Chapter Thirty Four
Ged spent the remainder of his week in London arranging songs with Gerry Frobisher, and eating with him and his wife each evening. On the Friday, Robin came to visit.
"You've phoned Cassie," she said as soon as she sat down.
Ged looked at her in surprise. "No," he said. "I realised after you went that I've not got her number. She's got mine but hasn't tried to contact me. I've been quite busy you know with these pieces for Gerry."
"But you can find her number?" came the rejoinder.
"Well–" he began.
"Do it now, Ged," she ordered him briskly. "Don't delay any more. Get it over with."
Strangely Ged felt no resentment at her attitude. He knew he had been putting it off.
"OK, OK!" he said trying to sound petulant and failing. She smiled knowingly. It seemed impossible to be angry with the girl.
He left the living room and took out his phone. Then he remembered he had kept it switched off. He switched it on and keyed in Cheryl's number as he stood in the hallway. Brian answered.
"Hey, Ged!" Brian chirped. "Long time no hear! Hey, man, so sorry about you and Cassie."
"Yeah, it's a bummer," replied Ged. "Is she there? I could do with a word or two with her."
There was a moment of silence.
"She's not living here any more," Brian said hesitantly. "Didn't you know? She's got herself a flat. Cheryl's over there getting her settled in."
"You've not spoken to her, have you?" said Brian. "Oh dear."
"I've not got her new mobile number. I was rather hoping she would phone me. I'm sure she knows my number." He wondered whether she had tried while his phone was off.
"But I thought you two were finally finished, you know, broken up. That's what I gathered from what I've heard the women saying. Didn't you know? She didn't tell you?"
"The last time we 'talked' it was a shouting match and I think we both said things in the heat of the moment. I wanted to talk with her and sort things out. If it means she's finished with me, it was no way to part."
"Oh." Another silence.
"So," Ged prompted, "Have you got her number?"
"Er, yes. Hold on."
There was a muffled sound of searching, then Ged heard the phone picked up.
Brian told him the number.
"Thanks Brian," Ged said.
"Good luck," his friend replied, ringing off.
Ged keyed in the number. It went to voice mail.
"Cassie, it's Ged. Can we talk in a better mood than last time? I couldn't phone you earlier, I hadn't got your number. Please phone me back on my mobile – I'm not at home at the moment."
He went back to the family. "Voice mail," he said. "I've asked her to phone me back. If she doesn't, I'll text her. Some people never check their voicemail."
The rest of the evening passed and she did not reply, nor on Saturday. He sent a text.
Please Cassie, can we talk? We seem to miss each other and misunderstand each other. Please ring me. Ged.
There was no reply, nor did she phone.
On Monday he was packing in his hotel suite when his phone rang. The ID showed him it was Gus.
"Could you stay another week and meet Viv and the group tomorrow to practise and join them on Wednesday for a recording session? You remember you promised it them before you went to the States?"
Ged sighed; he had begun to want home comforts after his prolonged stay at the Ritz, but he rebooked the suite and settled back in. He phoned his mother at length, worried that he'd not been to see her for weeks.
The next day he met the group at the studio and they spent the day practising. The recording session took all day Wednesday and Thursday until late in the evening. No one had mentioned Cassie at any time, for which he was grateful. Each evening he checked his email, his texts and his voice mail, but she had not replied.
Ged invited them all to dinner on the last day and Robin came as well, since, like the group, he would be leaving for home the next day. He saw Viv's surprise when they were introduced but she said nothing until the group were leaving the hotel for their own.
"I'm truly sorry about you and Cassie," Viv said, and squeezed his arm. "Robin is a lovely girl."
That was all. It set him thinking. First Brian and then Viv had spoken as if it were all over between Cassie and himself, and he felt a pang of loss. He was also puzzled and felt as if the relationship was unfinished. There was no closure, and he wondered where he stood with her.
He wanted them to remain friends, and yet the opposite seemed to have happened. They were at odds; antagonistic towards each other. So it was in that unsettled frame of mind that he took the train home.
He was glad to get back to the house. It welcomed him into its quiet embrace. He noted that Karin had been in and that the fridge and freezer were well stocked. He blessed the woman; even after they had parted as lovers, she still looked after him.
On the train, he had read a recommended novel, had completed every puzzle in his daily paper, looked out of the window, and regarded his fellow passengers who seemed uninteresting.
He availed himself of every complimentary offer by the hostess in first class. She had seated herself opposite him when not busy and engaged him in conversation. There was none of the usual flannel from a fan, she was a more of a critic, and they discussed music and composing.
She was a writer in her spare time, and did her hostess job to observe people and to keep the wolf from the door. He was grateful for her intelligent conversation, like everything else it kept his mind from his besetting worry, Cassie.
Now he was home, with a cup of tea and a welsh rarebit for his evening meal, the unfinished business began to plague him.
"It's no use," he said to the empty room, "I really have to think this thing through. This soap opera has gone on long enough."
He smiled to himself and wondered whimsically if the house heard him and understood, but it sure as hell was saying nothing. Moreover he realised that was the problem between Cassie and him: they weren't talking. Yes, they'd had those heated exchanges, when what they really needed were a series of talks without losing tempers, without shouting, but going over the problems and trying to find solutions.
He remembered with pleasure that Karin had put a Baby Grand Piano in the music room. He had been so immersed in his songs and had used the keyboard because of its effects and portability. In fact the last time the piano was played was at the house-warming party.
He went to the room, took out a book of Beethoven Sonatas and put himself through four of them. It was his way of purging his complicated thoughts. Then he went back to the living room, programmed his music centre to play Mozart symphonies, opened a bottle of Shiraz and settled to sort out his thoughts and feelings.
It crossed his mind briefly that when he wanted to think he went to Mozart and Beethoven, a far cry from what he wrote. As the music began to play, he set himself to think things through carefully and positively. There had been too much negativity he realised; he would not dwell on those times.
He left it at that, only noting the series of misunderstandings and the negative feelings they engendered. He wondered if he had misunderstood what he saw at Cassie's house.
He reprised his encounter with Cassie at Catherine's. He homed in on his own feelings of tenderness and care for Cassie, what she had suffered and the revelation that had been for him. She had always seemed so self-contained, self-assured, but she carried that burden and along with it her distrust of making relationships.
What an act of faith her commitment to Ged had been in the light of that history! He knew if she had told him of her trauma he would never have gone on that tour, and he had told her so. They would probably be married now; he felt emptiness.
The comments of his friends as he had left for the haven of Catherine's arms returned to plague him. What a fool he had been!
'She's honest and faithful.'
'If Zak had not been there, would she have gone with anyone else?'
'She's a victim like you.'
'You're totally self-obsessed.'
'Zak did all the harm, why are you loading onto her?'
'You're so wrapped up in yourself you're going to make the mistake of your life.'
'She'll find someone and have his babies.'
'A second best life.'
It decided him. His own life would be a second best one if he did not act. He must see her and put things right. This time they would talk and there would be no angry recriminations, rather an earnest apology to her for being so heartless. Then they would see how to set about getting together again.
For the first time he felt optimistic about them, and there was a growing desire for her. He searched in a cupboard for her framed photo, took it out and placed it on the mantlepiece in the living room. He looked at her smiling face from a time before trouble befell them – she was so beautiful.
He felt happy and contented that all the trauma was going to be put behind them and they could look forward together once more. Her divorce would be final sometime in October and they could get married as they always should have done.
Forgetting that Cassie had not replied to any of his messages or phone-calls he phoned her number, and again it went to voice mail.
"Cassie, my darling," he pleaded. "Please ring me back and arrange a time to meet and talk. I've been a fool, and I want to put things right between us. I'm sorry we've been shouting at each other each time we've met, and I guarantee it won't happen again. We need to set things straight between us. Please ring me."
He looked at the mantle clock and saw it was past midnight. She would not ring back tonight. He got a glass of water and went off to bed, where he slept soundly.
On Saturday he could not settle to anything. He tried to write, but nothing came; he tried to compose but with the same result. He did some shopping, then went for a drive in the car. The day was warm and sunny and the trees were in their finery, fresh leaves giving a new look to the world. He hoped and longed for her reply, but none came.
He remembered she always checked her voice mail when they were together. So, in a lay-by on a country road he sent a text, saying the same things. Again he did not expect an instant reply, but by the end of another fruitless day when he mooched around, pottering in the garden, trying to read a novel, and making another hopeless attempt to set a song to music he began to realise she would not answer.
This time there was no anger, merely regret. It was happening again, as it did on the tour. She had cut him off. Now he felt the same loneliness he had before; the same emptiness.
When the house phone did ring, he snatched it out of its cradle and fumbled with the connection button.
"Hello?" he was eager and breathless, but it was not she.
"Ged?" came a familiar voice from the past. Allan Drinkwater from university days.
"Allan? How are you?" Ged asked. Allan had left to work in Germany. "You back for good?"
"Just extended leave," said Allan. "I'm doing a bit at our London office as well. But d'you fancy a night out? A few of us are meeting at the Crown for a few drinks."
Ged felt relieved; he could do with a night with some mates. So he agreed to meet them at nine that evening. He resolved to get a taxi, and perhaps stay in a hotel in the city centre overnight.
When he arrived at the pub, it was not difficult to find the group. There was Allan, looking bronzed and healthy, and Gus was there. Ged remembered they were all good mates back then. There was tubby little Freddy, his round face grinning from ear to ear as he quaffed his pint, and lanky Des, gazing at Ged from under his bushy eyebrows, holding his empty pot in his hand.
Ged took the hint, asked what everyone was having and went to the bar. They caught up on each others' lives and Ged's tour was of great interest.
The party broke up at closing time and Ged got a taxi home. The conversation and laughter had taken his mind off Cassie, but she crashed back into his mind as soon as he crossed the threshold. He sighed and went to bed, where, thanks to a substantial quantity of beer he fell asleep immediately.
Sunday morning dawned wet and windy, and the dark grey clouds scudding across the sky did nothing for Ged's mood, but he had set his mind on going to see Cheryl and eleven o'clock found him on their doorstep.
It was Brian that answered the door.
"Hey, Ged," he greeted him. "Come in."
They were sitting in the living room. In the next room they could hear the sound of a toddler playing with her toys, and Cheryl's voice as she played with her.
"What brings you here, Ged?" asked Brian. "It's been a long time."
"I need to talk to both of you together," Ged said. "Can Cheryl leave Sarah?"
Brian nodded and went to get Cheryl.
Cheryl came in, saw Ged, stopped and anger suffused her face. "What are you doing here?" she spat. "You're too late, she's gone. She's finished with you and your stupid temper, so I can't see why you're here."
"Cheryl," said Brian quietly. "Shut up!"
She baulked at that, with a look of surprise. He did not talk to her like that.
"Just remember," Brian continued, "that you're as responsible for this mess as much as anyone. If you hadn't shut Ged–"
"OK, OK," sighed Cheryl. "What do you want Ged?"
Ged sat forward, "What do I want?" he said despondently. "I want none of this to have happened..."
"Well," interrupted Cheryl, "If you–"
"Cheryl!" Brian spoke sharply. "Shut the fuck up and calm down. If you'd listened to Ged in the first place this would never have happened. So button it darling."
For the second time Cheryl was shocked by Brian's words. She was wrong footed, and slumped.
"OK," she said. "Sorry."
"I came to apologise to you Cheryl," Ged said. "I should never have taken my anger out on you. I was bang out of order, so I want to repair bridges between us. Then I need to talk with you about Cassie. Is that all right?"
Cheryl relaxed. She was a hot headed woman, but she forgave easily. She was also fiercely loyal to her friends, which accounted for her attitude to Ged.
"You're forgiven," said Cheryl gently, "but as to Cassie, you're too late. She's given up on you and moved on. She wants nothing more to do with you. She was clear about that."
Ged sat very still. Once again he felt that deep emptiness, that bereavement. It must be her new boyfriend back home. It was too late to salvage their relationship. Even so, he wanted some proper closure. He wanted them to be on good terms at least.
"Oh," he said at last. "Is it her boyfriend back home?"
"Boyfriend?" Cheryl said, perplexed. Then she realised. "Oh, no, Ged. You mean the man she was with when you went down after her?"
"That was Liam," she told him, "Dollar's new husband. She was going to visit them for the evening in their new house."
"Then why didn't she say so?" he asked, now puzzled in his turn.
"From what I heard, you didn't give her much of a chance."
"I arrived to see her," explained Ged. "She stood half way down the stairs and yelled at me to go back to my blonde bimbo and never to come near her again. Then she went back upstairs. I didn't get a chance to say anything. I'd gone all that way to see her and I was under the impression she'd been out with a man the night before and I was angry at her hypocrisy, so I gave as good as I got."
"And by the way," added Ged with a smile, "Karin may be blonde, but she's no airhead. She's the one who's decorated my house and fitted it out. Come and see it; you'll see what sort of bimbo she is."
"But you slept with her."
"Not since I got back from the States. While I was away she looked after the house for me. When I got back from America, Karin came round and I told her what had happened at Catherine Style's. She immediately saw that our relationship was over. She'd been pushing me towards Cassie before I went.
"But you slept with her before," Cheryl stated.
"Yes. Have you forgotten? Cassie was and is married. I'd assumed she was not available – that she'd gone back to her first love, Zak. I was free; she'd cut me off."
"I still don't understand why you didn't come and see her when you got back from the States."
"I think I told you," Ged said patiently. "Jet lag, then my agent and lawyer, then London to sort out Gerard Frobisher. I came to you the first free day I had since I returned from the States."
"But you were on a date with Karin the Friday you came back – Cassie saw you at the restaurant."
Ged looked surprised then worried. "Karin had been looking after the house for me, Cheryl. Before I went to the States, she was urging me not to go but to find Cassie. That Friday she saw the change in me and that was the end of our relationship, at least in that way. The meal was a farewell and thank-you dinner. Why the hell didn't she come over and talk?"
Cheryl shrugged. "Don't know. Too many rebuffs I think. But you've just been gone a fortnight," Cheryl said.
"I left because I had been told by my love that she never wanted to see me again, and I was under the impression she had someone else. I needed to get away. I worked with Gerard Frobisher for a week, then my agent asked me to do a session recording with Vivienne's group. I had no reason to come back, so I stayed. It is my job Cheryl; it may not be very orthodox, but it's a job. With Robin's help–"
"She's the woman you were with?"
"She's Gerard's sister. She nagged at me and talked with me about Cassie and what had happened."
"But the papers and the magazines?"
Ged gave her a long hard look, and she realised. "Oh, shit!" she said.
"I came back," said Ged, "wanting to talk to her and see if there was a chance for us after her divorce."
"But you never called her."
"I did not have her mobile number," he replied doggedly. "She changed her phone or the number when I was on the tour to stop me calling her. Brian gave me her new one, and since then, I've phoned and texted. She's blanked me."
"Well, she said she had decided to move on."
"And not to answer my calls."
"That's part of cutting herself off from you."
"For God's sake, Cheryl," he cried, "that's what she did while I was on tour!"
"Oh fucking hell!"
For the first time, Brian intervened. "Cheryl, darling," he said gently, "You're her best friend. Don't let her pass up this chance with Ged. The very least she could do would be to meet him and talk."
"Not here!" exclaimed Ged. "The last time was disastrous. I would like to take her out to a good restaurant, and talk over a meal. Meeting in public will assure her there won't be another shouting match. I do love the woman, you know. Just get her to reply to me. Even if it doesn't work out, at least we would part on good terms."
"I'm not sure I can get her to do it," said an uncertain Cheryl, "but now I know all the misunderstandings, I suppose there's a chance."
"That's all I ask," Ged replied. "That you try."
Chapter Thirty Five
"Ged came to see us last night."
"Oh? What did he want?"
Cheryl had arrived at Cassie's flat, and the two women had sat down on the sofa with coffee, and had exchanged some news when Cheryl had said the words she had come to say. Cassie's response was cold, even aggressive.
"He wanted to apologise for the way he'd spoken to me, and to tell us some things about his life and to ask me a favour. He clarified a lot of things."
"So?" Cassie's aggression continued.
"What's up with you, Cassie?" retorted Cheryl with some heat in her turn. "Why so nowty?"
"I don't particularly want to hear of him worming his way back into your friendship, that's all."
"Well, if you're going to be so bitchy, I'm going home."
"OK, OK!" sighed Cassie with exaggerated patience. "How did it go?"
"Very well." Cheryl stopped and drank some coffee.
"That it?" asked a now inquisitive Cassie.
"Depends on whether you want to hear some home truths."
"I don't know what you mean. He's burnt his boats as far as I'm concerned. D'you know he's been phoning and texting me? He yells and screams at me, then when I ditch him he wants to 'talk'. What a wimp!"
"What did he say?"
"No idea, I erased them all. I'm not interested."
"Like you did while he was on tour," Cheryl said flatly.
Cassie looked up in surprise. "No. It's not the same thing at all. I was taken in then. Not any more."
"No one's taking you in this time, sweetheart," muttered Cheryl, grim faced. "You're doing it all by yourself this time without any help, and you're just as wrong as before, and you're repeating your last disastrous mistake."
"No I'm not!" she bridled hotly. "I know all about him this time."
"Last time, I backed you up, and shut him down. What a disaster that was! You realise that if I hadn't backed you up, you'd probably be married to him by now instead of to that bastard Zak. So this time, I listened to him. You're so wrong Cassie, you don't know. You can shut me down and him as well, and you'll be making another bad mistake."
"I don't believe you!" Cassie said, her voice rising.
"How come everyone who disagrees with you at the moment is lying?" Cheryl said, her anger showing. "Why can't you listen for a change and give your self and your future life a chance?"
"OK, convince me." Cassie folded her arms and glowered.
"I've no interest in convincing you, you stupid cow," Cheryl was on a roll, "but the facts can speak for themselves. Tell me, Miss 'always right and badly done to', when he came to your house that Sunday morning, who spoke or rather shouted first. Eh?"
Cassie stopped short. She called the scene to mind. Then realised.
"I did," she said. "He'd come running, after ignoring me for a whole week, sleeping with his designer woman. Then when he found I'd gone he realised what he'd missed."
"And you told him?"
"I told him I was finished with him, and to go back to his girlfriend. And don't deny it, he then went off to London and shacked up with that singer's sister."
"Oh Cassie," Cheryl replied dolefully, now much quieter. "You're so wrong on everything. You told him you were finished with him, he shouted something back. Remember?"
"He'd seen me with Liam. He told me he didn't want to see me again. Called me a hypocrite! The cheek of it coming from him!"
"You enlightened him about Liam?"
"Didn't get a chance."
A pause. "I told him to get out."
"You allowed him to leave thinking you'd found someone else."
"Didn't get the chance."
"You followed him to tell him and he didn't listen?"
"No. I went back upstairs."
"So whose fault is it he went to London thinking you had finally rejected him?"
"But it's been like this all the time. I thought things had changed at Catherine's, but they're just as bad, if not worse."
"You were both badly hurt. What do you expect?" Cheryl was gentle. "Now, will you let me tell you what he told me?"
Cassie nodded, with a resigned air, but Cheryl could see there was still residual anger there.
"First. When he got back from the States, he didn't think he had to come running to you immediately. He got over part of his jet-lag, then he was genuinely busy – his job Cassie.
"Karin." Cheryl went on, "I think you called her a bimbo, looked after the house while he was away in London, working, all week.. That Friday you saw them was the first time they'd met in person since he got back from the States. She was in the house during the week, but he was in London the whole time.
"He told Karin about your story, and what happened at Catherine's, and she saw it meant the end for her with Ged. So they went for a 'goodbye and thank you' dinner at the restaurant. That's what you saw.
"Then he came to see you the very next day, his first free day, but you'd gone off home in a huff. Did you know that before he went off to the States, Karin was trying to get Ged to see that he ought not to go, but try to get back to you?"
Cassie looked surprised but unconvinced. Cheryl sighed in exasperation.
"Cassie! He's been with no one since he came back. He's talked with Frobisher's sister, and from what he said, she nagged him to contact you, but you had changed your phone number when he was on tour, hadn't you? So he had to get it off Brian. Honestly Cassie, there's been no one since you met in the States."
"But we've shouted and insulted each other every time since."
"Once! Because both of you misunderstood each other!" Cheryl said sharply, becoming exasperated.
"I can't see us getting together though," Cassie asserted. "Too much hurt. I think we've drifted; we're not as close. So that was it? He came to apologise? So why are you here?"
"He knew you wouldn't reply to his calls, so he asked me to come and see you. He wants to talk with you."
"No chance! There's nothing to say."
"What he said was that whether you both tried again or decided to part for good he didn't want to end things on a bad note. He wants you both to finish as friends – if that's what you both want after meeting."
"We'd only end up in another shouting match, so there's no point."
"He wants you to meet him in a restaurant to prevent that. He's inviting you to talk. I've given you the message. He'll wait for you to call him to arrange things."
Cassie said nothing. She was wondering whether to trust what she'd heard. She needed to think about it.
"Well," said Cheryl with a sigh. "The ball's in your court now. I can't do any more. But if you want my advice as your friend, I'm sure you should go. Try to be positive about it."
Cassie shrugged but said nothing, and soon afterwards Cheryl left, hugging and kissing her friend.
Once she had gone, Cassie sagged. It wasn't going to work. Whether she saw Ged or not, it wasn't going to work out. Their lives and relationship had been blighted, or even destroyed by Zak; they were different people now and what happened each time they met confirmed the fact that things could never work out between them.
She smiled. Typical of Ged to want to part on good terms. He was a good man, but she was certain she could never live with him again; the dreadful thing she had done to him would gnaw away at her, she would also always wonder what he felt about her in reality after that. Sooner or later it would destroy them.
She recalled what happened when he returned from the tour. She compared his attitude with how he had been before he went. Then he had been obsessed with her, totally smitten, utterly committed. Since he returned he had been rather off-hand. He had set his lawyers on her rather than talking to her.
She didn't think his assertion that she was a married woman held any water. Her marriage had killed something in him, and she knew she'd always feel guilty about that. He was withering and scornful during their meetings, and angry, always angry. The only time the old Ged came through was when she had confessed her abortion to him. Then he knew why she had acted the way she did, but instead of coming to her when he returned, he went to his agent, his lawyer, London.
No, things were beyond hope. In any case, she had made her decision to put an end to things with him and to start afresh on her life. Now she had felt clean and at peace about that decision. It was better for her and he could go back to Karin or that singer's sister.
She felt a sadness. She thought it was sadness over what might have been if she had told him of her abortion when they met, not that it had ever crossed her mind. Perhaps he would not have gone on the tour, he did say as much. Perhaps as Cheryl had said, if she had not broken her promise not to break up without talking first, they would be married. There would not have been this cloud, this shadow over them. Well, that was life, she philosophised, sometimes mistakes cannot be rectified.
She made up her mind. She would see him, and they would part as friends, and go their separate ways. She would ring him in the morning. But she put it off for two more days.
"Ged, it's Cassie."
"Cheryl came to see me. She talked a lot of sense."
"I believe you are inviting me to talk about things."
"Er, yes. What about tomorrow, Friday?"
"How about seven thirty at 'The Apple Orchard'?"
"No," she said, though the up-market restaurant was enticing, "Not for a meal. Meet me in the Crown. Seven-thirty."
"Not the Crown," he replied, "It's the folk night; the group will be there."
"How about the Plough?"
"OK. Shall I pick you up?" he asked.
"No I'll meet you there. It's walking distance from my flat. OK?"
She disconnected. She felt a sense of relief. Again he was cool towards her and abrupt. That was good. It showed she was right to break with him for good.
Ged on the other hand was disappointed. Her sudden phone call had wrong-footed him; he did not know what to say. There was no warmth in her voice. It sounded dead. He felt a sense of foreboding.
He was right to feel that. The Plough was also Zak's local pub.
Chapter Thirty Six
Ged was already at the pub when Cassie arrived. He stood to kiss her but she brushed past him and sat down opposite where he had been sitting. He noted the rebuttal and stifled a pang of annoyance.
"What are you drinking?" he asked. They were the first words spoken.
"Half of shandy, please," she said primly. He went to the bar and bought the drink.
He sat down.
"You wanted to talk." she said flatly. There was no warmth, only resignation, as if this was a chore to be got through.
He baulked at her tone, but took the invitation with a sinking feeling.
"I've had time to think and I'm over all my anger now. I want to try again with you. You know we're meant for each other, and we'd not be in this position if it wasn't for Zak."
"Ged, every time we've met, you've been angry – in a rage. At me, not Zak."
"I know. I don't want to keep going over all that. I think you understand the feelings I had while on tour when you cut me off, and when I found you'd been using our flat with Zak, and then marrying him in such haste. How hurt I was, and how deep that hurt was. You notice I'm not getting angry or resentful any more. Since you came to the States I understand why you behaved as you did."
He took her hand which was on the table, and held it.
"Please, Cassie," he said with pleading in his eyes, "We can get over this."
She took his hand in hers, and he felt a surge of hope, only to have it dashed.
"Ged," she said gently, "When I learned what Zak had done, I tried and tried to get you back, and you rejected me again and again. I had been grossly deceived and I'd lost you, but you ranted at me. And since I humbled myself and confessed the abortion, you've been distant.
"If you'd really loved me you would have come running as soon as you got back, even with jet-lag, but no. You waited a week. We're not the same any more Ged. I've realised that it's over between us. We can't repair this; something's been lost and I don't think we can ever get it back."
"Please Cassie," Ged begged, "Don't do this! We can make it work."
"No, Ged," she replied with great gentleness, "I've thought long and hard about this – I've had enough time – I'm sure we'll pull each other to pieces if we get back together. Best leave it here and part as friends."
"You don't love me any more," he stated abjectly. "I've never stopped loving you, even when I was angry with you. How can you do this?"
"I do love you," she stated emphatically. "Just not the same as before. Something's died between us. Best we part."
Their hands were entwined and their heads close together.
"Cassie, my darling," Ged urged. "Why don't we give it some time? Separate for a while and see if your feelings change? Please?"
She shook her head. "It won't work, Ged. You'd be looking over your shoulder and you'd never move on properly. We need to be free to move on. So let's just admit defeat and part as friends."
All the feelings Ged had while on tour returned in intensity, that hopeless, yawning hole in his heart. His shoulders slumped, and then he made a decision.
"If that's how you want it, and you won't change your mind, I have to agree, don't I?" his voice a drone. "You might move on, but not me. When I knew you were married to Zak, I had other relationships. You'd gone. None of them were enough: it was you I needed and wanted, I just wouldn't admit it to myself.
"Well, not any more. No more relationships. Until you come back to me I will remain single and I won't touch another woman or enter into another relationship. Remember that when you find yourself another man – I will still be waiting for you. You might think it's over, but not me. Cassie, you can come back any time. I'll be waiting."
"Don't Ged," she began to weep. "Please don't do that. You're tearing me apart. How can I move on when you're there in the background all the time. You're not being fair. Please say you'll start again."
"If it's not with you, Cassie," he asserted with a set jaw, "it'll not be with anyone. You're so wrong about this. You're the one wanting to move on to someone else. So do it. I won't. It's your problem. For me this is a temporary separation."
Silence fell between them. They held each other's hands and gazed into each other's eyes and both had tears in them. At length, Cassie's shoulders sagged and she sat back.
"Time to go," she said.
He nodded and they stood and left the pub.
"Goodbye," she said, facing him.
He said nothing, but stepped to her and took her in his arms, and hers went round him. They hugged and then as if by common consent, they kissed gently on the lips. Then she tore herself from him and walked away.
Ged stood for a moment looking after her retreating figure which he loved so much. Then went back to his car.
While they were deep in conversation, Zak came into the pub as was his habit, saw the two of them sitting close together, in loving conversation as he understood it, and turned and left, his anger rising.
He waited across the road until they emerged from the pub. He watched them as they hugged and kissed each other and then went their separate ways. Zak had seen enough and went back into the pub, where he got himself stinking drunk.
Cassie went home oblivious to the fact that she'd taken Ged to Zak's local. Indeed it did not occur to her. She chose it because she had been there with Zak in the past. It had seemed pleasant and quiet and it was fairly close to her new flat, so she did not have to drive. It was a serious error on her part.
She had thought she would feel a sense of relief now that they had talked and she had finally finished with him, but that had not happened. He had been quiet, sensitive and, though she hated to admit it, very much the man she had fallen in love with. He seemed to have let go his anger and resentment at her. He had said he wanted her back, to try again.
In spite of feeling powerfully drawn once more to him, she believed in her heart that she was doing the right thing. However, Ged's assertion that he would be celibate and wait for her to return to him had unsettled her. Now she felt guilty, and it was with a feeling of depression and the niggling feeling that she'd made a mistake again with regard to Ged, that she went to her lonely bed.
Ged went home despondent. All his hopes had gone, and the woman he had at last realised was still his perfect partner, had dumped him and moved on. The gaping emptiness he had felt on tour had returned to stay. As he reprised the meeting, his resolve to refuse all contact with any other woman hardened. Cassie was rightfully his soul mate and no one else would do.
He sighed, had a glass of water, and went to bed, where mercifully sleep took him quickly.
Chapter Thirty Seven
The next day after Ged and Cassie parted and Zak had seen them in the pub, Zak, complete with a massive hangover, went to the band practice. Now that Ged had left the band, he had rejoined.
"Fucking Smith!" mouthed Zak as he entered. He had been muttering the same imprecation all the way from home. Peter heard him.
"What about 'Fucking Smith'?" he asked.
"Sitting with my wife in the Plough last night, very cosy. Rubbing my nose in it she is. She knows it's my pub."
Amos still felt the sting of Zak's lies and how he had been misled by Zak. Now his spirits lifted, and he saw his revenge approaching.
"Not heard then, Zak?" he lied cheerfully. "They're getting back together. They're getting married as soon as she's got shut of you. Wouldn't be surprised if they're not shagging each other rotten already. And then of course, he'll take you to the fucking cleaners over that flat thing. Man, are you in the shit!"
"She shaggin' him?" Zak was angry. "If she's shaggin' him, I'll get her for adultery. She'll not get a cent from me!"
"You don't know nothing, do you Zak?" said Joshua. "Makes no difference if she shags half the town, the courts don't care what people do. They accept one of you wants to break up and that's it."
"I'll get him for alternating affliction," snapped Zak, "or summat like that."
"You've been reading too much American stuff," Peter laughed. "You mean 'alienation of affection'; there ain't no such animal in this country. They look at what you earn, what she earns and divide everything up. You've got no kids, and you earn peanuts, and she's working, so they'll just agree to split up what you've got fifty-fifty. You're stuffed Zak, and I'll bet Ged's laughing his bloody balls off."
"Yeah," echoed Amos, with relish. "When he's finished suing you, you fucking moron, you won't even have your house!"
"The bastard won't live that long," snarled Zak. "I'll cut his balls off."
"You and whose army?" laughed Peter. "You do that, you get life. When you get out in twenty years you'll be an old man. Let it go, Zak, you'll end up in the shit if you don't."
Zak said nothing, but his face showed he wasn't listening to any advice from his band members. He would get even, and then some.
The new keyboard player, Lee Preston, smirked. Ged Smith eh? Stuck up bastard! He stole my girl. The grudge he had in school resurfaced as if it had never been gone.
After the practice he caught up with Zak. "Hey Zak..."
Chapter Thirty Eight
The first impulse Ged felt was to leave his house for somewhere else – anywhere else. Then he realised it was what he always did when there was a setback in his life concerning Cassie, so with characteristic obstinacy he decided against it. He would stay. He rather took it to extremes. Indeed he stayed mainly in the house or the grounds, seeing no one but Gwen his housekeeper, and answering no phone messages, of which there were mercifully few.
He didn't even go to see his mother, though he spoke on the phone to her weekly. She, not being one to complain, was satisfied with that. She phoned Cheryl and got the whole story – the one Ged never told her. She wondered what to do, so she did and said nothing, waiting for the right moment. She was a wise woman.
For a whole month, Ged buried himself in his music, spending all day in his studio and emerging only for meals, writing songs and some instrumental music, and writing poetry which he put to music. He even began to sketch out the bones of a musical.
He realised he was becoming more and more unfit, and so broke his hermitic resolution to go for solitary walks, striding briskly out and walking for an hour each day when the weather was fine. When it was wet, he punished himself in his gym. Every day he swam at least twenty lengths of his pool.
The only direct human contact he had was when he did a weekly shop. There were the regular visits by Gwen Davies, his part-time housekeeper and cleaner, and by John Stubbs whom he helped in the gardens by way of further exercise. Gwen sensed his mood and restricted her conversation to practical matters, while John was by nature taciturn and Ged appreciated that, happy to take orders from the man who really knew gardening, and learning from him.
The only phone calls to which he replied were from Gus and Graham, and were purely business related, Gus dealing with requests for songs, and finding singers who would want the songs Ged sent him, or copyright issues. Graham kept him in touch with the action against Zak.
The exception to his self-imposed rule was the collection of poems that Cassie had written and Catherine had put together, which he wove into a song cycle, on completion of which he asked Gus to find out if Cassie would give permission for publication, and if so, to arrange copyright and royalties to be paid to her for any sales or performance. He received her acceptance, but asked nothing about her when Gus gave him the news.
All other attempts to contact him were ignored. He kept his answer-phone connected, but deleted all calls without listening to them, but for the two. He did not answer the door except to the postman or other deliveries of which there were few.
Emotionally his feelings varied from numbness to distress and loss, but along with that there was a nameless ache. It informed what he wrote. Some songs were aggressively dismissive, others plaintive, still others embracing a new start without one's love. Looking back, he recognised it as one of the most productive times of his life. More lately there had even been humour and irony.
Towards the end of his exile, he noted increasingly frequent attempts by Viv to contact him, but he ignored them until Gus cornered him.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, Ged?" he grumbled. "Viv needs to talk with you. Hasn't your sulk gone on long enough? Phone her!"
He did and she invited him to the Cambridge Folk Festival at which the group were singing.
"Ged, you've been a hermit for long enough; we miss you. Come and sing with your friends. Bring your guitar and your keyboard."
Her voice seemed to awaken him, and he felt an attraction to the idea of performing again, so he agreed. The group, called Vivienne's Friends, came to him in his house and they practised there, putting together a set for the festival. It took four weeks to get it right.
The group must have been warned by Gus about Ged's frame of mind, if not by his latest songs, and kept well clear of the topic of Cassie. He waited for the questions but they never came, and in relief he did not vouchsafe any information. Indeed he had none.
The festival appearance was a success, with the group doing a number of the pieces they had recorded for the album, which was due for release a few weeks away. Ged sang some of his own songs which he had written while in self-imposed exile.
The performances lifted his spirits for a short while, but his previous depression soon returned. He noticed Viv glancing at him with a look of concern from time to time, though she said nothing, but after the festival she invited him to join them at a gig in London.
"Please, Ged!" she begged.
"I don't know," he said, his whole demeanour showing his depression and apathy.
"Ged," she said patiently, "We're your friends. We're your friends from way back. Don't become a bitter recluse. Join the human race again, won't you?" She smiled lovingly at him, and he melted a little.
"OK, OK," he sighed. "For you Viv. Only for you." But his smile gave him away.
She hugged him and he hugged her back. They looked at each other and smiled again, and Viv's face showed relief. He appreciated her concern and her love for him, but as before, nothing was said on either side.
The gig went well, and 'somehow' it got about in advance that Ged Smith from Furtive Glance was going to be performing with Viv's group. The set they would perform had been extended and this went down well with the crowd.
Now because of his standing and because he joined the group late, Ged had a dressing room to himself near the stage door, and as a result, after the gig, he could hear an argument between a woman and the bouncer at the door.
What made him leave his dressing room he did not know, but as he came to the stage door, he could hear a voice he thought he recognised, but the bouncer's large frame obscured her.
"But I know him!" the girl was pleading.
"Yeah, yeah!" he was mocking. "That's what they all say."
"But he was my sister's–"
Ged came round the bouncer, and there was Marie, Cassie's sister, and another girl.
"Marie!" he exclaimed, "What are you doing here?"
"Ged!" she cried. "This man won't let me see you!"
The bouncer looked a little uncomfortable.
"He's doing his job," said Ged, casting a smiling glance at the man. "Fans of the group or more usually the press will try anything to get in. Come in."
"So how did you get here?" asked Ged as they settled into easy chairs in his dressing room.
"I'm visiting Joanna here," she replied, smiling all over her face, and indicating her friend. "She's a big fan of the group and we came to the gig. We didn't know you'd be here until I saw you on the stage."
They talked about the gig and its success. Ged was amused at the look of awe on Joanna's face, and suggested that he take them to meet the group and then go for a meal with them all. It was selfish on his part; he wanted to look at Marie a little longer, it was almost like having Cassie there.
He took them along the corridor and knocked and entered the group's dressing room. He led them in. Immediately he realised what he had done. All eyes turned to the visitors and all jaws dropped. Ged hastened to forestall inappropriate comments.
"Can I introduce Cassie's sister Marie, and her friend Joanna."
There was a collective sigh of disappointment.
"Lord," said Viv, moving to shake hands with the girl, "You're so like her, I thought it was Cassie!"
The rest of the group followed suit. Joanna was clearly overcome. The group put the girls at ease and chatted.
Viv was wearing a pair of sunglasses high on her head. She had been wearing them during the performance, since the lights troubled her eyes. Marie admired them and Viv immediately gave them to her, insisting she take them against the girl's protests.
As they left the room, Viv suggested to Marie she should wear them on the way out, since there might be photographers outside. So it turned out; there were flashes of cameras as they moved to the limo to take them to the restaurant.
After the meal Ged invited the girls to his hotel suite, and they sank into the deep sofa while Ged took one of the chairs. He put out nibbles and offered them drinks. They opted for shandy, and Ged stifled a smile, knowing they usually drank something stronger, even though underage.
"Some news," said Marie after they sipped their drinks. "Cassie has started to divorce Zak."
Ged smiled, but said nothing.
"Aren't you pleased?" she asked.
"If she's getting shut of him, and she's happy, yes, I'm pleased."
"But doesn't that...?" she hesitated to say it.
"No, Marie, it doesn't mean we're getting back together. Cassie has made it clear we are finished and she wants a new start without me."
"But that's plain stupid!" said Marie, becoming upset. "All that stuff was a mistake. She's crazy about you. Don't you want her any more?"
"It's not my call," said Ged gently. "She doesn't want me any more. She broke us up. She wants a life without me. I wanted to try again. She didn't."
"So it's over? The stupid cow!" Then an evil smile spread over Marie's face.
"Tell you what," she said. "Joanna's parents are away. We could stay the night with you. We could all have some fun. Eh Jo?"
Joanna smiled broadly and nodded, "Yeah, Ged, we could have a really good time."
"You could do whatever you liked, Ged, anything – you get our meaning?" Marie licked her lips.
Ged got their meaning all right, and was totally taken aback. "Marie, Jo, that's a lovely thought, but I made a promise to Cassie. I would not go with anyone else until she came back to me. She might be free, but I would wait for her." He forbore telling them they were too young for him for fear of insulting them.
The girls were silent. Then they sighed.
"Oh! That's so romantic!" whispered Joanna, her eyes shining with a hint of a tear.
"You mean...? You're not going to...? No women?" stammered Marie. "That's plain daft!"
"Yes," said Ged. "You could be right. If she marries again, I'll consider myself free to date again, but not until then."
Marie sighed again. "OK," she said, "but wait till I see her. She's so pig-headed!"
Ged changed the subject by getting out some signed CDs of his songs and giving them to the pair. They listened to the songs and talked about his feelings. Before they knew it, it was past midnight, and he suggested they should travel home. He called a taxi and gave them enough for the fare and more, and took them to the front door of the hotel.
"It's been really cool," enthused Marie as she hugged Ged a little too tightly and long for comfort and grinned at his growing reaction as she pressed her stomach to his. Ged tried to frown, but her grin was too infectious and he smiled back at her.
"Someone down there wants you to change your mind." she said wickedly, her eyes dancing. "We could still–"
"Thanks, Marie, I'm really honoured, but my little friend will soon go to sleep," and he laughed.
"Not so much of the little!" she quipped casting a lascivious glance at his trousers.
"Marie! I'm surprised at you!" he barked, but his smile gave him away. She giggled and kissed him again.
Joanna held out her hand, but Ged pulled her to him, hugged her and kissed her lips. She too felt his excitement. Her confused, dazed and happy smile was all he needed.
He could hear their excited chattering outside as they waited for the lift. Then they were gone and all was silent – apart from the din of London's traffic.
As he finally shut the door to his suite, he felt drained and confused. On one level there was a little voice telling him he had the chance of a threesome with two nubile young teenagers and he had blown it.
Counter to that there was the conviction that Marie would relay the evening in glowing detail to her older sister and he hoped Cassie would feel guilty as hell. The striking similarity between the two sisters unsettled him and brought back all the sense of loss.
He sighed and went to bed, and lay awake wondering where his life would go, feeling directionless. He felt much less depressed, and did not want to return to his solitary life back home. On the other hand he felt no need to find another woman for sex.
The thought of another woman brought an unbidden image of Marie and he hardened. He masturbated in the bed and came all over his chest. As he wiped himself down he thought that perhaps his right hand could become his substitute friend with benefits. He laughed to himself, then fell asleep.
Next morning at breakfast, the group were giving him looks, as if to say, "Well, did you?" But no one said anything, and Ged said nothing for the whole of breakfast.
As the meal ended, he said, "No I didn't; I made a promise that I would stay celibate at least until Cassie remarries, and I'm keeping it. I just don't feel like getting involved with any one else. OK?"
They all nodded, biting back comments. They looked at Ged and he looked at them; it lasted quite a while. Then they all burst out laughing.
"A question!" broke in Viccy. "There's a gig in Manchester in three weeks. Will you come along?"
"To watch or take part?" Ged asked playfully.
"You know which!" she retorted with a reproving look, though she was pleased he seemed happier that morning.
"OK," he said, and the group breathed a sigh of relief.
Ged stayed after the others left and visited the Frobishers for a couple of days, then he went home in his turn.
Chapter Thirty Nine
It had been on Friday 6th of August, the first anniversary of their wedding, that Cassie instituted divorce proceedings against Zak.
Graham had sent the relevant form and letter to the court, outlining Zak's deception as evidence of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and he had sent a letter directly to Zak with a leaflet explaining how divorces work in England, and urging him to get a lawyer or go along with the process; to contest it was always very expensive since if he lost he would be liable for costs, and in any case there was no way of stopping the divorce.
Cassie settled down to wait for his response, anticipating problems. She was brought up a Catholic and was married to Zak in a Catholic Church, and so she also began proceedings towards getting the marriage annulled by the Church because of Zak's deception.
"Hey, Big Sis, How's things?"
"Hi, Marie, I'm fine."
"You'll never guess who I spent an evening with last week."
"Ged. I was down in London visiting Joanna and you know she's nuts about 'Vivienne's Friends', well we went to see them and Ged was with them, playing his songs. He says you've dumped him. That true?"
"Well, It's over between us. It's the best way."
"You are the world's biggest idiot, you know that, Sis? Stupid!"
"It wasn't working Marie. We're both better off making a new start."
"You might be better off, but he's hanging on waiting for you."
"You don't know that."
"Oh, I do! I offered to stay the night with him, but he said he's waiting for you. He'll not move on until you marry again. You really are a silly bitch, Sis, obstinate!"
"You did what?"
"I offered myself to him, a pristine young virgin, for the night," Then she cackled, and Cassie wondered if Marie found the idea of being pristine, or perhaps a virgin amusing. She opted not to enquire.
"He refused," Marie continued more soberly. "Cassie he loves you, can't you see that?"
"It'll never work, Marie. Too much has happened."
"Well, get yourself another man, Sis, 'cos then I can get him!"
"You're not serious! He's too old for you."
"You'd better believe it, Cassie. He's not that much older. What's ten years nowadays? I'll wait for him. I know he's worth it even if you don't."
"Good night, Marie."
"OK, but you're so wrong. 'Bye."
"I'm so glad you patched things up with Ged."
"You and Ged, down In London last weekend. It's in the papers."
"Cheryl, I've not been in London, and Ged and I are not together."
"But, the photos – look."
The photos were in the music press.
"Look, it shows you and Ged, and the article says you are together again."
"They got it wrong Cheryl, again. That's not me, it's Marie."
"Marie? Oh shit! She looks so grown up!"
"Yeah, Marie! Who threw herself at Ged when she heard we were finally over."
"You're joking! She's only–"
"Seventeen, Cheryl. Old enough."
"Ged shagged her?"
"No. He said he was being true to me or some such rubbish."
"You know, Cassie, you really need to ask yourself some serious questions. You accused Ged of always being angry, but you're so angry all the time when we mention him, and I think you're trying to convince yourself you've done the right thing."
"I have done the right thing."
"No, you haven't."
"I know what I'm doing. Conversation closed."
"Graham has sent the petition for divorce. We haven't heard of a reply yet, but it's not due until next week, but I think it's going to drag out. I'm sure Zak will be awkward."
Cassie returned from Cheryl's place feeling annoyed. Why was everyone trying to get her back with Ged? Couldn't they see that a relationship with him was hopeless? She thought back over the five or six weeks since she split with Ged.
She remembered she had felt relieved that it was all over and their constant bickering and misunderstandings were behind her. She had felt at peace, but even now was far from truly happy. She just needed time to readjust to the single life, she told herself.
She reassured herself that she had adjusted when she thought Ged was cheating, and had married Zak. While that was a catastrophic mistake on her part, at the time she was happy with Zak, so she could be happy again in future, though certainly not with Zak, she thought with a smile.
She had gone to work and had buried herself in it, working long hours and returning home to her flat exhausted, to grab a supper and fall into bed. Weekends, she visited friends and especially Cheryl and Brian, who had obligingly kept off the subject of Ged, after seeing her expression when they at first mentioned him. In any case, Ged had disappeared off the face of the earth which was a relief to her.
She had been enjoying the single life, free from responsibility to anyone. She was too tired after work to feel lonely, and her subconscious kept her from questioning why she was working so hard and such long hours. She was having a great time with her fellow workers at the publishers when they went drinking after work.
The only hiccup in her new free life was the phone call from Gus asking her about the song cycle that Ged had composed. She had told him brusquely that he could do what the hell he liked with it. She was shocked when Gus went on to ask where she wanted the royalties to go. That did unsettle her, but she gave him her bank details.
Then the CD arrived in the post and that annoyed her. Ged was trying to play with her emotions to get her back and she resented it. She put the CD away without listening to it. The fact that it was Gus, not Ged that had sent it was lost on her.
Now, of all things, there had been, in close succession, Marie's phone call and Cheryl's excited response to the music press's misunderstanding. Perhaps it was because she had not dated anyone that they thought she still felt something for Ged. Angrily, she resolved to put that right by dating someone. She never considered how stupid the idea was.
Harry at work had flirted with her when the office heard she was getting divorced, and had hinted at a date, but she had deliberately and blandly misunderstood his intentions. He was a very good looking man, she had admitted to herself, and artistic as well, working in cover design. What was more, he worked out and had a good slim body. With all that he was gentle and sensitive, his flirting never crossing the line into anything too suggestive.
They had chatted about various aspects of the arts, and he had much the same tastes and interests as she had. She would date him, she thought, but keep the relationship low key; no sex for a good long time; she felt no need of that in the throes of the divorce, but some nights out with him would be quite exciting and different.
Once she made her mind up, she felt a frisson of excitement and her anger left her. She looked forward to the date, though as yet she had not asked him out.
The next time Harry passed her desk, he stopped as usual to ask her how she was.
"Harry," she said. "I've a couple of tickets for 'Die Fledermaus' at the Lowry on Wednesday, and I've no one to go with. Fancy a night out?"
Harry's face registered shock, then pleasure. "Er, yes, er, that would be nice."
"Good," she smiled. "I'll pick you up at six fifteen. OK?"
"Er, yes – you sure you don't mind driving?"
"I don't mind."
He looked at her as if he had never seen her before, then he smiled, and as he walked on to his office, she heard him laugh to himself and thought he had a spring in his step. It was a nervous rather than triumphant laugh.
She smiled, and her spirits lifted for the first time for months. Life was looking up. It felt as if she was embarking on a new beginning in her life and she was happy. Well, happier.
As they left the car in the multi-storey car park to walk through the outlet shopping mall to the theatre, Cassie took his arm, which pressed the side of her breast against it. He started with surprise but quickly recovered. He looked at her and smiled, and her heart seemed to miss a beat. This had the makings of a good evening; he was such a darling.
By the time they had ordered their drinks for the interval and had taken their seats Cassie had silently reprimanded herself, so she sat beside him demurely, keeping a distance. She felt quite giddy, not so much for being with a man, but with her trip to the theatre.
She had not been to a concert or an opera since she went with Ged, and it was that thought that sobered her up a little. The thought of him always seemed to dampen things. She took control of herself again, and reminded herself that she was going to take this friendship slowly, and see where it led.
On the way home, they discussed the performance in some depth, and Cassie realised that Harry knew his way around music and opera. She was pleased to find someone on her wavelength, and she warmed towards him.
They reached his flat building and they parked in the car park.
"Would you like to come in for a coffee?" he asked.
Cassie had thought it out before they arrived, and politely refused his offer, citing work the next day. Everyone knew what being invited for a coffee meant!
"But we must do this again," she added, to mitigate the rebuff. In any case she wanted a repeat of this night.
"Yes, I'd like that," he said, looking into her eyes. She felt herself melting under his gaze, but remained firm. There was a silence, which began to engender a little discomfort.
"Well," he said, unbuckling his seatbelt and breaking the spell. "Better be going."
Their faces were close, and then hesitantly closer. Who kissed whom first, Cassie never knew, but it was soft and gentle and lasted a little too long. Cassie was breathless and sensitised. Harry smiled, as if he knew what the effect had been, and with a "Good night, then," left the car.
Her thoughts were in turmoil as she drove back. She wondered why she felt a sense of apprehension at the kiss, as if in some sense she was not being honest with him, or that the new relationship was not real. She savoured the kiss though; he was a good kisser! She giggled like a school girl.
The next day he invited her to a play in town on the Friday, and it was one she had wanted to see, so she agreed.
"My turn to drive," he said with a grin which she found enchanting. "Pick you up at six thirty?"
This time he dropped her off but she did not invite him in, though she offered herself up for a kiss, which turned into a few, and his hand grazing her breast, while hers played with his hair. Then she made her escape.
"This is moving a little too fast for me," she said out loud to the empty flat. "Slow down girl, you're behaving like a teenager."
The words provoked a vision of Douglas which flashed before her mind and immediately she felt cold and uncertain. Harry seemed kind and gentle, but was he genuine? Every serious relationship she'd had, had been disastrous in the end.
She needed to be more circumspect, though she now wanted him, and wondered if she could resist him if they got too intimate. Again came that feeling of impending trouble and unreality, which she couldn't fathom.
It was a relief next day when Cheryl asked her to come over in the afternoon and babysit that evening, staying overnight and having lunch with them on Sunday. She said nothing about her evenings with Harry, and Cheryl kept away from the topic of Ged Smith.
Harry was back at her desk on Monday morning.
"I was going to ask you to come out for a drink," he said as he leaned on her desk, "but you were out all weekend. I missed you. Fancy a drink tonight?"
"I was babysitting for friends," she replied, looking up into his mesmerising eyes. "Not tonight, Harry. I have to do my laundry and iron my things."
Cassie felt a little pursued, but flattered he should be so attentive, nay enthusiastic. She had an idea.
"How about grabbing a bite to eat and then a quick drink in town after work. Save cooking?"
He looked both relieved and enthusiastic. "Great idea! OK, it's a date!"
Once again, Cassie found Harry's company enthralling. No one she knew, apart from Ged, was so in tune with her thoughts and ideas and so well versed in every aspect of the arts, musical, spatial and literary. They chatted all through the wholesome pub meal and over drinks afterwards.
Gradually as the evening progressed she felt herself drawn more and more to him, and took his hand when they waited for the taxi. In some ways holding hands is more intimate than walking arm in arm. He looked at her and smiled at the gesture and she melted inside. She now wanted him badly.
In the taxi he kissed her and she kissed him back, hard. His hands began to wander over her body, down her sides and over her breasts, while she ranged over his back and hair. They parted panting, looked at each other and laughed.
The taxi drew up at Harry's place.
"Coming inside?" he asked, tenderly pushing a tendril of hair off her face, and suddenly she felt uncertain and even afraid. A clear picture of Ged doing just that at Catherine's flashed across her mind. It dampened her spirits.
"I'd love to, but this is all a bit too quick for me," she said, touching his face. "Give me a little more time, OK?"
"Come for dinner on Friday?" he begged. "I'll cook. You'll like it."
She did not hesitate. "I'd love to," she said with a smile. He kissed her briefly, and left the taxi.
Her heart was beating hard as the taxi took her the remaining couple of miles to her flat. She wondered why she backed off when it was clear where their relationship was going.
She suspected that she would end up in his bed on Friday and she felt excited at the prospect. She longed for his love, and she just knew he would be a gentle and thoughtful lover.
But longer term? She felt a little fear at that thought, and there was that other niggle. Something was not quite right. It was not him, but something in her, she knew.
At work for the rest of the week, he came by and chatted, and they looked at each other with smiled, and caught each other's eyes and smiled, and had lunch together and smiled. Cassie was exhilarated. After so long in turmoil her emotional life seemed for once to be going her way. Her nameless fears were gradually fading away.
She could not keep it to herself and visited Cheryl and Brian and broke the news to them, her eyes shining.
"His name's Harry Martinson. He's handsome and tall, and so well and widely read, and he likes all the things I do. We've been to an opera, and a play. Do you know how long it is since I've been to a theatre?"
Cheryl seemed less than impressed. "Since Ged?" she asked rather pointedly.
Cassie nodded, the implication of Cheryl's response eluding her in her enthusiasm. "He's so easy to talk to. He designs book covers, and works doing layouts – fonts, you know the sort of thing," she babbled. "He's cooking a meal for me on Friday, and I think he's expecting I'll spend the night."
Cheryl and Brian smiled, but their hearts were not in it. Cassie became aware of it at last.
"What's the matter?" she asked, a little distressed. "Aren't you happy for me? I've lived in misery for ages, and this is the first good thing to happen."
"Yes, of course, we're glad you're happy," said Brian, "but don't you think you could be on the rebound? It's very quick after you finished with Ged."
Cassie was about to deny she was being precipitous, but stopped herself to think. She was always open to opinions, and took her friends' ideas seriously – except where Ged was concerned.
Into the silence, Cheryl spoke.
"Cassie, darling," she said gently, "We've watched you fall in love a number of times. Zak the first time, Ged, and then Zak the second time. Each time you fell instantly, you were having sex in short order, and moved in with your lovers almost as quickly. Each time, you knew it was the real thing, and each time it went sour.
"Cassie, you're doing it again. Slow down. If Harry's the man you're going to settle with for good, he'll wait. Don't fall into bed too soon. Brian is right, this could be a rebound reaction. We only want you to be happy – but long term."
"Wow!" Cassie responded. "You sure know how to deflate a person!"
"We care," Cheryl added. "We care about you a lot. You are impetuous, you know."
"Um," Cassie looked thoughtful and sat for a while, Cheryl and Brian waiting patiently.
"Well," she said at length. "I suppose you're right. I need to think things through a lot more. I hardly know him really, though the chemistry is there in spades. Yes, I need to take things slowly. You know, I told myself that before asking him out–"
"You asked him?" Cheryl gasped.
"Come on, Cheryl," she replied with a laugh. "It's the twenty first century, and he isn't the sort to push himself forward. He knows I'm getting divorced, and I know he didn't want to hit on me like a few of the other blokes at work."
"You were saying?" Cheryl prodded.
"I thought I needed to take it slow, but once we got together it sort of snowballed. You are right, I do jump into things, and I do need to take it slowly. I'll have a talk with him on Friday, though it'll take some willpower not to jump him, he's so yummy!" and she laughed in embarrassment.
As she made her way home, she pondered over what was said, and she realised that she had committed herself far too quickly in the past, and knew more clearly than ever where it had got her.
She lumped together her three affairs – Zak, Ged and Zak again, but did not stop to think it was her own impetuous reaction to Zak's lies about Ged which had destroyed her relationship with Ged. She was thinking about the future, about Harry.
If she wanted this new relationship to work, she would have to be more cautious. She needed to test Harry's resolve and his commitment to her by keeping clear of sleeping with him for a good long time. She was not at all sure she would be able to do that; she was feeling the lack of a male presence that way, though she was certainly going to try. Perhaps wait until the divorce was through? That would be so hard!
She had worried about what to wear to give the right signals, and in view of an unseasonably hot day had settled for a lightweight blue frilled top with a 'V' neck showing a hint of cleavage, and a pale blue denim skirt which came half way up her thighs. Underneath, a sheer light blue push-up bra and matching low rise bikini knickers would be fine. She assured herself that Harry would not be seeing her underwear, and that she was wearing it because it was light in the heat. No stockings or tights, and some lightweight strappy sandals with medium heels.
She arrived to be swept into his arms and kissed sensuously, a kiss she returned with interest and enough of an open mouth to invite his tongue. The invitation was accepted and while they frenched each other, his hand found its way under the hem of her top to caress her bare back. As he began to fiddle with her bra-strap she pulled gently away from him.
"Harry, were we going to have dinner together?"
He smiled, not in the least discomfited, and nodded, "It's nearly ready, come into the kitchen while I finish off."
"And Harry," she added, as he put his arm round her to guide her to the cooking, "After dinner I need to have a talk with you. OK?"
"Fine!" he answered, though his smiling face betrayed disappointment as if he guessed what was coming.
Thus it found them sitting on the sofa in Harry's living area after what she had to admit (and she had told him) was a superb meal. She caught herself thinking he cooked as well as Ged did, and there was the slightest tendril of regret, quickly banished.
"So what d'you want to say?" Harry asked her, his eyes on her attentively.
"I just want to clarify where we stand with each other, or rather where I stand."
She stopped and drew a breath.
"We've been seeing each other for just two weeks, and things are moving a little too quickly for me," she began.
"Don't you like our dates? I mean–"
"Let me try to explain," she cut across him. He sat back.
"You know – let's face it everyone at work knows – I'm going through a divorce at the moment."
"I know; everyone's–"
"Let me get this out, Harry."
He relaxed. "Sorry," he said and smiled encouragingly at her.
"You don't really know me, and I don't think I'm ready to share very much of my past life with you at the moment, perhaps in time, but not now, but what I can say at the moment is that I've been through hell and back in relationship terms over the past year or so. I let someone down, and I've been badly let down more than once.
"I'm too close to all that, and I think we are going too far too fast. You understand?"
"But you're OK with things as they are?" he asked, sitting forward.
"I love being with you, I love you being affectionate, the hugs and kisses. I just don't feel I can go any further at the moment."
"I'm OK with that, I'll wait till you are ready."
Her heart surged with love for him at that, and she kissed him hard, twisting her body against his, and pressing herself against him. He stroked her back inside her top, but made no attempt to undo her bra. His hands felt hot against her skin.
She felt relieved and trusting, laid her head on his shoulder, and they listened to the gentle jazz playing on the music centre, chatting about the music, and the musicians. Then he refilled their wine glasses and they settled again.
At length the sporadic conversation turned to their relationship and he told her how deeply she had affected him, and how he had wanted her for so long, but knew she was married and would not interfere.
He said he saw her misery when it started the previous summer and ached to comfort her, but her married status inhibited him. He noted she took a good deal of time off work, and heard she had gone to the USA, and when she returned she seemed happier for a short time, before her sadness returned.
She wondered to herself how he had missed the press reports which had photos of her linked with Ged Smith, and realised he didn't read the tabloids, and folk and rock music had no interest for him. She made up her mind to educate him in the finer aspects of rock, folk and country music.
He was saying how he wanted her to be happy, and he would do everything in his power to bring that about. They kissed again, and again she felt his arousal as he stroked her back.
It was ten o'clock before they realised it, and Harry put the ten o'clock news on the television, and they watched it, commenting on the items as the procession of misery unfolded, as it seemingly did every night. Towards the end of the half hour the items became more trivial and they began to kiss again.
This time as his hands ranged over her back, she felt him fiddling with her bra. She was so relaxed, and her libido had risen so much that she did not care what he did. The kiss continued she felt him undo the clasp and her breasts were released. She gasped as he pushed up her top and exposed her loosened bra and her breasts to his gaze.
A sigh escaped his lips.
She did not care even when his hands stroked the sides of her breasts, and when he grazed over her nips she moaned with passion. Her hands wandered down his back, round his hips and onto the front of his pants, where she felt the bulge of his arousal and absently stroked him.
He cupped her breasts and she moaned anew, pushing them into his hands, and her fingers began to unfasten his fly, probing inside to find his manhood.
In the background the programme had changed to local news. She had found the opening in his boxers, and was delving through to find his erect penis, when she thought she heard the newsreader say something about breaking news, and Ged's name. She stiffened and raised her head.
And caught the rest of the item.
"...Smith had been performing at the Water Hole and was attacked by three men wearing masks. The men ran off when the doormen from the club ran towards them. Mr Smith was taken to Manchester Royal Infirmary, where he is undergoing treatment for his injuries..."
She did not wait to hear any more, but jumped up, pulling her hand out of Harry's boxers, and knocking a surprised Harry backwards against the sofa. She was already re-fastening her bra when Harry found his voice.
"Cassie, what's up? Why are you–?"
"I've got to go," she gasped, fishing her phone out of her bag. "Metro Taxis?" she said rapidly. "I need a cab to get me to Manchester Royal Infirmary urgently." She gave Harry's address.
"I don't understand," Harry begged. "Where are you going? I'm sorry I undid your bra, I just got carried away."
"Didn't you hear the news?" she asked as she pulled her top over her bra and straightened it and her skirt, then began brushing her hair.
"Some rock star getting into a fight? Dead drunk probably. Ged someone?" Harry suggested.
"I've got to go," she said urgently.
"Cassie!" he shouted. "Make sense!"
"No time," she said as the taxi hooted. "You know I told you I had a bad time this last year? Well Ged Smith's part of it. I'll explain on Monday." With that she was gone, leaving Harry totally puzzled and extremely frustrated.
In the taxi she got a call from Cheryl.
"You heard about Ged?" Cheryl asked. "Viccy phoned me asking where you were. She had your number but you've changed it. She said he was semi-conscious saying your name. Cassie, he's been beaten up."
"I know, I'm on my way to MRI now."
"Cassie, darling, it's his hands. They stamped on his hands."
Mar 17, 2018 in romance