Unsustainable Guilt Part 2

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Conclusion of Unsustainable Guilt

Submitted: October 19, 2014

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Submitted: October 19, 2014

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Unsustainable Guilt

Part 2

 

“I left the house at 7:30,” he began.

“Going to the pub”, he had told Amanda, his girlfriend.

“You meeting anyone?” she asked, interested but not checking up on him.

“Jim, Mike, Steve and a couple of others. Football is on the telly. Thought we would down a few pints while we watched.”

“You could have done that here, and saved a few quid on the cost of the beer.”

“I know, but it’s the atmosphere as well, and besides Sarah is coming round isn’t she?”

“True, well have a nice time, and don’t make too much noise when you come in.” Amanda laughed. She was glad Jason was going out with his mates. He deserved to have a good time, especially after what had happened at the Casino.

Jason walked in to the Casino at 9:00. Clutching the wad of cash that he had taken out of the hole-in-the-wall in town, he knew he was going to win tonight. He had to win.

There was no trouble in the Casino this time. He walked out at 11:30, and said goodnight to the bouncer on the door.

“Goodnight, sir,” came the reply. It was not the same bouncer as before. He had gotten a broken arm in the melee, and was probably taking time away from the door.

Jason walked down the street, his wallet bulging in his back pocket. He was a little nervous, because not only was his wallet bulging but his inside jacket pocket held a bundle of twenty pound notes. One hundred notes in total adorned his body in various pockets. Red 5, what a number.

It was raining, but it was not cold. The street lights lit the road in their eerie orange glow, diffused by the drizzling rain, and reflected by the wet pavements and roads. The darkened shop fronts watched him as he passed. His reflection moving slowing across from one to the next. The mannequins within marked his passing with not a glimmer of movement.

Jason wanted to celebrate, but there were no pubs round here. But there was a night club. Although he didn’t feel like dancing, really only wanted a drink, and he knew he would be paying highly inflated prices. So he walked round the corner towards “Nightwalkers”.

There was a bouncer here as well. Not as smartly dressed as the one at the Casino, but he was just as big. A large bald fellow, with muscles bulging under his black T-shirt. He reminded Jason of the guy you saw on X-Factor, the one who looked after Simon Cowell.

Jason smiled as he approached but the bouncer made no attempt to return it, but made no attempt stop Jason as he entered.

He had heard the thumping beat of the music before he even got past the bouncer. Now that he had entered the beat cranked it up a level, and was already beginning to numb his eardrums.

The club was in a cellar of a retail block, and Jason walked down the stairs toward the source of the incessant beat. His shoes sank into the red stair carpet, made spongy by many drinks that had been spilt by the careless and the drunk throughout the night. By the time he had reached the bottom his nose was being assaulted by the smell of people, no longer hidden by the covering of smoke which had always previously prevailed.

The club was busy, but it was not packed. The dance floor was populated by the usual crowd of gyrating bodies intent on attaining acceptance by those around them. Jason made his way straight to the bar, intent on attaining nothing more than a drink.

The barmaid was what Jason thought of as a bleached blonde playboy bunny. Her body just a little too curvy to be natural, her T-shirt just a little too tight to be the right size, her dark roots giving away her bleaching habit, and her smile just a little too false. It was not her fault. She was probably a really nice girl, but just not Jason’s type.

She was busily scurrying about behind the bar, being careful not to slip on the wet coating that covered the floor behind the bar. Jason knew he was four or five from being served so he studied the content of the shorts rack behind the bar, searching for what he might like amongst the rums, vodkas, and whiskeys. He didn’t bother looking at the fridges below, which housed the alco-pops and smart bottled beers.

He was still looking when the barmaid surprised him by asking what he wanted. He could barely hear her over the noise, and was sure that she would never understand him when he asked for a straight Smirnoff over ice with a lime slice. But she never queried him and turned to make his drink. She turned back moments later with his drink, exactly as he’d asked for. He smiled at her as she placed in on the bar, mouthing “thank you” as he passed her a twenty. She returned the smile and Jason thought that maybe it wasn’t as false as he had first thought. He didn’t check the change when it came, he didn’t want to know how much he had paid.

He stayed at the bar, watching the people around him in the mirror glass behind the bottles on the wall. The bar was busy, and he was jostled a couple of times. He didn’t make anything of it as you never knew who you were likely to square up against in places like this.

People came and went around him. Empty glasses appeared on the bar, and were removed by the playboy bunny. Money passed over the bar, and drinks appeared efficiently. Jason changed his view of the barmaid, maybe not such a dumb blonde.

Jason finished his drink and placed his empty glass back on the bar. No sooner had the glass touched the bar than another appeared beside it, refreshed with a new drink. “I didn’t ask for another” he said to the barmaid.

“Courtesy of the young lady,” blondie replied, waving her arm down the bar.

Jason was sure he had misheard, but he followed the waving arm down the bar anyway.

His gaze went past the young man in the Kaiser Chiefs T-shirt, and the young lady who was obviously with him by the way her tongue appeared to be stuck to his ear. Past the two guys in the Pink “Kylie” tops, and the older ladies who really shouldn’t have been here but obviously nobody had the heart to tell them they were a little old. The blonde who stood just behind the two was looking in his direction, but not at him so he was fairly certain that it was not her.

He skimmed the rest and then finally realised that there was a pair of eyes watching him. Even over the not-inconsiderable length of the bar he could see that they were a piercingly bright blue. Her hair, a dark brown, was tied back behind her head in a pony-tail, leaving her youthful face entirely exposed. Her smile was wide as she raised her glass in Jason’s direction.

Still not sure whether she really did mean him, he obviously wore a puzzled expression because the young lady then laughed and nodded. Finally convinced that he was not making a fool of himself he raised his glass in return and mouthed “thank you” to her.

“Welcome” she mouthed in return, as she gracefully dismounted from her seat and moved around the throng at the bar towards him.

The grace of her walk matched that of her dismount from the bar stool. Her hips swayed gently as she appeared to flow across the floor rather than walked. Jason’s attention was riveted to her. The thumping of the dance floor music faded to no more than a mild thud, and everyone else in the room became a blurred shadow. But she remained in tight focus as she grew ever nearer. Jason had never believed in love at first sight, and still didn’t, but he was feeling something here that he had never felt before.

“Jess,” she said as she held out her hand toward him.

“Uh, Jason,” he replied, stepping away from his position at the bar, which was quickly filled by two other thirsty clubbers jostling for the attention of the bar maid. “Thanks for the drink.”

“You are welcome. I don’t normally buy guys drinks but ….. oh I don’t know, I felt that I should on this occasion. Please don’t get the impression that I do this all the time.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” was Jason’s hasty response, “I mean not that I’m not grateful that you did.”

Over her shoulder he spied that one of the alcoves, provided to give punters a place to sit and provide partial escape the constant pounding of the music, was being vacated by a group of girls intent on dancing to the latest record. “Do you want to sit down?” he asked, nodding toward the alcove.

Jess nodded. “I’d love to,” she replied, already moving.

She slid on to the bench seat, and Jason slid somewhat less gracefully on to the seat opposite. Both placed their drinks on the small table between them. The alcove was dim, but not dark, with light provided by a few small over-head spot lights built into the ceiling. Jason studied her, unembarrassed that he was probably staring. Jess was similarly unembarrassed by the fact that he was staring at her. She finally picked up her drink and took a small sip, breaking Jason from his unabashed stare.

Finally feeling a little embarrassed Jason muttered “Oh, I’m sorry.” A faint blush appearing on his cheeks.

“It’s Ok,” was Jess’ response, “It’s kind of nice in a way.”

Jason felt at ease, probably for the first time in years. Even when he was his girlfriend he was not as comfortable as he was right now. There was something about this girl that touched him.

“You from around here?” he finally asked, knowing it was not the most original of opening lines.

“Halfield, a small village about ten miles out,” she said sipping from her glass.

“I know it.” Jason felt suddenly excited, like a small boy who had just discovered that the girl he was crushing on lived just round the corner. “I drive through it on the way to my parents’ place in Darden.”

And so their conversation had started. The music in the club continued to pound, and the clubbers continued to dance, and drink, and generally make merry, but Jess and Jason failed to notice. They talked about many things and nothing really at all. The conversation of friends, entirely comfortable in each others company.

Jason finished his drink and placed the empty glass on the table, noticing that Jess had already finished hers. “Would you like another?”

“Please, vodka and black, with ice.” Jess smiled at him as he struggled out of the seat.

“Don’t go anywhere, will you?” he said as a throw away line.

“I’ll be right here, I’m not going anywhere,” a light laugh adding a smiling quality to her words.

Jason weaved his way through the throng of clubbers, back to the bar where ‘blondie’ was already waiting for him, despite the other people whom Jason thought would have been served before him.

“Vodka and orange, no ice, and a Vodka and black with ice.”

“Sure honey,” came the acknowledgement.

Jason took a quick look over to the alcove, half expecting Jess to have gone. But she was still there looking at him. She lifted her right hand and gave him a quick wave, accompanied by a smile.

“There you go honey,” the barmaid said, placing the drinks on the bar.

“Thanks,” Jason responded, turning back to the bar, and handed her a twenty. “Have one yourself, and keep the change.”

He turned from the bar, holding the two drinks, barely hearing the thank you from the bar maid. Jess was gone, the alcove was empty.

Where she had been sat there was now only empty space, as if she had never been there at all. He walked over, not wanting to believe that she had gone, but unable to dispute what he saw with his own eyes. He was aware that the music was now thudding again at its usual level, pounding on his ear drums. He placed the two drinks on the table, noting that there was only one empty glass where there had previously been two, and turned to scan the darkened room.

It was hopeless. The room was packed with clubbers, the chance of spotting Jess in the throng was small. But why had she gone? She couldn’t have gone to the toilets because she would have had to have walked past him to get to them. He couldn’t see her in the room, although that didn’t really prove anything, and that only left the exit.

The man in the alcove adjacent to Jason, stood and started to make his way to the bar.

Jason grabbed his arm as he passed. “Excuse me, did you see where the girl who was here went?”

The man looked at Jason, and then down at where Jason’s hand had hold of his arm. Jason let go quickly.

“Sorry mate, don’t know what you are on about.”

“The girl who was sat here. Just a minute ago.”

But the man moved off with a shrug.

She had gone, and Jason just had to accept it. Maybe it hadn’t been going as well as he thought, and the request for another drink had just been an excuse so that she could slip out.

Jason downed his Vodka and orange and, leaving the vodka and black on the table, left the club.

He climbed back up the squishy carpeted stair, feeling the cool breeze that was flowing down from outside. The bouncer on the door was different to the one who had been on when he had come in but he was just as big.

As Jason reached the top he asked, “You didn’t happen to see a young girl come out in the past couple of minutes did you?”

“Sorry mate, just this second started me shift,” was the brief response.

“Long brown hair, beautiful blue eyes.”

The bouncer gave him the look of pity that meant he thought Jason had been dumped. “Sorry mate,” was his sympathetic answer.

Jason stood at the door, looking out through the glass pane. It was raining properly now and Jason had no coat. He was going to get wet even if he got a taxi fairly quickly.

He stepped out into the orange-hued darkness of the night and looked left to see if there was a taxi sitting in the taxi rank. There was but that was not what caught his eye.

Beyond the taxi rank, about a hundred metres further down the road, was a large 4x4. He couldn’t make the model, or the colour, but that was not what interested him either.

Just short of the car, but heading toward it, was a well built man dressed in dark trousers and a dark full length coat. He was hunkered over against the rain but Jason guessed he was at least six feet tall, if not a little more. To his right and slightly in front was a girl. He held her tightly by the left arm and was clearly pushing her to the car. She was resisting but not putting up a great fight.

Jason set off at a run. It was Jess. No doubt in his mind.

He was wet from the rain before he got within a fifty meters of the car, and he knew he was going to get a good deal wetter and the rain intensity increased.

The indicators flashed on the 4x4 as the man remotely unlocked it.

“Hey,” Jason called, “Jess, wait.”

The girl turned toward Jason’s shout and her eyes widened. But she did not have any time to say anything. The man opened the door and bundled her roughly inside, knocking her head on the roof edge, and relocking it with the remote. He turned to face Jason who came to a halt a few feet short of the car.

“Where you taking her?” Jason asked shakily, still trying to recover his breath after his quick sprint.

“None of your business. I can take my fiancé where I like, so keep your nose out.”

He walked round the front of the car and stood as if making ready as if to get in, but did not unlock the doors. Jason took the final few steps forward and looked in through the front window. Through the rain covered pain of glass he could see Jess. Her face calm but resigned.

“Jess?” he mouthed, placing his palm on the window.

She mouthed a response which looked like his name, and placed her palm up against his. The rain drops on the glass made it look like she was crying, or maybe they were real tears.

“Enough,” came the shout from behind him. He hadn’t seen the guy coming round the car, fixated as he was on Jess’ blue eyes. And as he turned he didn’t see the fist that hit him.

He awoke to the gentle slapping of his cheeks, and the face of the nightclub bouncer looking down at him. “You OK, guv?” the bouncer inquired. Jason sat up, feeling the water from road against his backside. “Yeah, I guess.”

The 4x4 was gone, the guy was gone, and from the lightness of his jacket he guessed that most of his money was gone too. And Jess was gone. He stood, with help from the bouncer, and shook himself off. “Thanks mate” he said the guy who had come to help, and set off through the rain toward home wondering just what he was going to tell Amanda when he got there.

oOo

“I didn’t tell her much at all as it happened. Not saying much is easier than trying to make up lies which you then trip over later on. I had little money when I left, and little money when I returned. I was wet, but it was raining. And the bruise on my face was explained by a set-to with a guy in the pub over the football. Job Done.”

Jason ached. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally. He really had forgotten, and now he hurt all over again. Until some time after she had disappeared on that rain soaked night he hadn’t known what that meeting had meant to him. Now he did and the ache in his heart was very real. But now here she was again. Her reappearance, more mysterious than her disappearance.

“I remember seeing a story in the paper later,” he started to say, looking once more in to her eyes. The smile in there was gone, and hidden beneath the blue surface was now a deep sadness.

“I think it’s time for me to take up the story,” Jess said, steadying herself on her concrete seat.

oOo

“We’d had a massive row” Jess started, her voice calm and steady.  “It was about something and nothing, but boy had it developed. Screaming and shouting, and by the time it came to a head neither of us could remember what had started it.”

Jess grabbed her coat from the back of the sofa, and her keys off the coffee table. Making her way to the front door of their flat, she pulled at the engagement ring that Brian had placed on her finger about three months earlier. Finally she managed to remove it and turned back to face him.

“You can think about giving this back when you grow up a little,” Jess screamed at him, hurling the ring in his general direction. It didn’t make it half of the distance between them, but she didn’t care.

Jess slammed the door as she left, just to make the final point. Brian shouted something from behind the now closed door but Jess didn’t try to make out what it was. She made her way down the steps, from the second floor of the block in which they resided, not sure where she was going but she would think of something.

Jess had been sitting at the bar in “Nightwalkers” for about half an hour when she spotted a young man ordering a drink at the other end of the bar. In that half an hour she had already been offered five drinks from various sweaty young men, which she had declined firmly but politely. She hadn’t been in the mood for male attention.

She watched the young man as he conversed with the blonde barmaid, then continued to study him as he watched the other people in the night club via the mirrors on the wall behind the bar. He was jostled a few times but didn’t make anything of it. Jess was impressed, most guys would have picked an argument at least once, but this guy didn’t seem to care.

He continued to sip from his glass, his back to the club, watching the mirror and the things it showed. Jess, who had finished her drink, made eye contact with the barmaid.

“Another Vodka and black please, and what is that guy at the end of the bar drinking?”
 
“Lager,” replied the barmaid helpfully.

“No, not the muscle bound guy,” said Jess, wanting to make sure the barmaid got the right guy, “the tall guy in the dark jacket.”
 
“Oh, him. He’s drinking Smirnoff on ice.”

“Then I’ll have a vodka and black, and a Smirnoff on ice,” said Jess, handing over the money. “Keep the change, and can you deliver?”

“Sure thing, honey.” The barmaid smiled that knowing smile at her.

She returned moments later with Jess’ drink then walked down to the other end of the bar and delivered the Smirnoff and ice, to the ‘tall guy’.

Jess grinned as she watched the guy’s surprised expression as the barmaid handed him the drink. She watched as he scanned the bar looking for the generous person who had just bought him a drink.

He finally realised that she was watching him, and she blushed despite herself. He still looked puzzled and Jess could not help but laugh. She raised her glass and nodded, hoping it would help. Finally the confused look left his face and he mouthed the words “Thank you.”

“Welcome,” she mouthed back then slipped off her chair and moved down the bar toward him nervously. Having no idea why she had bought him a drink, and not usually this forward she rapidly racked her brain for an appropriate first line.

Having failed to come up with anything witty by the time she reached him she settled for the bland. “Jess,” she said as she held out her hand toward him.

“Uh, Jason,” he replied, stepping away from his position at the bar, which was quickly filled by two other thirsty clubbers jostling for the attention of the bar maid. “Thanks for the drink.”

“You are welcome. I don’t normally buy guys drinks but ….. oh I don’t know, I just felt that I could, possibly even should. Please don’t get the impression that I do this all the time.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” was Jason’s hasty response, “I mean not that I’m not grateful that you did.”

Having got the embarrassing initial pleasantries out of the way they sat in an alcove on the far side of the room from the bar. The music was still loud but it was still at a level where civilised conversation was possible.

Jess felt immediately comfortable with Jason, and was soon telling him where she lived, what she did, what she liked and all the other trivial stuff. Jason in turn seemed to feel equally as comfortable with her and was reciprocating information on a similarly easy level.

She was ashamed though that she had not mentioned Brian. There was no ring on her finger anymore, and so this guy had no way of knowing. She wanted to say something but was afraid that it would ruin the moment, and she so wanted not to ruin the moment.

Jason finished his drink and placed the empty glass on the table. Jess had already finished hers and had been unconsciously toying with her glass for the past five minutes. “Would you like another?” Jason asked.

“Please, vodka and black, with ice.” Jess smiled at him, thankful that he had asked. It would mean more time to talk, and she wanted to talk. He made it easy for her in the way that it was not usually easy. She felt that she could talk forever, wanted to talk forever. But she knew that she would have to mention Brian at some point, and only then would she find out if there was another person on his side. 

“Don’t go anywhere, will you?” he said as a throw away line.

“I’ll be right here, I’m not going anywhere.” She laughed nervously, hoping that maybe she might be going somewhere with him, even if he didn’t know it yet.

Jess watched him as he worked his way across the room, through the throngs of people milling about, watching the dancers. She saw him reach the bar and speak to the barmaid. Jess gave him a quick wave and a smile as he turned back to her briefly as the bar maid prepared the drink.

“You can quit the waving. Time to leave.”

Brian’s voice came from behind her. The surprise made her physically jump in the seat, and as she jumped so Brian grabbed her arm and dragged her from the alcove. In moments he was marching her to the door, so shocked, she made no attempt to resist.

He walked quickly to the top of the carpeted stair, Jess in tow like an obedient pet. The bouncer at the top looked in their direction as they passed out the door and into the wet and dark night outside. He said nothing, obviously having seen it all before, and then turned as his replacement came up for shift change.

It was raining hard outside, and the orange glow of the streetlight did nothing to dispel the oppressive feeling that Jess now found herself under. Brian continued to half drag her down the road, his grasp tightening on her arm, as they advanced down the street. Jess could see his 4x4 just ahead and knew that she would soon be sitting in it, she could resist but was not able to fight.

She thought of Jason returning with the drinks, not knowing where she had gone. She thought that he would probably think she had used the drinks order as an excuse to leave. He wouldn’t be coming after her. Why should he?

It was just as this despondent thought was passing through her brain that she heard Jason shouting from behind. At first she thought it was just a general shout that was often heard in the small hours of the morning outside of night clubs. Then she realised that one of the words being shouted was her name.

“Hey,” she heard someone call from behind her, “Jess, wait.”

Jess pulled against Brian’s grip and managed to turn toward the shout. Realising it was Jason, her eyes widened. But Brian did not give her time to say anything. He had already unlocked the car and he quickly bundled her inside, knocking her forehead against the roof as she half fell in, remotely locking it to stop her getting out.

Jess heard Jason ask where Brian was taking her, but the response from Brian was lost as he walked around the front of the car. Then Jason was there, looking at her through the rain smeared window.

“Jess?” he mouthed, placing his palm on the window.

She placed her palm up against his, “Jason.” Tears were in her eyes but she did not know whether Jason would be able to tell through the rain drops which patterned the glass and fell like their own tear drops.

“Enough,” came Brian’s shout.

To Jess’ horror she realised he was now on this side of the car. She hadn’t noticed him come round the car. She watched as Jason turned toward the shout, and then saw him hit the ground. Jess sat in dumbstruck horror. Unable to move, think, or speak, she looked through the rain streaked window at a man she barely knew lying on the ground because of her. Tears flowed freely.

Jess didn’t move as Brian entered the car. He threw a couple of bundles of what looked like twenty pound notes on to the back seat. She didn’t speak as he started the car and drove forward in to the night. She craned her head round to watch as Jason’s crumpled form diminished to no more than a heap in the road, and then as Brian’s car turned a corner, Jason was gone.

Jess faced forward, staring out through the windshield at the dark forbidding buildings that lined both sides of the roads. The orange glow of the streetlights gave an alien glow to familiar surroundings. She watched the rain fall, and felt the tears roll down her cheeks.

Brian said nothing as he drove. Jess said nothing as he drove. Her heart felt heavy in her chest as she thought of what might have been and what was going to be.

oOo

Jess paused and looked up at the man she had abandoned on the wet road that night. Jason was looking intently at her, his eyes full of love, and confusion, and anger. She had said nothing really new, just her side of the tale he had already told, but to hear it from her lips was as if he was hearing it anew, about someone other than himself.

He found he was close to tears, and he knew that Jess had more to tell, could see it in her eyes, but he wanted to touch her. He wanted to have that physical contact that would say he understood, that they were together again. He reached out to take her hand, feeling her skin before his hand made contact.

But his hand never made contact.

Jess drew away as he reached out, clearly not wanting to be touched. “I’m sorry,” Jason apologised, trying to keep the tears from his voice, “I just wanted to…”

“I know, it’s OK. But now is not the right time. There is more to tell, and more to hear. More to understand and more to forgive.” The tears were in her eyes too, and Jason felt his heart break to see it. The smile and the light were gone, and he so wanted them to come back.

oOo

“He drove me home. We didn’t speak at all.”

Brian pulled up outside their apartment block and turned off the ignition. He silently got out of the car and walked round to open the door. Jess didn’t resist, she knew there was little point. She got out quietly and headed for the step. Brian followed her, a couple of paces behind.

The flat was quiet and dark as Jess entered, and she flicked the light switch. The lights illuminated the room but it still felt dark. She heard Brian shut the door behind her. He didn’t slam it, as she had when she had left earlier, but the closing thud was as ominous as any thud.

Jess sat on the sofa, not daring to speak. She didn’t know what was coming but she knew it wasn’t going to be pleasant. They had had rows before, had had one earlier, but she had a feeling that this one was going to be the mother of all rows. She heard Brian walk across the room behind her, and stole herself for the beginning of the shouting match, as he entered her peripheral vision.

He came at her fast. What followed, she was totally unprepared for.

oOo

She didn’t have to say any more. Jason could see the rest in her eyes. He could feel the rest in his heart which, though already broken, shattered now in to a million pieces. His tears flowed, he could not stop them. It was his fault. He knew this with a blinding certainty that nobody could deny.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Jess said calmly, breaking through his tears.

They sat for a moment regarding each other, separated by a few feet that felt like a vast chasm. Behind Jess the traffic continued to flow along the motorway. The sun above, now free from cloud cover, reflected off roofs and windows, glinting as if on water. The breeze ruffled Jess’ hair once more, and tugged at the edges of her T-shirt.

“How can it not be my fault?” Jason asked, the tears momentarily abated. “If you hadn’t been talking to me he would not have been so angry. If I had called the police, after he hit me.”

“All ifs, Jason. And ifs don’t change anything. If you had not been there then I might have been talking to someone else. If I hadn’t been talking to anyone he would still probably have been just as angry. And what would you have told the police? You didn’t know my surname. In fact you still don’t. What would you have said? ‘Please officer, this girl I just met left with her fiancé and he hit me because I was talking to her’?”

And of course she was right. But it didn’t make him feel any less guilty. “But that is not all it was.” Jason started to explain. “I didn’t not call the police just because I didn’t know your full name, or because I would have looked stupid. I didn’t call them because I was frightened of what might happen to me. I wasn’t supposed to be there.”

Jason took a deep breath and looked in to Jess’ eyes once more. He thought this was going to hurt. Whatever she had thought of him up to now was bound to change.

“I wasn’t supposed to be there. I had told Amanda that I was going to the pub because she also knew I wasn’t supposed to be there, after all it was her that had literally bailed me out the last time.” Jason paused, thinking before he went on. “I had a gambling problem, still do actually, and there was a court order on me to prevent me going to that Casino. The last time I had been there I had lost heavily, and then I had lost control. People got hurt, I went to Court, got fined. Amanda was mad at me for months after that. But I wasn’t supposed to go back. The Casino weren’t worried if I did, they just want your money, but if I got caught then I would possibly go to jail.”

Jess said nothing. She continued to watch him as he told his tale. She watched as he fidgeted on his concrete seat. She watched as he wrung his hands together, and fiddled with the ring on his right hand. She wanted to reach out to him, tell him not to worry, that she knew all he was telling her and that it didn’t matter. But now was not quite the time. His telling of the story was a necessary part of the recovery.

“So I was scared Jess. If I called the police they would want to know what I was doing there. I didn’t have much of my winnings left, guess your boyfriend got hold of that after he had flattened me, but any story I told would have a hole in it and it wouldn’t take them long to fill it. So I went home. I went home and lied to Amanda, and I continued to lie to her. And I lied to myself, and continued to lie to myself. And now I realise that in the end the lie became so real that I even forgot what the truth was.”

“I forgot you Jess. I lied you out of existence. I am so sorry.” The tears had started to flow again. “You went through hell, and I conveniently forgot what had happened. How could I do that?”

“We all lie, Jason,” was all Jess said at first, waiting for Jason’s tears to fade slightly. “We lie to ourselves, we lie to others. But sometimes it is necessary. You lied to yourself because you felt guilty, but now you are paying for that. The lie covers up the guilt but it doesn’t make it go away. The guilt is still there, but it is unsustainable. You have to let it out sooner or later or it drives you mad.”

Jason looked at her. The last had been almost a question. But he didn’t understand it, and so had no answer.

“I went to the police, the next day.” Jess continued when Jason failed to respond. “They were very nice. They took my statement. They interviewed Brian. They investigated for weeks. But in the end they said there was no real evidence, except for the bump on my head. It was his word against mine. He had left no other marks on me, and we had been engaged. Not enough you see.”

“So I left him. I walked out. And I told myself to move on, and I pretended that it had never happened. So I lied to myself too. I convinced myself that it had all been a misunderstanding. That Brian hadn’t done what he had done, and that it was probably all my fault anyway. It worked well for about three months, right up until the time when the doctor told me I was pregnant.”

Jason stared at her in disbelief. This just made it all so much worse. He struggled to comprehend what she must have been through, and finally he saw that it was not just about him. There was even more here than he had begun to understand. There was more to know, more that he hadn’t yet remembered. But he was frightened to learn because of the damage it would do to Jess. She sat so calmly on her concrete seat. Her hair blowing in the wind, the re-emergent sun lighting her face. Her smile as she watched him staring at her. How could she still be smiling after what she had told him? She was stronger than him, and how he wished he too could be that strong.

“My god,” was all he could think of saying to start with. “I am so sorry.  I thought I had it bad, but it is nothing compared to what you must have been through.”

He wanted to reach out to her again, but resisted the urge, not wanting to see her shy away again. Instead he sat on his hands.

Behind Jess, the trucks continued to fly along the road.

“And that was my guilt.” Five simple words, spoken so softly, but which had such implications.

Newspaper Headline.

And then Jason knew what was coming next. He wanted to stop her. He wanted to tell her that she didn’t have to say any more. He wanted to say that he remembered the rest now. And she knew that he wanted her to stop. She knew that he now remembered, could see it in his eyes.

But he didn’t stop her. He didn’t take her in his arms as he longed to do. He sat and he waited for her to finish.

“It was Brian’s of course,” she said, her arms now hugging herself. “There hadn’t been anyone else, though I think maybe there could have been if things worked out differently.”

The look she gave him as she said this last was filled with love, and it nearly killed him. The thought of what might have been is probably always the worst to deal with. The not knowing how things could have turned out. And yet even as he contemplated what Jess had said the thought of Amanda was there. He still loved her.

“When I told my mum, she was horrified. Not for me, I hasten to add, but for her. The thought of her daughter as an unmarried mother. She couldn’t cope. We fought, verbally, and in the end I left. I didn’t go back. What was I supposed to do? There I was, pregnant by a man I could no longer love, or even think about, and separated from my mum who couldn’t cope. With a baby I couldn’t bring myself to give birth to, or to get rid of. All my fault.”

“No,” was Jason’s immediate response. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t ask for what he did to you. You didn’t ask to get pregnant. You didn’t ask for your mum to be such a cow.” He was angry now. Angry at the world for what it had done to Jess, and angry at himself for letting it happen.

“You didn’t let it happen, Jason,” trying to calm him from the state he was obviously getting in to. Jason didn’t notice that she had responded to a statement he hadn’t made out loud. Lost in his anger it slipped right past him.

“But if I had stood up him better. Done something different. Come forward to the police. It might not have turned out this way.”

“But it did,” Jess responded, “and the world would be a completely different place if only for the ‘ifs’.”

Now was the time, she thought. The end game was near and she thought it would probably be OK.

She hopped down off the concrete block that she had been sitting on for what seemed like hours. Taking a few steps forward she stood directly in front of him.

“Do you understand now?” she asked.

“I think so.” With her now so close he wanted to reach out to her, but again he resisted. It was not yet right. Not yet. “You blamed yourself, for what had happened. It wasn’t your fault, but you blamed yourself anyway. And the guilt that came with the self blame was too much. That was your unsustainable guilt.”

The tears started to flow again. He did understand now. He understood why she was here. The love that emanated from her, as she stood in front of him, was almost tangible. He could almost physically feel it. The tears built, and flowed freely. Cascading from his eyes like a waterfall of pain and regret, and yet tinged with hope.

“And now I must leave.” Jess took the final step toward him and held out her arms to him.

Still sat on the concrete block he leaned forward into her arms, putting his around her, and laying his head on her shoulder. The tears would not stop, and he didn’t want them to. As they flowed they released what was inside, and that was why she was here. She had let him release what he had held inside for a year. Exactly to the day, he realised.

As she held him he felt her breathing steadily and gently. Felt her heart beating inside her chest. But they didn’t feel real. Like a memory, faded, but just remembered. He didn’t want to let go, didn’t want to let HER go. He loved Amanda, of that he was certain. Things might have been different, if only for those ifs, but now they were what they were. But he loved Jess too. He was equally as certain of that.

He held her tighter, wanting to feel her against him. But the tighter he held the more he couldn’t feel her. It was like she was fading as he held her in his arms. The tears eased slightly, the torrent of pain subsiding. He brushed at the tears with the back of his hand, only realising as he did that in order to do so Jess could no longer have been in his arms.

Jess now stood beside him, back-lit by the sun as it began to sink in the sky. The bright yellow light slowly being replaced by a warm orange glow.

“Goodbye, Jason.” Jason didn’t think she was going to say anymore but hoped she would. “It wasn’t your fault. Never was your fault. Maybe things could have been different, if things had happened differently, but that way lays the helplessness of ‘what if’. Accept what happened, and don’t let the unsustainable guilt destroy you. Don’t give in to it as I did.”

Jess took his face gently in her hands and kissed him on the lips. Her form was already ethereal and the touch was light. But the energy that flowed was fuelled by love and burned through him.

Transfixed by the touch of her lips, Jason could not move. Tears flowed again and he watched helplessly as she moved toward the bridge rail.

The fall would not kill her, but then she did not need it to. And she would not need the help of a truck, not this time. Hands on the rail, she looked back as Jason just one last time. “It doesn’t change anything.”

Jess went over the rail just as the large lorry thundered past. The quietness that had enveloped him and Jess was suddenly gone and he heard the roar unabated. The sky lit up with the brightest flash Jason had ever seen, and he blinked rapidly to clear his eyes. Broken from his paralysis he lurched for the rail and looked down.

Jess was gone. The lorry was past. The two had never met. At least not on this day.

oOo

Jason stood at the rail, hands clasped tightly around the metallic tube. Jess was gone, again, and his heart ached. But the ache was not what he had expected, that of a love lost, but rather that of a friend gone but not forgotten. He stood for a moment more, watching the ever present traffic as passed beneath his feet, then turned and walked towards his car.

Amanda was never going to believe what he was going to tell, but he was going to tell her anyway. No more lies. He loved her too much for that.

 


© Copyright 2020 earlofmarl. All rights reserved.

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