Women on the Rebound
At some point during our lengthy making out session, Kerry and I were forced to concede that we weren't a couple of horny teenagers, and self-control - at least theoretically speaking - wasn't completely beyond us. The Porsche added an element of sophistication to our untimely liaison, but we came to the mutual conclusion that the side of the road wasn't exactly an ideal venue for exploring our fledging relationship. We hence began our journey home, and bone tired, I allowed the constant drone of the car's engine to lull me into a light sleep, vaguely aware of the hand resting gently upon my thigh.
Kerry's touch was as tender as ever, but it was the note of alarm infiltrating her tone that served to draw me from the realms of unconsciousness, and I promptly opened my eyes.
I recognised our surroundings immediately, wondering why she was regarding our house with panic written plainly across her features.
"What's wrong?" I demanded, following her line of vision with a certain amount of trepidation.
"Did you leave the lights on this morning?" Kerry ventured, clearly hoping that I'd answer in the affirmative. I regarded the dim glow emanating from the upstairs windows, shaking my head in disbelief. Sure enough, as we advanced almost tentatively towards the end of the driveway, it became obvious that Kerry's Volkswagen was no longer its only inhabitant.
"I don't fucking believe it," I hissed, punching the dashboard with a ferocity that made my companion flinch. The impact would have hurt like hell, had my attention not been solely focused on Richard's Ferrari, which appeared to be gleaming ominously in the moonlight. Kerry visibly paled as she brought the Porsche to a standstill alongside it, her trembling hands struggling to control the steering wheel. There was a moment of silence, whereby my blood pressure came close to boiling point. In an act of irrational anger, I wrestled my way out of the restrictive seat belt, suddenly feeling constrained by its presence. Hands shaking with barely suppressed rage, I yanked open the car door, the cool night air doing nothing to alleviate my burning sense of frustration. Richard was prone to turning up at the most inappropriate of times, and I had to wonder whether he had an innate ability to gauge when I was anything other than miserable. His expertise when it came to destroying any remnants of pleasure I managed to salvage did not derive from mere coincidence. He was, quite simply, programmed to ruin my life, and seeing Kerry's accusatory expression, it became more than obvious that he was succeeding.
"You said he wouldn't find out," she whispered, clearly on the verge of tears. "You promised, and I trusted you."
I regarded her with narrowed eyes. "Well, I'm sorry, but in case you hadn't gathered, I didn't exactly ENVISAGE this happening." I was yelling now, but Kerry refused to look at me, more concerned about Richard overhearing than anything I had to say. I seized her arm, eyeing her far more contemptuously than I'd intended. "Oh, don't worry, I'll take all of the blame. It was COERCION, after all, it's not like you had any choice in the matter. It's just another case of helpless little Kerry being led astray by big, bad Alex, that's all. Nothing to trouble yourself over." Slamming closed the Porsche's door with an intensity that would undoubtedly be heard from within the house, I marched up the pathway. Sure enough, as I extended a throbbing hand to open the front door, it swung open, and I was faced with a livid-looking Richard.
"You deceitful little bitch!" He screamed, practically throwing me against the wall as I attempted to saunter past him. "Do you have any idea how much that car is worth?"
The impact of the blow left me slightly winded, but I wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of showing it. "It's still intact, so what the fuck are you hyperventilating for?" I snapped, prising his fingers away from my arms. "And if you're going to subject me to another one of your pathetic little inquisitions, can you at least brush your teeth first? Your breath reeks."
A meaty paw looked for all the world like it was about to descend on me, at least until Kerry intervened, regarding Richard with unnerving intensity. "Get your hands off of her."
Richard whirled around, gazing at her in disbelief. "Excuse me?"
Despite being nearly a foot smaller than my husband, Kerry didn't even flinch upon seeing his outraged expression. I glared at her, knowing that if she persisted in defending me, Richard wouldn't hesitate to sack her. Yet she refused to heed my warning, and continued to stare at him resolutely. "You heard me. If you lay so much as a finger on her, I'll call the police."
"You'll call the police?" Richard echoed, laughing at the sheer audacity of her proposal. "And tell them what, exactly? That you stole my car and I'm a little frustrated about it? I'm not really sure if they'd be all that sympathetic."
"We didn't 'steal' the car, Richard," Kerry retorted angrily, "Because we didn't have the intention to permanently deprive you of it. It's here, in perfect condition, and so yes, I think the police WOULD be slightly concerned with the way you're overreacting."
"OVERREACTING?" Richard bellowed. "Let me get this straight. My nutter of a wife raids my drawers, steals my car keys, and runs off with my most expensive possession, and I'm supposed to take it all in my stride? I nearly had a heart attack waiting for you two to get back from God-knows-where."
"Oh, if only we'd known," I interjected, my tone dripping with sarcasm, "We would have packed our suitcases and gone on holiday for a fortnight. You would've been a stinking corpse by the time we got back."
"Shut the fuck up," Richard hissed, still engaged in a battle of wills with an unwavering Kerry. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Hey!" Disliking his confrontational attitude, I tapped him firmly on the shoulder. Once again, he turned to face me, and the sheer hatred emanating from his narrowed eyes would have been intimidating, had I not found it so amusing. I folded my arms, meeting his gaze without any qualms. "Don't start picking a fight with Kerry. I TOLD her that she could use your precious fucking car. She wanted some groceries, and wasn't too keen on leaving me home alone. She's really taking this baby-sitting thing to the extreme." I rolled my eyes, as if I resented the notion. "I know I'm not exactly image conscious, but I wasn't about to be seen dead in that shit-heap of hers. I told her she could use the Porsche, and that you wouldn't mind, because you knew how awkward I could be."
"Well, you're right about one thing." Richard virtually sneered at me, before turning to Kerry, his expression epitomising scepticism. "And you're trying to tell me that you weren't remotely suspicious? Did it never occur to you that maybe you should seek my permission before you went outgallivanting in my Porsche?"
Kerry had been regarding me with faintly-veiled wonderment, perhaps because I was so proficient at lying, or perhaps because it was the second time in as many weeks that I had used my skills to save her skin. I nodded imperceptibly, willing her to substantiate my story, because the thought of Richard sacking her left me sick to the stomach.
"No," she countered evenly, shaking her head. In an evident change of tactics, she then proceeded to formulate a very convincing performance of her own. "I mean, you always struck me as such a generous guy, and I had no reason to doubt what Alex was saying. To be honest, I was just honoured that you seemed to trust me so readily." Kerry feigned an unhealthy interest in the floor, before turning apologetic eyes in Richard's direction and laughing in self-depreciation. "How naive can you be?"
I watched with barely-concealed satisfaction as the deferential treatment and pseudo repentance had the desired effect upon my husband. His outraged exterior visibly softened, and he sighed audibly. "It's OK, Kerry, I know what a conniving bitch she can be, but you should know better than to believe the crap she comes out with. I'm not contesting the fact that she can be very convincing, but if you work on the premise that she's compulsive liar, you can't go wrong." He clasped Kerry's shoulder with a patronising hand, and a flicker of repulsion briefly marred her features. Richard failed to notice it, though, judging from the amiability infiltrating his tone. "Look, why don't you go inside and relax?You deserve a break. God knows, you must have been pushed to the limit over the last few weeks."
Kerry hesitated, eyeing me uncertainly. Aware of Richard's attentive gaze, I stared back at her, a smirk playing on the corners of my lips. "Well go on, then. Piss off."
For one nauseating moment, hurt registered in pained emerald eyes, and as Kerry turned towards the house, I inwardly sighed. I cared for her with an intensity that was both invigorating and daunting, and feigning hostility towards her was proving harder than I'd ever imagined.
Richard eyed me warily. "You know, you never fail to intrigue me, Alex. You just had the perfect opportunity to get rid of Kerry, and you chose to defend her instead. Don't tell me you're starting to warm to her?"
I laughed, shaking my head. "You want to know the truth, Richard? I've done my utmost to drive that woman away, but she's got more staying power than I thought. I'd like the satisfaction of getting rid of her myself, but if you'd rather go about it the easy way, then be my guest. It'll save me a whole lot of antagonism." A twisted smile marred my countenance. "I can't believe you managed to find someone tolerant enough to deal with me in the first place. It'll be quite entertaining to watch you go through it all again, because rest assured, I'd make it a very lengthy process." I regarded him intently, hoping my reverse psychology proved effective. "Of-course, you could always just abandon the idea of a nanny altogether."
"What, and let you have free reign of this place?" Richard snorted in disbelief. "I've only been away for two minutes, and by the look of things, you've already set about destroying my livelihood. I'm afraid Kerry isn't going anywhere, Alex. Someone needs to keep an eye on you."
I hid a triumphant smile, my eyes narrowing. "Fine, but I'm telling you now, she won't be here for much longer. Now if you don't mind, I have some shopping to unpack." I sauntered passed his bulky frame, opening the Porsche's trunk. A smile came unbidden to my features as I caught a whiff of the fresh fish we had purchased over two hours ago. It evidently hadn't reacted well to the humid air enveloping the small compartment. Neither had the frozen foods, which were now thawed, having left a sizeable puddle of water in their wake. "See, this is what happens when you waste my time," I told him as he came to peer over my shoulder. Thankfully, I was already in the doorway when his scream of outrage sounded and, seeing Kerry's puzzled expression, I promptly dissolved into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. "Fish," I said, by way of explanation. "We must have generated a lot of heat while we were in there."
Kerry snorted, but the doubt induced by my earlier behaviour still lingered in her ever-expressive emerald eyes. At that moment in time, my emotions were barely in check, and I could only think of one sure-fire way to alleviate her uncertainty. "I love you," I whispered vehemently, clasping her hand briefly whilst en route to the kitchen. "I might be a complete bitch to you during the course of the next few days, but don't ever forget that." Kerry gazed after me in disbelief, as if trying to ascertain whether my heartfelt admission had been the product of wishful thinking. We gazed at each other for a moment, sporting idiotic grins to compliment our doe-eyed expressions. As always, Richard ruined the moment, choosing that very second to barge into the house and unwittingly interrupt something quite profound. He glared at me for a moment, and when I merely raised a nonchalant eyebrow in response, turned his attention to Kerry. "Right then, what's for dinner?"
I snorted amusedly. "You're such a hypocrite. Didn't you just tell her to relax for the rest of the evening?"
"I, er, well -" He tried unsuccessfully to conjure up a response in his defence, and as per usual, resorted to snapping at me. "Why, are you volunteering your services?"
"No." I grinned unrepentantly. "The temptation to poison you would be too hard to resist, and I've already had my insight into incarceration. I just thought you might like to get off your lazy ass and make yourself a meal."
Once again, Richard appeared to contemplate the merits of knocking the smug smile from my face, and for the second time that evening, Kerry intervened before any blood was shed. "Richard, don't worry about it. Of-course I'll cook you something to eat. That is what you hired me for, after all."
"Thank you, Kerry. Let me know when it's ready, I'll be in my study." Richard persisted in staring at me, trying desperately hard to elicit a reaction. I remained utterly impassive, and he eventually turned to leave the room, fists clenched at his side.
Hearing him stomp ungracefully up the stairs, I reached down to pick up a bag full of shopping, the wince that registered on my features more than evident to my companion.
"Oh, God!" Kerry gasped, gently taking my hand and examining the mottled purple bruise stretching across my knuckles. "Why didn't you say something?"
"Come on Kerry, it's hardly life-threatening. I'll take a couple of pain killers and it'll be fine." I hadn't expected the dashboard to be quite so solid, nor had I realised just how hard I'd hit it. Now my anger had abated slightly, the agony emanating from my throbbing hand seemed even more acute. Kerry's tender caresses had a soothing effect that would most likely surpass the potency of any drug, and it took a considerable amount of willpower on my behalf to pull away. "Kerry, don't. If Richard sees..."
"He'd have to be pretty paranoid to assume we're having some sordid little love affair. I mean, for God's sake Alex, you're hurt. At least let me put a bandage on it." Kerry gazed at me attentively, evidently struggling to comprehend the methods behind my madness. "You know, I really can't understand why you're so determined to convince him that we hate each other. Surely he wouldn't object to us being friends?" Her emerald eyes searched my own, seeking an explanation that was proving increasingly difficult to articulate.
"Kerry, trust me, I know Richard. He didn't hire you to assist in my so-called recovery, he hired you to perpetually piss me off. If he knows that I harbour anything other than resentment for you, you can kiss good bye to your job, and to me." Seeing her forlorn expression, I couldn't resist laying a reassuring hand on her forearm. "Look, with any luck, he won't be here for long. Would you rather distance yourself from me for a few days, or forever?"
"Well, being a bitch might come easily to you, Alex, but I never was that good at feigning contempt. Especially when it's directed at someone I happen to care about a lot." Kerry gazed at me defiantly, but upon seeing my pained expression, her tone noticeably softened. "I mean, you tell me not to take what you say personally, but that doesn't change the fact that it hurts. You look at me with so much disdain sometimes, and even though I know it's all an act, it doesn't stop my gut from tying itself in knots." Her voice was choked with emotion, and her eyes were sparkling with a sheen of moisture she seemed determined not to shed.
"Kerry, you know how I feel about you." I spoke quietly, though the intensity in my tone was more than evident. "And as much as I hate pretending otherwise, that'll have to be enough for now. You can't keep leaping to my defence every time Richard has a go at me. He hired you to empathise with him. If he has any inclination that you give so much a damn about me, he won't be a happy man."
"What, so you expect me to just sit back and watch him hurl abuse at you?" Kerry shook her head vehemently, eyes narrowing in barely suppressed outrage. "Well, I'm sorry Alex, but I'd rather kill him first."
I sighed audibly. "Look, I've lived with the wanker for years upon end, and I'm still in one piece. I know how to deal with him, and I know his limitations. You'll just have to trust me on this one." Entirely of its own accord, my hand reached out to smooth back a strand of golden blonde hair. "Despite what you seem to think, I don't garner any pleasure from treating you like this. Hell, I'd like nothing more than to be curled up in front of the telly with you right now, but it's not a risk I'm prepared to take. You'll just have to remember that no matter what I say or do, I'm doing if for a reason. I'm not willing to put our relationship in jeopardy, all right?"
"You know, today was one of the first times I've been able to put the past behind me and look forward to the future," Kerry informed me bitterly, angrily wiping away the tear trickling down her cheek. "I should've known better than to start hoping again, because it's pretty obvious that the Bastards-That-Be have got it in for me. You have to admit, they have a pretty warped sense of humour, even by your standards."
I rolled my eyes, unaffected by the impending waterworks. "Don't start with all that self-pitying crap, Kerry. You're not the only one who's had their illusions shattered, you know? Yes, the day ended in a pretty undesirable fashion, but we have all the time in the world to rectify that. Richard's not going to be around forever."
"And in the meantime, I have to suffer through your insults and your abuse all over again." She was crying quite openly now, and I could feel my resolve gradually weakening. Rather than fighting the urge to comfort her, though, I found myself wanting to shake some sense in to her.
"I'm sorry Kerry, but as you and I well know, shit happens. If you don't like it, hit the Prozac. Just don't start trying to put me on a guilt trip. I'm doing what I have to do." I turned to leave the room, trying desperately hard to ignore the hurt written plainly across her features.
"That's it, fuck off!" Kerry clamoured after my retreating form. "Evade the issues instead of addressing them, just like you always do. I bet you're secretly glad that Richard's back, aren't you? I mean, God forbid that you should have to contend with some clingy manic depressive."
I winced, knowing that I had overstepped the mark. Turning around, I gazed at Kerry tear-streaked face attentively. "I love you, but if you don't want to believe that, then I'm afraid I haven't got the patience to deal with your insecurities. But let me give you a word of advice. Unless you want Richard to come charging down here wondering what you're half hysterical about, I suggest you get a grip."
She nodded almost imperceptibly, looking so despondent that it took all of my willpower not to envelop her in a tight embrace.
"I'm sorry. I keep forgetting that you're supposed to be the mentally unstable one around here," Kerry deadpanned sarcastically, sheepishly wiping away her tears.
I grinned. "Well it has been said that I'm enough to drive the sanest person around the bend, so don't feel victimised."
"You know what Alex? I don't know if I have the capacity to get involved with someone like you. I think I'm too sensitive to emerge with an ego." Kerry eyed me intently, awaiting my reaction.
"So toughen up," I stated simply. "Or don't waste your time trying. I don't want to hurt you."
Kerry appeared somewhat startled by my bluntness. "Do you always see things in black and white?"
"It's better than being full of false pretences. Kerry, you know that I can be brutally honest, and even downright awkward at times. If you're not willing to accommodate that, then what's the point?"
"I suppose you've never considered having regard for other people's feelings?" Kerry countered, her tone more curious than bitter.
"I've been more deferential to your needs than to anyone else's," I told her quite honestly, wondering what more I could do to reassure this woman that she was, quite possibly, my soul mate.
Kerry laughed. "And I'm supposed to feel flattered?"
"I'm afraid that's the best I can do. I'm sorry if it isn't good enough, but I'm not changing who I am for anyone. Hell, if you have an aversion to virtually all of my personality traits, where the hell does the attraction stem from?" I asked, with a mixture of intrigue and amusement.
"Well, you have looks to kill and a body to die for," Kerry conceded mischievously, a small smile slowly beginning to lighten her features.
"And if that's your criteria for a potential partner, than you're more superficial than I thought," I admonished, rolling my eyes good-naturedly.
"Well, if that isn't good enough, then there's always the fact that I'm hopelessly in love with you." Emerald eyes were shining with sincerity, and I fought to swallow the lump in my throat.
"You know, you're not making this distance thing any easier by going all soppy on me," I warned her, my tone faltering slightly at her welcome revelation. Kerry appeared delighted by my momentary loss of composure and despite my half-hearted attempts at resistance, grasped my uninjured hand .
"Ah, so it has a heart after all," she teased, her eyes reassuming their engaging sparkle.
"Only where you're concerned," I retorted, quite unaware of how sentimental my comment had sounded, until Kerry became all misty-eyed again. "And then it only functions to ensure that the blood is flowing effectively to my groin," I quickly amended, and was rewarded with my first laugh of the evening.
"Alex, if you're going to attempt to compliment me, at least make sure you're courteous enough to carry it through."
"Oh I will be, as soon as Richard's out of the way," I reassured her, with an enigmatic wink. "Now I think you'd better start on his dinner, or he'll be wondering what the hell's going on." I proceeded to clamber up the stairs, quite unaware of the grin gracing my countenance, at least until I nearly collided with my irate husband as he emerged from his study.
"What are you looking so fucking smug for?" Richard demanded, eyeing me accusatorily.
just been busy ensuring there's no love lost between me and Kerry, that's
all." Or at least there won't be once you've crawled back into whichever
hole you came from, I silently
amended, a large grin belying my innocent tone. His unexpected arrival
had left me seething, though I couldn't deny how much I relished taunting
him. He was undoubtedly going to hinder the rapport that had developed
between Kerry and I, and being coerced into secrecy was something I deeply
resented. That said, he wasn't the only one with a well-honed spiteful
streak, and exacting revenge was high on my list of priorities. A twisted
smile briefly touched my lips. Let the games begin.