Chapter 09

One May afternoon he came to her house, and when she opened the door, he hugged her and announced:

“They fired me.”

“Colin…” she looked in his eyes, searching for his feelings. “I’m so sorry…”

“Don’t be,” he smiled. “I’m fine. Honestly.”

“But you loved that job,” she reminded him.

“I know. But it’s not as if I have nothing to do. My life will depend on other things now. And you know, they’re going to realise pretty soon whose coffee attracted the customers,” he winked at her.

“Ok. And now we do what?”

“Now we go inside, watch a Czech film (if you have one) and then we can go to the pub. Any objections?”

There were none.

When they got off the bus near the pub, though, Ash saw something very disturbing, and when she went to investigate, she felt very lucky that Colin had not noticed it as well and had not come with her. Instead, she sent him inside and told him she would be with him in a couple of minutes. Then she rounded the corner, and stood face to face to Harry, who was leaning against the wall of the pub with a cigarette in his hand.

“I thought you didn’t smoke,” she began reproachfully.

“I didn’t. For a while,” he nodded, and with provocative playfulness let out another white cloud.

“What happened?”

“Found out they haven’t discovered pills to make one forget,” he answered bitterly.

“Forget what?”

“Feelings,” he shrugged.

“Harry…” she began impatiently.

“Aren’t you a weird sister? Why don’t you get it from my head and stop bothering me with stupid questions?”

“Because you’re the only person in this world who’s learned to shut his mind from my inner eye, that’s why!” she explained heatedly.

“And damn lucky I was to manage that! Have a look, child, just look at my emotions! I wonder if you’ll be so determined to preach after that.”

She did take a look at his emotions, and what she saw was terribly painful. Worse still, she did not know how to react to what she just found out. But Harry made it easier for her.

“Now get out of here,” he advised her spitefully. “You don’t want to be friends with a cancer-stick smoker.”

“No, I don’t,” she agreed, and quickly took the cigarette from his hand, dropped it onto the pavement and extinguished it with her shoe. Then she turned and walked away to the pub without a word.

“What happened, darling?” Colin wondered when he saw her. “You look upset.”

“Do I?” she managed to smile. “That’s strange, because everything’s absolutely all right.”

And then she got an idea that she loved more and more the longer she thought about it.

“Look, my mum’s coming to Berwick tomorrow night from a conference inAberdeen, I’m joining her fromEdinburgh… What if you came along?” she asked him.

“I don’t know. Don’t think your family would be too keen on seeing me,” he doubted her proposal.

“Rubbish. I’ll call my mum now and see what she thinks of it, deal? And if she agrees, will you come?”

“Fine,” he gave up.

Ash had to phone both her parents and get their permission to invite Colin for the weekend before he was satisfied. He was still feeling a bit uneasy about his visit, though, which got only worse when they met Anna on the train. She did not say anything, but he could see she was surprised at how close he was to her daughter. What would she think if she knew they sometimes slept in one bed? Every normal human being would assume “the worst”, and Anna was Ash’s mother!

He was lucky, nevertheless. They soon managed to find a good topic for a conversation (books), and since all three of them had a lot to say about it, they did not have to find anything else to talk about for the rest of the journey.

Ashley’s father was waiting at the station in Berwick to take them home. Colin found he was a rather quiet and pleasant man in his late fifties, and could immediately understand why Ash, whenever he asked her about her father, told him just: “Dad’s a sweetheart. He loves me.” Lucien Seymour did love his daughter, and loved her in the way that did not see “no” as an answer to any request she made. Ash knew about it, but made sure she did not ask too much. Time and experience had made her grateful for everything she had.

Lucien had made dinner for them, and while they were sitting at the table, Colin noticed that Ashley’s mind was occasionally drifting away. She did not even join the conversation so readily as on the train. Colin suspected this had something to do with the phone call she had had the previous night, but did not feel like mentioning the subject in front of her parents. However, when the two of them went for a walk to the beach after the meal, he asked:

“Are you still thinking of the argument with Harry?”

“Yes… no… well, a bit,” she hesitated. There was no way she could tell Colin what the argument with Harry was really about. He had been there last night when Harry called her to say he was sorry, so she had had to tell him something, but could not possibly tell him everything. Anyway, she was not thinking of the argument, or the phone call; she was thinking of what she read in Harry’s mind.

“What if I talk to him, see if I can do anything?” he offered her.

“There’s no point in that,” she shook her head. “It’s over, everything’s settled.”

“You don’t look like it’s settled,” he pointed out.

“Maybe, but it is,” she insisted.

“Ok,” he shrugged.

In the living room behind the curtain, Ashley’s parents were watching them contemplatively.

“What do you think of him?” Anna wished to know.

“He seems nice,” Lucien answered. “And Ash likes him.”

“Yes, she does. I just wonder what the two of them are up to,” said Anna.

“Darling, I believe that’s totally up to them,” Lucien smiled.

“I know it is. All I’m saying is that I wish I’d understand them,” she explained. “They’re careful not to let anyone think for a single second that they might be in love with each other. And at the same time, they do things that…” she paused, and watched as her daughter and Colin came to the pier and sat down on one of the benches. “I don’t know,” she waved her hand eventually.

“When’s the next full moon?” asked Ash, looking at the sky.

“On the first,” he said.

“Not too fair, so close to your birthday, is it?”

“Would be much worse if it was on the exact day.”

“True,” she agreed.

They fell silent for a minute or two, each thinking about their own private things… And then she realised there was something troubling her friend’s mind.

“What’s wrong?” she investigated.

He sighed, got up from the bench and walked to the guard rail lining the pier.

“You’re not being fair to me, Ash,” he said eventually.

“How so?” she gave him an astonished look.

“You know how much I love you. You know every single thing about me. You know what I think, how I think, who I am… But I hardly know a thing about you. I don’t have your powers, I just can tell whether you’re telling the truth or not, but can’t see into your mind. I have absolutely no idea how you really feel about me.”

Ash felt like having been hit by a heavy hammer. All this time, she had been telling herself that they both knew what it was about, that they were true soulmates that did not need words to talk… That they both understood the nature of their relationship. She had been so certain that he felt the same as her… And now, now she is told she had been fooling herself all along?

She got up and joined him at the guard rail.

“Colin, I thought we both felt the same, that we understood each other perfectly…”

“I don’t understand anything, Ash,” he shook his head. “I thought I did, but now it feels as if that never was the case. I mean, just look at yourself, you’re the most loving creature I’ve ever met – but you’re so cold to me…”

“Is that what it looks like?” she whispered.

“I’m afraid so, yes,” he nodded.

“What can I do to change it?”

“Tell me how you feel about me.”

“That’s not so easy.”

“Indeed? Didn’t seem so difficult to me,” he remarked.

She gently ran her hand down his face. “Maybe I’m not as strong as you think,” she said quietly. “But if you really need me to tell you in words, you’re the best thing that’s happened to my life. I can’t live without you anymore. I’m all yours, and I’ll do anything you ask me. Tell me what you want, and I’ll do it for you, I promise.”

“Can you bring yourself to tell me you love me?” he requested softly.

Ash closed her eyes. It was not easy, and she had no means of explaining it to him now; he would not understand… But she had to do it. He was more important than anything else.

“I love you,” she managed to whisper finally, and let him embrace her. “How can you say I’m cold? Have you any idea how much it hurts? I’d give my life for you!”

“I know, darling,” he nodded, “I know. But why won’t you just let me be your boyfriend?”

“Because you need more than love for that. I’ve been in rushed relationships, they’re bad enough when there’s no love. You’re different. I know you’re the right one. But if we rush it now, we might find in time that we got it wrong, and that’s something I’d hate to discover. You saw for yourself that we need to get to know each other – not each other’s character, I trust we know all about that, but other things. And before we manage to know each other well enough, I don’t want it to get much more serious. Is it too hard to understand?”

“No, darling, it’s not. I understand it perfectly.”

“So you think you could wait?” she looked him in the eyes expectantly.

“I’ll try,” he promised. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t both sleep in your bed tonight, does it?”

She laughed. “No, it doesn’t.”

She took him by the hand and led him back to the house. There they went to the kitchen and made themselves tea to warm up, but then they left for Ashley’s room without even seeing her parents (who were each occupied elsewhere).

“May I ask you something, Ash?” Colin began as they sat down on the carpet, the way their tea talking sessions always worked.

“Go ahead,” she nodded, but when he did ask, she almost wished she had not.

“You said you’ve been in relationships before, and there was no love in them?” he wondered.

She bit her lip. “That’s true,” she said.

“But you know what people feel,” he protested. “You had to know they didn’t love you.”

“I did.”

“But why?”

“I thought…” she pause and tried to fight tears that were forcing themselves into her eyes. “I thought I didn’t deserve to be loved. Because if I did, I’d have found love ages ago. I wanted it so much… to have someone to talk to, to be with, be to happy with… and I’m not the world’s most patient creature. I was lonely… so I hoped. The first one wanted me. I thought there was a chance this wanting might change into love given time. But it didn’t. So I took a few months to pull myself together, and found someone else. He did love me. But didn’t know who I was. He dreamed me up, gave me a new identity of his own, and when I made it clear he was wrong, he left me, too angry to even speak with me anymore. After that, I’ve been alone. Until I met you, of course.”

He reached out and took her hand in his. “Everyone deserves to be loved,” he said.

“That’s what I thought as well. But you know, Colin, envy is a terrible thing, and when I saw all those happy people around me, I couldn’t help it.”

“I didn’t say it was fair,” he smiled. “Easy life spoils you, Harry would say.”

“Oh yes, so he goes and starts smoking when he encounters a small problem,” she nodded. “How so very intelligent of him.”

“You’re still angry at him?”

“No, not really,” she shook her head. “It’s his problem.”

“We’ll deal with it when the time comes,” he decided.

“Of course,” she smiled, and then… “You don’t have to feel bad about asking me that question, you know. It’s over.”

“Maybe… I just wish there was something I could do for you.”

“You can.”

“What is it?”

“Never leave me.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” he smiled.

She wanted to respond somehow, but at that moment Anna called her from downstairs.

“Sorry,” Ash apologised and ran to the hall, where Anna was waiting for her with someone on the phone.

“Thea wants to tell you something,” Anna informed her and handed her the phone. Thea was Ashley’s cousin and one of the best friends she had, so she was naturally very pleased to be able to talk to her, especially since they were unable to spend as much time together those days as they used to.

“Hi, haven’t heard from you for ages!” Ash started the conversation. “What’s the news? — No way, that’s great! That’s totally perfect! Congratulations… I’m so happy for you both! — Sure, he’s a friend. — Well, I can ask him, but can’t promise anything. — Ok, take care of yourselves, bye,” she ended the short call, put her mother’s mobile phone on a shelf in the hall and hurried upstairs to keep her promise to Thea.

“You look excited,” Colin smiled when he saw her.

“I am,” she smiled back. “My cousin’s getting married.”

“Wow, nice to hear that.”

“It is. Her boyfriend’s great. They’ve been together for some seven or eight years now… But,” she stressed this word, “she’d like to ask you to sing for them at the wedding…”

“Sing for them?” he repeated, feeling a bit uneasy.

“Just something short before the ceremony,” she explained. “But if you don’t want to, they’d at least like you to come there with me.”

“That’s ok. If they tell me what they want to hear, I’ll sing for them,” he promised.

“You’re a sweetheart,” Ash beamed at him.

When Ashley’s parents went to bed, Colin crept out of her brother’s room, which he got at his disposal, and tiptoed over the landing to her bedroom. Ash was lying on the bed, reading a book, but at his arrival lifted her head and smiled at him.

“Welcome,” she whispered, closed the book and put it on the floor beside the bed.

“Do you think we’re safe?”

“We’ll see that in the morning,” she predicted.

“We’re not doing anything wrong, Ash, are we?” he asked for reassurance.

“Of course not,” she shook her head, and made enough space for him to lay beside her.

“You know what?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You mean you can switch off your inner eye?” he wondered.

“Not exactly. But tell me,” she smiled.

“I’m glad we talked things over today. I just wish it hadn’t hurt you so badly.”

“There’s nothing to regret. I’d have had to tell you one day, anyway, better sooner than later.”

“And now, I mean, these days, weeks, months… Are you happy?”

She nodded. “I am.”

“Good.”

“And you?”

“Can’t you feel it?”

“I can. But maybe you were happier some time in the past,” she suggested.

“No, I wasn’t.”

They talked on for a couple of minutes, but then they both fell asleep, and didn’t wake up even in the morning when Anna came to her daughter’s room and saw them lying in each other’s arms. Not sure what to think, she closed the door again carefully and let them sleep.

After breakfast, though, she asked Ash to deal with the dishes and Colin to give her a few minutes of private talk.

“Do you have any idea why I brought you here?” she began the conversation.

“You found out where I spent the night?” Colin guessed.

“I did,” she nodded.

“And I take it you’re not too happy about it…?”

“I don’t mind. I just want you to tell me what’s going on between the two of you.”

“Oh, that’s good,” Colin smiled. “Could be much worse. Anyway, I love your daughter, Anna. She means the world to me.”

“And what does she think of it?”

“She wouldn’t hear of me being her boyfriend right now, but I hope she changes her mind within a few months.”

“That’s rather strange to hear,” Anna confessed. “I’d have thought… Never mind.”

Colin did not ask what she meant, as he suspected he knew well enough. Besides, this did not bother him. He just hoped Anna would let them do whatever they desired to do.

“Anna,” he said, “I’d like to be with her again tonight. We’re just together, it’s not as if we’re doing something bad…”

“I know you’re not,” she nodded. “I only wanted to be sure the two of you know what you’re doing.”

“We do know that.”

“Glad to hear it,” Anna smiled. She liked Colin. He was always polite and a pleasant companion, even though she had no idea how he managed to blow his nose, but that was a different matter.

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