He got on the plane at Dulles but couldn’t stop thinking about the mess she had made for them. He loved her with a lifelong fondness and gratitude. She would always be the mother of his beautiful daughter. He would accept her with all the decisions she made good and bad in spite of his distain for the choices she had made regarding this bombshell. This one shook him to the core of his being but their bond was unshakeable. He did resent that she had made a baby with the one man they both hated. Even though she had given the boy up she had reunited with the evilness of this all these years later. Now this secret choice, which she had made years before they had even met, threatened his own daughter with her.
He was swept into her betrayal again. First her unholy alliance with that man against her country and now the baby. He wondered why she had always held back the trust that might have held their relationship together. He took another sip of his scotch on the rocks. They had enjoyed their moments though. Time had not dulled the memories. Their whirlwind and forbidden short-lived marriage in Italy while they were on assignment. The moment he met his daughter at age seven another secret she had kept. The erotic Valentine’s Day night that started out so well at their daughter’s recital only to end in humiliation and disappointment. He had been vulnerable and open to rekindling their romance. She had used that opportunity to lash out at him and left him tied up with her stockings to a pole in his penthouse all night. God she was hot that night though, he thought. She had taken his breath away. He had still fallen and remarried her for a second time.
They were fine when they co-parented but the sparks they had always made fighting left each of them alternately bitter and angry. Always going head to head with her had made him gun shy and emotionally unavailable and just plain exhausted. Still, they came through for each other over the years, he as the father to his only daughter and she during his cancer treatment. True long-lasting romantic love had always alluded them. He knew he had to make peace with this. She had a place in his life but not as his soulmate. That place had already been filled and vacated. He ordered another scotch.
As he drank he reflected back on the only one who had ever made him feel like home. His second wife. The one he had truly cherished. The real love of his life. He was a different man with her, a better man, he thought. But she had betrayed him too. They didn’t fight much. The few times they argued it was civilized and always consisted of the best makeup sex. Only when she felt hurt did she withdraw. He regretted the differences that had drove her away. Somehow right now they seemed unimportant. He wished back to a time, a moment. The day they had talked about their own Manderley. Looking back it seemed so pure so innocent. Love had hurt him twice. Why after all these years, he wondered, did she still shine through in his fondest memories of happiness?
He stared at the melting ice cubes in his empty drink and set it down on the tray. His eyes were tired. He fell asleep on the plane thinking of her.
The pilot’s voice awoke him as he was still dreaming of her. They were getting ready to land. This had been happening more frequently lately. His memories had been laced with her smile, the feel of her hands on his body and the way she had felt in his arms. The flight attendant took his glass and put up his tray table.
He looked out the window and focused on the Washington, D.C. meeting he had before flying to Europe. Another mission, so many escapes, his way to shut off the painful memories. When would it end, he thought, all this running away. Lately it was getting harder to be by himself. He was lonely. She encapsulated his thoughts. How he could still ache for this woman who was his own version of Camelot. He still loved her even though his anger at her past behaviors was still so fresh and raw in his mind. Was he some how to blame in causing her to sink so low? he knew she had played her part and was involved in poisoning the water. Was he, as his first wife said, cold and unforgiving?
It’s all part of the package, the good and the bad, he thought. He missed the company of a woman. He knew he couldn’t be with just any woman. No one would be able to replace this one in his heart. Where had the time gone? And how much did he have left.
As the plane stopped at the gate he made a decision. This would be his last mission. It was time to get his affairs in order. This was getting old. He still felt like a kid at heart and he wanted to live life and have fun. Let someone else do this. He wanted to return to that small city in New York for good.
He would meet up with his contact, the Italian C.I., the one he called “Whiskey” and work this last case with his friend in the U.S. Marshall Service. One last favor for the kid he had met long ago on that Cleveland case.
As long as he was heading to Paris he thought he might just have time to meet up with his old friend’s ex-wife who was taking care of her young grandson laid up with two broken legs.
As he exited the plane he was already dialing her number on his sat phone. Nothing like old friends to brighten up his mood.
“It has been too long, Luv, ” he said. “I will be in Paris soon and I would love to talk about old times. I will call you when I leave London.” He hung up the phone with a smile.
He still carried only one bag, the old tan duffle, his traveling companion since the early days. It didn’t take him long to exit the plane and find his way out of the airport to the car that was waiting for him.
He nodded to the driver and said nothing. That’s the way it worked. The less communication the better between operatives. It was safer that way. Everyone knew their orders and followed them to the letter. He was dropped off at his hotel the same one he always stayed at in London. The organization had their block of anonymous rooms at many hotels. He merely related the password of the day and he was wisked up in the private elevator to his luxurious suite.
He tossed his bag on the bed and set up his own private security features. This habit had kept him alive so far. He was hungry and headed downstairs to find one of the little cafe’s on Bond Street he loved so much. As he rolled up the sleeves of his dark green shirt he noticed the early evening air was just a little cool. it was a short walk before he found just the right cafe. He sat down and ordered a croissant chicken sandwich with a side of the chef’s special Italian pasta and a cup of tea.
Sitting in the trellised entryway of the cafe mostly hidden from view by the sidewalk,where he could watch the entrance, was still his favorite place. As he sipped his tea and waited for his food he looked out and people watched. Partially he did this for entertainment, the other reason was security. He could usually see what was coming with enough time to exit.
It happened in what seemed like slow motion. He stopped and stared in disbelief. He would know her anywhere. There she was in a beautiful blue blouse, black skirt and heels getting out of a taxi just as a speeding car turned the corner headed right for her.
He jumped into action and with lightning speed scooped her up and dove over the hood of the taxi she had just exited landing hard against the windshield and bouncing down into the street on the safe side. They somehow both landed on their feet. Out of breath but alive.
She screamed. The car sped off without stopping. He looked at her pretty face and into her brown eyes as he spoke.
‘My God, are you all right?” he said.
She looked at him in total shock. Momentarily speechless.
“How? Why? I can’t believe your here!” she said, as her face suddenly lit up.
“Let’s get you inside,” he said, putting his hand protectively around her. He tossed a twenty to the driver and they ran into the cafe where his food awaited.
They sat down in the shadows and she ordered a chocolate croissant and some tea.
“It’s not quite the Versailles Room,’ he said smiling.
Then he got serious.
“Why is someone after you?” he said, taking a bite and handing it to her, while he finished his pasta.
Her chocolate croissant arrived and she nibbled on it. Then took a bite of his sandwich. And then another. That’s delicious.” she said. Holding her chocolate croissant up to his mouth for him to taste.
” I can’t tell you what’s going on,” she said, between mouthfuls.
She handed his croissant back to him and he ate the last few bites. She gave him another bite of her chocolate one then smiled and shoved the rest into her mouth and swallowed. He smiled at her. She laughed at his look.
“I was hungry,” she said. “but don’t worry I haven’t forgot the manners Nanny taught me.”
They felt it and heard it at the same time.
All the windows in the cafe shattered. The taxi had pulled away but had been held up in traffic. It was no longer in existence. Their ears were ringing.
Their eyes met and he grabbed her blouse and pulled her out of the chair. He started running with her toward his hotel.
They didn’t stop till they were inside his hotel room and he had checked his security details were still intact.
“What the hell was that?” he said.
“I work for the prime minister now,” she said. “Some people don’t like what I do.”
“Enough to try to kill you twice?” he said.
“Maybe it was an accident,” she said.
He rolled his eyes then spoke rapid fire fragments on his sat phone.
“Car bomb. Bond street. At least one casualty. Maybe more. I’m securing the prime minister’s aid. Probable target.
I will get her to Paris safely on the train today,” he said.
“Is that really necessary?” she asked, while she sent a text on her cel phone.
“Yes, they want you clear of the area. ”
He made another call and set up their train trip and a car to take them there.
“The Prime Minister and the rest of the cabinet are already at a secure location in France. We need to get you there too,” he said.
“I’m not leaving yet,” she said. “The public will need me to reassure them. ”
“I’m calling a press conference,” she said. “They can meet here in the lobby.”
“Ok, it’s your call,” he said. They were getting in the elevator when she stopped him.
All of a sudden she burst into tears.
“I think it might be my family that is trying to kill me, ” she said.
“So much has happened since I saw you last. I think I may have headed down the wrong path. I couldn’t turn them in for stealing antiquities. I just took the items and gave them back.”
“So the country is on high terrorist alert, we’ve evacuated the entire government, and now you tell me this!” he said.
“I’m sorry,’ she said. “I know I have always disappointed you.”
He pushed the button angrily and they headed down. As they opened the door they saw the media had started gathering in the lobby waiting for them.
“Cmon,” he said walking quickly around the corner with her in tow and entering the library. He shut the door and locked it. Then he turned in a fury towards her.
“Why are you crying?” He said, screaming. “When I am so mad at you!”
His anger had exploded as soon as the doors closed and they were in private. His hands were raised to the ceiling and every crease on his face steamed red with his emotion. He walked quickly around the large room they had just entered in wild steps fuming as if an answer would come to him from its four corners. She stood still silently looking at him. The tears continued to stream down her face endless from a pool that could not be quenched. Still she said nothing.
“You never seem to appreciate how much I loved you!” he continued in his loud angry voice. One she had never been comfortable with aimed at her.
“Always with your scheming and betrayal! Going back with your family business again and again. Letting yourself sink down over and over into the quagmire of their trickery! Didn’t I love you enough?” He paused then, his anger diminished by his outburst, and looked into her eyes. He had finished his tour of the room and stopped a foot from her. The tears continued to dampen her cheeks but she found her voice.
“You deserve an answer but I’m not sure if I know the words to give you,” she said softly, and let her eyes meet his and then look away.
“When we were together,” she began, “those years were home. A-pinch-myself-can’t- possibly-last-happiness kind of home. One where I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. When the real familiarity of what I know to be home would return.”
She looked down then and spoke earnestly hoping that these words that had taken so many years to speak would be enough. She felt him watching her.
“I was never comfortable with your honesty, your love, your peace because what I knew of home was fear,” she said as her eyes met his again. “That fear became the anchor of my life. I believed with all my heart that my survival meant being tough enough so no one would be able to hurt me any more.”
“You came along and just loved me for no reason at all. A raw, unequivocal, knows-no-bounds kind of love, a one-of-a-kind love that I never understood or had seen before or ever after.”
She paused for a moment to let her words sink in. Then she continued.
“I knew when I left you no one would ever love me the way you did and no one ever has but I felt I had to do it. Leave you because I was hurting you and I didn’t know any other way. Your undeniable enduring emotion from that time-your voice in the darkness-has been my best memory of home. I made a mess of it. I’m sorry.”
She took a breath then before she continued. “The bad things I did or that others did to me felt normal while your unconditional love always felt undeserved.”
I never felt that I was worth the love you gave me so I did not know how to handle it when you gave it,” she said. “I felt awkward and uncomfortable and did what I always do shut down and hide my feelings.”
“The only way I knew to reach out to you was through my schemes to find a way to stay involved with your new life. In a way I knew I would never fit in again. I know now that that was wrong and I should have found a way to tell you the truth.”
As she spoke his face softened and his blue eyes were focused completely on her.
“I have always loved you,” she said with a sigh, “and have always also been terrified of being vulnerable. I call it walking in unfamiliar territory. You called it mistrust. A place where there is no fighting, no abuse, no drama. You provided a safe haven for my heart and I hid it from yours. You said I never loved you enough to trust you.”
“I didn’t know how,” she said. “to love someone who risked his life every day. I was afraid you would die.
“That mistake has cost me a lifetime of happiness with you. The children we didn’t have. The memories you have now with someone else instead. The peace I will never feel. I know it has no meaning in your life now but you, you,” she raised her hands to take both sides of his face, “you have always been the most important person to me.”
She let her hands drop as she went on. He stood there with his full attention on her as she continued.
“The one that I hurt so much that I vowed to always try to be honest and outspoken with my feelings when it mattered.”
“It hasn’t really worked for me,” she said as she walked over to look out the window. The rain was softly drizzling quietly through the trees.
“Sure, I have had some success but it came at such a high price…” she paused as her words failed her. She turned and walked back to him and stopped directly in front of him. Then regaining her courage she continued speaking.
“I still have not been completely honest with you,” she said looking directly into his eyes. “I know it won’t change anything. Not your circumstances, not my life, not the situation we are now in, not the future, but I need to now. I need to be honest.”
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I have never stopped loving you,” she said.”
“If there ever is any chance at all-no matter how remote-if your circumstances change, I want another shot with you,” she finished speaking and the room was silent.
He seemed bewildered. His anger deflated. His face was softer and the gentle blue eyes that she remembered so well had returned. He seemed more surprised than anything. As he spoke she heard every word.
“When we were together all those years ago I loved you with my whole soul and you broke it,” he said in a soft voice, “but I forgive you.”
“I made my own mistakes and they were not your fault. My wife put those pieces back together. She kept me alive and focused and I was totally devoted to her.”
“However, the part of me that I gave to you still loves you and I will always. It’s just different now. I understand how bad it was for you. I thought I could save you. All I ever wanted to do was take care of you. I wanted to erase all those bad memories with love and it just was not possible. I realize now that the problems buried deep inside you were too much for me to fix.”
He sighed. His eyes never faltered in their connection to hers.
“I have been so angry a number of times with you because of your behavior. I guess I never realized that all you needed from me was to know I still loved you too.”
“I have seen you throughout the years in so many faces in my job as a police officer and an agent. I was able to understand and help others like you because of what I saw you had suffered. So you affected my life too.”
As he spoke he had moved closer and was now again right in front of her. His face inches from hers.
“Look at me,” he said. He reached out and his lips found hers. She responded in a kiss that encompassed time and took her back to one 37 years ago. The first kiss they had ever had. He wrapped her in his familiar arms and time again stood still. He felt and smelled as she remembered from long ago. As the kiss ended he cradled her in his arms and they held each other close. She remembered what had been missing all these years-the feeling of being safe in his arms. As they untwined from their embrace she looked up at his face and they both smiled. A feeling of peace settled over her. And this time she saw tears in his eyes too.
“I have missed your friendship,” she said.
“I have missed you too,” he said. “Maybe there is a way for us to work on that…a friendship”
“I would like that,” she said, now smiling as she wiped her tears. One with a lot less defense.”
“I’m sorry that I didn’t see sooner why you were doing what you did,” he said. “I never wanted you to think I didn’t love you.”
He reached out his hand and gave hers a squeeze. “I feel better about you than I have in a long time.”
She gave him a half smile and squeezed his hand back. “Me too,” she said.
Their smiles and eye contact held for another minute before they let go.
“I’m sure now we can tell them that we will work together to fix this situation,” he said. “They’re right outside the door and they need our leadership.”
He paused and waited to see that she was presentable.
“Let’s do this, luv,” he said, with a new confidence and determination.
“I’m ready,” she said, getting her strength from him.
As they both regained their professional demeanor they headed to the double doors. He stopped and held the door open for her to walk out first. She entered the hall just ahead of him to face the crowd and the music.
They had this, he thought. Maybe the rest they could work out after with a new beginning.
Excerpt Copyright Terri Cavoli 2018
A Thousand Years…..Music by Christina Perri