I picked up the phone and my fingers automatically dialed his number.
“What is this?” I asked as I riffled through all the notes I had gathered.
“I came to the realization that I can’t live without you,” he said quietly with a catch in his voice.
I let the silence swell to a tumultuous roar between us as I thought about all the beatings I had already suffered at the hands of this person. I listened to his breathing as he waited for me to say something, and it brought back some good memories and many bad. When I thought of the bad my brain wanted to shut down and I almost missed his first words when he spoke into the void that had stretched between us.
“I’ve had time to think since you walked away and I need to say some things to you.”
I remained silent and strained to hear him over the sound of my heart hammering in my ears.
“I’m sorry Ani. Truly sorry. I’ve done things to you that are unforgivable and these last few months have emphasized what you mean to me. I thought I could live without you, but I’ve discovered that I can’t. More importantly – I don’t want to”.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I looked around my near-empty house and I thought about the loss of all of my dreams. I remembered how excited and proud I had been when I bought the house and about all the work I had put into it. Then the memory of the pain I felt on the day it sold flooded in and took over. This man had forced me into running – and now here he was again.
“What do you want from me?” I whispered.
“What I want is for you to think about forgiving me and to think about the good times. Then I want to come over and ask you that question you found on your pillow – in person.”
Warning bells exploded in my brain and I shut them down. Someone inside my head shouted ‘Don’t do it!.’ Then, underneath all that clamor, I heard him blow his nose and sniffle loudly. I took a deep breath and wondered, really wondered, if I would regret my next words.
“Would you like to come over?”
That night stretched through the next day and it ended with me saying ‘yes’.
The next evening he called and told me he was leaving for Amsterdam the following morning and could I drive him to the airport?
“Amsterdam?” I asked in disbelief.
“I need to think, so I’m going for a month.”
I made myself believe that it was a good thing when I moved my few belongings into his apartment. My family thought it was exactly the opposite – but I figured they didn’t know anything. This was a test of true love. I kept myself busy while he was gone, looking after his cat and adjusting to unemployment. I had the surgery I had put off for two ingrown toenails and I hobbled around on crutches for three weeks. I called the Toronto guy and told him I hadn’t left and that I had gone back to the bartender. He was stunned. I waited for the bartender to telephone from Amsterdam and then babbled about what our life would be like once he got back. I daydreamed through bridal magazines – and I fed his cat.
The moment I picked him up at the airport, I knew something was up. He barely spoke as we drove the hour back to his apartment, and I spent my time marveling at how much my hands could sweat when I was nervous. It was a hot and muggy evening but I hurried to the kitchen to make some tea while he unpacked his bags.
“That’s for you,” he said with obvious distaste as he threw a small object my way. I unwrapped a small Delft blue duck about the size of my thumb and stood staring at it.
“These are for me,” he leered as he emptied a paper bag full of porn magazines on to his bed and spread them out for me to see. We had seen an amazing array of nudity at the strip-bar, but I had never seen or even thought of anything like this. I couldn’t believe he had managed to get it through customs and I reeled in shock. The warning bells began ringing again and I headed for the kitchen in an effort to ignore them.
When we had finally settled at the dining room table with our cups of tea, I asked him if he had something to tell me. Picking up his cat, he buried his face in her fur and rubbed her ears. Knowing that his next words weren’t going to be good ones, I carefully set down my teacup so I wouldn’t break it.
“I had a great time in Amsterdam. I met this woman and I ended up staying with her for most of my time there.” His brown eyes surveyed me calmly as he snuggled with his cat and waited for my next question.
“What do you mean – you stayed with her?” I let my trembling fingers reach for the teacup once more before I thought better of it and sat on them.
“I met her one night in a bar and I ended up taking her home. After that I just moved in with her.”
I could feel my heart shattering as it hit the bottom of my stomach and I doubled over with the physical pain of it.
“I thought you asked me to marry you – or did I just dream all of that?”
“All I could think of while I was over there was all the guys you had dated when we broke up – especially that guy from Toronto. So this was my way of paying you back. It was only fair.”
“But we weren’t even together then. We had broken-up and ended the relationship. What I did during that time was my business. I didn’t question you about what you did. Do you really think you are justified?”
“Absolutely. Now tell me something. Did you call Mr. Toronto while I was gone?”
I could feel the blush taking over my pale face as I tried to explain. “Yes I did call him – but it was to tell him I had moved in here and that we were going to get married.”
“See! See! I just knew you had called him. I just knew it! I could tell when I was over there and that helped me with Marina.”
“Marina?” I said quietly. I hadn’t wanted to know her name.
“Ya – she had long blonde hair and long legs and she liked everything I did.”
His sneer finally shook me out of my disbelief and I rose as gracefully as I could and took my cup to the sink and poured out the cold tea. I left him sitting at the table and went to look out the front windows at the cars going by and tried to pull myself together. I wiped furiously at the tears that streamed down my face and thought of my car sitting in the parking lot and of my life sitting in Alberta. Taking off my clothes I climbed into the bed and pulled the sheets up to my chin and closed my eyes. Maybe tomorrow I could figure it out.