I didn’t get to meet her handler and that was not a surprise, she was very careful in how she managed her last days with me, at a remote site which, when she requested it, should have set off an alarm bell. If I was suffering from terminal cancer, I would want to be as near to medical help as I could, not as far away as possible.
OK, I have to admit, after she told me her sob story about having cancer, I was a little sneaky and made some ‘inquiries’. Yes, she did have a cancerous growth, but it had been removed and classified benign. It was, I discovered, not too dissimilar to a problem she had when she was fifteen, but the resolution back then basically sterilized her.
Not wanting to have children, and not being able to have children were two entirely different issues, and it was going to be one of our talking points at the cabin.
So, on the basis that this whole exercise was for some other reason than spending her last days with me, I decided to run with her story, and not be too demanding. Kyle was right about me when it came to Janine. My heart ruled my head, and common sense didn’t apply to any decisions I made about her. Perhaps she knew that.
The one interesting take was that assumption there was a credible threat against her. I’ve seen TV shows, where heading into the forest seems a good idea, but remote locations like the cabin only make for a better hunting ground for the hunters, not the prey.
I knew that only too well, because hunting was built into our DNA by my father who, if he had a choice would have preferred to live back in the early 1800s. It’s why we had this cabin and the 400 acres that surrounded it.
That she remembered we had it was interesting because she had only been to it once, and hated it. Too far away from the glitter and glamour of the city.
When I told Kyle of her visit, the reasons, and the request, he simply snorted. In the day I had to think about it, I had basically come to the same conclusion he had, that this was another of her games, only this time I was involved, and for him, that was unforgivable.
“I’m coming with, Dan. You won’t be doing this alone.”
“I’ll set the place up, put in some perimeter security, as best we can, and make sure her bodyguard doesn’t get too close. If there is a credible threat, then it won’t get within a hundred yards of the cabin. You have my word. I’m about to send word to the hunting part. They’re going to meet me there. We’ll stay at the old Rogers place.”
“Haven’t you got a life?”
“Not when my little brother is in trouble. This girl, I’m not going to say I told you so, but they don’t change their spots, no matter how long she lived with you before reverting. You can’t even be sure she wasn’t playing around during those years, Dan. But I accept that you love her, but it’s really wasted on her, despite what she says. I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“I don’t. Not anymore. But hopefully, she will trip up and I will find the reasons to finally step away.”
“You’re too forgiving, Dan, but one of us has to be. Your sister and I, well, we had to grow up before our time, and it’s not hard to become cynical about everyone and everything. Just stay the way you are. I’ll take care of everything else.”
The arrangement was I would collect Janine from the hotel where she was staying.
She had called earlier and asked if I would stay with her, have dinner, and see where it went. I was not sure how I felt about staying with her, after all this time, and what I knew about her, but it was not the time to make her suspicious.
I arrived late, and she was waiting at the bar in the dining room. She had an evening gown on that would turn heads, and as it always did when she looks so incredibly beautiful, my heart did somersaults. Perhaps she knew that too.
I tried to relax, but there were so many thoughts running through my head that it was like white noise, and I couldn’t hear anything else.
My distraction was not exactly annoying her, but she was not happy.
“It’s Kyle, isn’t it?”
“Actually, no. When I told him what we were planning, I expected him to go ballistic. He did not. He actually said that if it was true, then that gesture on your part, to try and give back a lot of what we lost, before it was too late, well, that moved him.”
I’d been practicing that speech in front of a mirror until I could deliver it without the cynicism, or condescension it deserved.
“That doesn’t sound like him.”
“No. It doesn’t. But you have to remember, it was left to Kyle and my sister to look after me, and I wasn’t the best of children. He has a right to be overly protective, so from this point, you will not say anything disparaging about him. In fact, he doesn’t need to be one of our topics of conversation.”
Champagne arrived, and not the cheap stuff. She still had expensive tastes, and I had to wonder if this little sojourn was on my tab. I smiled and drank. It was nothing to me if it cost a hundred dollars or ten. I was a beer man, like my Dad.
“You don’t believe me, do you?”
“Being ill, dying. After all, I’ve offered no proof, and you’ve asked me for none.”
“Call me stupid, but I thought if we were going to make things work that a little trust, on both sides, wouldn’t go amiss.”
I knew she wasn’t stupid enough to think that I would fall for the death story, especially when I related it to Kyle. I suspect proof, of a sort, would be back in the room, in an envelope that I would not open.
“You can trust me.”
Entrée arrived, some sort of fish concoction she had ordered and told me was to die for. I was not a fine dining person, she was. I had to hope the next course was steak.
I let that ‘you can trust me’ statement pass without comment. Not until I finished the fish, or at least I think it was fish.
“The first time you came to London. You were talking about going to Tuscany, a villa to rebuild.”
“I meant what I said.”
“As you did, I’m guessing when you were talking about me to what I now know was your handler outside. Did you for one minute ask yourself why I would throw away the phone and ghost you? I was going Togo with you. You had me, again. Trust has to be earned, and once lost, is very hard to get back. You of all people should understand that. Don’t play me for a fool.”
“I thought Kyle had got to you. It was my handler’s idea, I had to get away again, an occupational hazard it seems, and I wanted to spend some time with you. It would have been just us, I promise.”
“But with an expiry date. It was always about the job, not us. It’s never been about us. In fact, if I spend too much time thinking about it, the idea of marrying me was yours, planned and executed with precision, always with a view of going back to work. In fact, I’m willing to bet it never stopped.”
“That was not how it was. I was everything you wanted me to be.”
“Yes. But was it all a grand performance?”
“No. I loved you. You know that. We both were destined for each other from that first day in Elementary school. with everything since, nothing had ever matched that feeling I have when I’m with you. And I miss it terribly.“
The girl in the red dress, the prom queen that had a line of boys beating the path to her door, and yet she chose me, the least likely boy in the school. There had to be some element of truth in her words, but right then, I wouldn’t allow myself to believe it.
The man who was her handler just tried to sneak in the front door.
© Charles Heath 2022