytail, had left her neck uncovered, and as my gaze settled briefly on the exposed flesh, my eyes instinctively widened in consternation. In the blinding sunlight, the thin white scar travelling the length of her throat offered a sharp contrast to her bronzed skin, and the remorse I felt at having stirred up memories she evidently wanted to forget was overwhelming.
"I'm so sorry," I whispered, and to my great embarrassment, my voice caught with the sincerity behind my words. "I didn't know."
Kerry's face was impassive as she turned to regard me. "You have a sick sense of humour," she stated flatly, her words like a physical blow.
"Like I said, I didn't know." I forced myself to remain in control, knowing that now was neither the time nor the place to become defensive.
Kerry laughed without mirth, her features marred with scorn. "Alex, if you'd known that I had such an aversion to having sharp implements thrust against my throat, you probably would have pounced on me with a carving knife as soon as I walked through the door." Her tone virtually dripped with disdain. "Just for comic value, of course."
The words 'go fuck yourself' are an intrinsic component of my vocabulary and at that moment, it would have been so easy to utter them. For once in my life, though, I was willing to concede that I had made a mistake and for some strange reason, I was intent on rectifying it. "Look, standing there and berating me like I'm some kind-of misguided kid might be making you feel better, but wouldn't it be more productive to talk about this civilly?"
Kerry laughed bitterly. "You mean you actually understand the concept?"
I took a steadying breath, willing myself to stay calm. "You'd be surprised. Now, are you going to tell me why you hotfooted it out of my kitchen this morning, or am I going to have to resort to guessing?" I rolled my eyes. "And I'm sure you're aware of how traumatic that could be for you, given my warped imagination."
"Alex, you've already pledged to destroy me. Do you honestly think I'm about to give you a graphic account of something that almost drove me to suicide?" She glared at me, unrelenting. "You'd probably create a picture book of events and hang it in the hallway."
"Well, gee, what can I say? You know me so well." The sarcasm in my voice was evident, and the realisation that Kerry thought of me so badly cut me to the bone. Not that I didn't deserve her censure, but the reality of it was worse than I'd imagined. "I know I haven't exactly welcomed you with open arms, but do you really think that I'm capable of hurting you?" I asked, my eyes flashing indignantly.
"Richard seems to think that you're capable of killing me," she regarded me intently, awaiting my reaction.
"This has nothing to do with Richard," I snapped, more abruptly than I'd intended. "When I held those scissors to your throat, did you honestly believe that I was going to hurt you, or did you just react to what you've been through in the past?"
Kerry snorted derisively. "I suppose if I confess to being terrified of you, you're going to give yourself a pat on the back and praise the success of your latest performance."
I gazed at her in disbelief, genuinely affected by the contempt in her tone. "Do you really think I'm that much of a depraved bitch?"
Kerry held my gaze unfalteringly. "Isn't that the image you're aiming for?"
Tears came unbidden to my eyes, because, if anything, Kerry had been the only person to experience my few redeemable features. The fact that she seemed to regard me in the same light as Richard, even though I'd actually made an effort to get along with her, made me wonder if I truly was a detestable person. Shaking my head, I turned away, vowing to show Kerry just how awkward I could be when I wasn't forcing myself to tolerate someone.
As I stumbled blindly across the sand dunes, I felt a restraining hand on my arm and with wild eyes; turned to regard my adversary. Apparently, she just didn't know when to give up.
"Alex, look, I know you didn't mean any harm this morning." Kerry sighed dejectedly, her shoulders slumping. "I keep trying to convince myself that I've put the past behind me, but I evidently haven't. I'm sorry for taking it out on you."
She was evidently trying to make amends, but I've always had the tendency to bear a grudge, and I virtually snarled at her in response.
"Ah, so that's where the rabid dog analogy comes from." She gave me a tentative smile, attempting to lighten the atmosphere by brushing a stray strand of hair from my face. I pulled away sharply, my eyes narrowing.
Kerry, only people who I genuinely loathe get to see that side of me. You're
too bland to garner a reaction." I offered her a twisted smile. "In fact,
I think I'm going to treat you to my 'you're such an insignificant component
of my life that you're not even worth acknowledging' routine. I hope you
enjoy it." And with those words, I effectively ruined any progress we might
have made during that day.
The next week passed by without incident. Kerry made a few half-hearted attempts to instigate a conversation, whilst I completely ignored her. I cleaned up after myself, did all of my own washing, cooking and other such menial tasks, basically attempting to convince her that her presence was utterly pointless. It seemed to be working. As each hour progressed, the misery characterising Kerry's features seemed to amplify. I was actually moderately concerned for her well being, but refused to relent. After all, if the task of 'caring' for me was proving too much of a challenge, she was always in a position to admit defeat. I knew deep down that sheer determination was the only thing keeping Kerry grounded, because I had, as promised, pushed her patience threshold to the limit.
It was then that I heard a car pulling into the drive. Peering out of my bedroom window, I could only presume that the black BMW belonged to one of Richard's many superficial acquaintances. Flopping back onto my bed, I waited for Kerry to answer the doorbell, but when the irritating chimes continued unabridged for nearly a minute, I was forced to venture downstairs. I was somewhat surprised to find the petite blonde huddled in the corner of the living room, the look of terror on her face almost palpable in its intensity. Remembering that I was supposed to hate the woman - a philosophy which would, in effect, make scooping her up in my arms and comforting her somewhat illogical - I decided to address her for the first time in days.
"Friend of yours?"
She glanced at me, emerald eyes offering a silent plea. "Please don't let him know that I'm here. He'll kill me."
I gazed at her intently for a moment, before jogging towards the porch, regarding the burly brute on my doorstep impassively. "Are you finished wearing down my battery yet?"
The muscular, relatively young man shrugged nonchalantly. "If you'd answered sooner, there wouldn't have been a problem."
"Yes, well, I was otherwise engaged."
He regarded me dubiously, obviously desiring some degree of elaboration.
I offered him my most engaging smile. "Well, I've never been an inhibited woman, but discussing my chronic constipation with a complete stranger doesn't really appeal to me. You stopped me mid-flow, actually, so unless you want me to resent you even more, I suggest you cut to the chase."
He studied me, searching for an ounce of mirth, and was forced to conclude that I was deadly serious. "I need to talk to Kerry Chapman."
I shook my head. "Sorry, no can do."
"Excuse me?" His rugged features contracted into a truly impressive scowl, which I attempted to appease with another one of my most winning smiles.
"Oh, don't get me wrong. If the whinging little bitch had managed to stomach my company for more than a day, I'd invite you to take her off my hands for a while, preferably forever. As things stand, I have absolutely no idea where she is, and neither do I care."
He looked tempted to believe my story without contesting it, but then something seemed to occur to him. "So why the hell is her car still parked in your driveway?"
I didn't even hesitate. "Oh, that old rust bucket? Well, I didn't want her to escape my clutches without any fond memories of our time together, so I decided to make the heap of junk even less road worthy than it already is. I'm presuming you're not a friend, so I am safe to tell you this, right?"
He nodded eagerly, signalling for me to continue. I leant forward, as if confiding in him, my tone lowered to a stage whisper that I truly hoped Kerry could hear.
"I tampered with the brakes. Unfortunately, she's a little more perceptive than she looks. I was so eager for her to get behind the wheel that she must've sensed that something was wrong. She hightailed out of here later on that evening, and left the car as a souvenir." I glanced at him hopefully. "If you want to take it off my hands, you're more than welcome to. It kind-of mars the scenery, if you get my drift."
He laughed heartily, and I forced myself to join in. "Nice try, lady, but no thanks. It's a bigger heap of shit than she is."
"Oh, I don't know, it's a close contest to call." I hit him companionably on the arm, and bit back a grin as I watched him unsuccessfully conceal a wince. "Anyway, my friend, I'd invite you in for a mutual slagging-off session, but I have some business to attend to, if you know what I mean?"
He nodded, retreating hastily. I offered him a wry smile. "Look, if it's any help, she probably went north. There's a highway not far from here, and that would've been her best chance of hitching a ride."
"My pleasure, asshole," I muttered under my breath, sending a flirtatious wink in his direction. He gave me an awkward smile; jumping into his car so quickly he narrowly avoided hitting his head on the roof. Waving inanely after him as he reversed down the drive, I waited until he disappeared from sight before returning to the house. Kerry, not surprisingly, looked markedly healthier. In fact, she was grinning from ear to ear and appeared to be weighing up the pros and cons of engulfing me in a heartfelt embrace. Somehow sensing that I wouldn't respond well to such a sentimental gesture, she settled for a playful jab to my ribs.
"You are so full of shit."
"Are we speaking figuratively, or literally?" I retorted, grinning. It had been a pretty ingenious idea on my behalf, and admittedly, one of my slightly more obscure ones. I eyed her mischievously. "You owe me one, big time. I just hope he's not staying in town for long, because if word gets around about my newly-acquired ailment, I can kiss good-bye to a redeemable reputation."
"A redeemable reputation? I didn't realise you were such an optimist," Kerry teased, her eyes shining with gratitude. "Listen, I know you probably didn't garner any pleasure from saving my scrawny ass, but I really do appreciate it."
"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a certain amount of selfishness thrown in there, too," I admitted, smiling wryly. "I can barely tolerate one unwanted houseguest. The prospect of being lumbered with another one probably produced the best performance of my life." As is often the case with me, as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. I had, within a matter of seconds, quashed the rapport that had threatened to re-ignite between us. Kerry's smile faded, and she appeared momentarily crestfallen.
"Yeah, well, regardless of your motives, you did me a huge favour." She sighed dejectedly. "I suppose the least I can do is get out of your hair."
I regarded her curiously, struggling to follow her train of thought. "What, are you planning a trip into town or something?"
Kerry shook her head, meeting my eyes in defeat. "No, I'm leaving."
I stared at her, mouth agape in disbelief, wondering what the hell had produced such a drastic change in tactics. "What? You're joking, right?"
"No. Like you said, I owe you one." Kerry's tear-filled eyes briefly met my own. "You've made it perfectly clear that you don't need or want me here, and I'm presuming you haven't changed your mind. I was going to say something yesterday, but you walked out of the room before I had the chance. And now he's found me, I can't..." She trailed off, evidently trying to regain her composure. "You do still want me to leave, right?"
My pride instructed me to return a vehement 'hell, yes,' but when faced with this unexpected turn of events, I realised, with more than a hint of sadness, that I didn't want Kerry to leave at all. She was looking at me with such a plaintively hopeful expression, evidently desperate for an invitation to stay, and it took all of my willpower to force my shoulders into a nonchalant shrug. "If that's what you feel you have to do."
Kerry nodded dejectedly. "It shouldn't take me too long to get my stuff together. I'll be out of here by tonight."
"Look, you don't have to go today..." I started to protest, but she looked at me coldly, her composure regained.
"No, that's OK. I wouldn't want to out-stay my welcome."
Kerry disappeared into her room, beginning the lengthy process of packing,
I swallowed the extremely irritating lump residing in my throat. Despite
my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, I cared for this woman, and
the thought of being home alone suddenly didn't sound so appealing. Of-course,
I wasn't about to admit that to anyone aside from myself. Kerry would just
have to be categorised as the first vestige of hope in a hopeless life.
Somewhere along the line, I managed to persuade myself that destiny was simply a romanticised illusion. In any case, I was fated to be a fuck-up, but believing that I had some degree of control over my life allowed me to work with my crappy hand of cards. That morning, though, I was genuinely at a loss, wandering aimlessly around the house in a bid to convince myself that I neither needed, nor wanted Kerry's company. Some higher being must have sensed my desperation, because for once in my life, someone took mercy on me and my debilitating inability to swallow my pride.
As the afternoon progressed, the light breeze tousling the trees amalgamated into branch-bending gale force winds. After sitting through one of the few weather forecasts I'd ever subjected myself to, it became obvious that a storm was coming, and a serious one at that. Sure enough, by eight o'clock, the sky had become ominously overcast and fifteen minutes later, the onslaught of torrential rain ensued. After closing all the windows and securing the shutters, I listened to the wind increase in intensity, until I could barely hear myself think. When Kerry stumbled down the stairs, struggling with her stuffed suitcase, I eyed her dubiously. "You're not still thinking of leaving tonight, are you?" As soon as I voiced my question, the lights dimmed, and then flickered out, effectively plunging us into darkness. With a sense of foreboding, I uttered an exasperated sigh, and after groping my way towards the kitchen, fumbled through my crap-filled drawers in search of a torch. My efforts were not futile, but by the time I reached the living room, I was nursing a bruised hip, courtesy of a strategically placed table, and a stubbed toe. My pain was instantaneously forgotten, though, when I realised that Kerry was not where I'd left her only seconds before. Hearing the front door slam, I raced to the window, yanking open the shutters and gaping in disbelief at the sight of Kerry loading her suitcase into the car. "The stupid, stubborn, mother-fucking bitch," I muttered, wondering what exactly she was trying to prove. Faced with no alternative, I donned my jacket, stepping outside into the pouring rain.
"Don't tell me you were going to leave without saying good-bye," I yelled sarcastically, my amplified voice barely audible above the fierce winds. Kerry had her suitcase to keep her grounded, but I was, against my will, being blown across the driveway. Gasping for breath, I struggled forward, seizing her arm in a no nonsense manner. "Look Kerry, be reasonable, you can't drive in this weather, especially not in that shit heap."
"I thought you couldn't wait to get rid of me." She glared at me, prising away my rain-slicked fingers as I blocked her attempt to open the car door.
"I'm sure I can put up with you for a few more hours, so why don't you stop being so fucking stubborn and come inside?"
"Oh, don't pretend to care Alex, because I'm not buying it!" She was virtually screaming now, her voice hoarse from overuse. "Now get out of my fucking way." She virtually had to wrestle me to gain entry to the car, but before she could shut the driver's door, I was dragging her back out again. With a scream of sheer frustration, she stormed away, running down our driveway in a bid to evade confrontation. Cussing the day I began to care, I sprinted after her, all the while fighting a losing battle with the wind, which seemed intent on hindering my progress. The relentless rain had rendered me virtually blind, and it took all the concentration I had to keep my eyes trained on Kerry's brown overcoat. Our game of cat and mouse was becoming all the more frustrating, simply because though I appeared extremely fit, I wasn't, and Kerry seemed intent on exploiting that fact for all it was worth. It was my indignant reaction to being put in this situation that spurred me on, and my longer stride eventually allowed me to gain some ground on the temperamental blonde. When I finally came within a metre of her, I leapt forward, grabbing her legs in a pseudo rugby tackle and bringing her forcibly to the sodden ground. Turning her over, I pinned her between my thighs, curling my fingers around her slender wrists to prevent her flailing fists doing the damage they desired. She uttered several expletives in a cacophony of short gasps, and when the gut-wrenching sobs began, her breathing became even more erratic. She was clearly struggling to inhale enough oxygen, so I promptly released her, my own panic mounting as her wheezing became more intense.
"Kerry?" I grasped her shoulders, forcing eye contact. "Kerry, calm down. I'm not going to hurt you, OK?" I lifted a finger to wipe away the tears chorusing down her cheeks, before taking her trembling hands into my own. "I know you don't want me here right now, but I'm not going to leave you like this, so the sooner we start co-operating, the better."
"Don't touch me!" she choked out, shrinking away from my attempts at comfort, her gasps becoming more laboured. I backed away, holding my hands out in surrender.
"Look, what do you want me to do? You can punch me if it'll make you feel better. Hell, I'll gladly throw myself under the first truck I see, but please, just try and calm down, OK?"
watched with great relief as her breathing slowly began to even out. Slumped
on a grassy verge, soaked to the skin and shivering violently, I suddenly
realised that my life, already renowned for its profound level of shittiness,
had just gotten worse. After laughing hysterically for a few moments, I
began to sob uncontrollably, effectively fulfilling that cliché
of crying in the rain. The tears I had spent so long suppressing were now
flowing freely down my cheeks and to my great surprise, Kerry took it upon
herself to comfort me, wrapping her arms around my heaving shoulders whilst
lightly caressing my hair. Despite my initial misgivings, I didn't recoil,
and instead pulled her into my lap, feeling her own racking sobs resume
at the unexpected gesture. I murmured inane words of comfort into her ear
for what seemed like an eternity, at some point realising that unless we
both wanted to contract pneumonia, it was probably advisable to get out
of the rain. Pulling her gently to her feet and wrapping a steadying arm
around her waist, I gave her an affectionate squeeze. "C'mon, you soppy
sod, I'm taking you home."
To be continued....