Friends

09 January 2012

Trust Not The Vow ... Chapter 12

That evening, Gary astounded Rachel by staying home. And he was remarkably cheerful. She asked no questions yet couldn't help speculating on what had happened to effect the unusual circumstance. A week ago, upon seeing a display of tortured expressions, she thought perhaps he and Terry had fallen out; seeing him now, she realised that theory was wrong but she was grateful to whatever factor had influenced the current conviviality.

Her mind was in a flurry as she scraped the remains of a lamb hotpot into the dog's bowl, the morning's agitation totally forgotten. As she plunged the plates into soapy water her spirits soared. She grinned at her reflection in the partly steamed-up kitchen window. This could be the turning point, she thought, sweeping the curtain aside for a closer look. Her fringe was a mess where she'd wiped her brow with the rubber glove, but it only needed to be combed. She had shampooed her hair that morning; there was no need to do it again.

Her stomach bustled with excited apprehension for her impending campaign, a positive endeavour to rid Gary of his silly ideas once and for all. The idea came at dinner, when Gary smiled at something she said and she remembered the day she met him in the road, and the happiness that followed. She dismissed the juvenile announcements she made to Cynthia about her intention to wed; that was too embarrassing to recall. How young she was then; how ancient she felt now. But she wouldn't dwell on it, the evening stretched ahead and it was, after all, their anniversary.

Eager to be finished, she rinsed a basin under the cold tap and slammed it recklessly on the drainer.

‘You'll demolish them if you don't slow down.’ Gary took a tea towel from the hook by the sink and began to wipe the dishes, employing similar verve as when they first married.

Rachel carried on with her chore, making no comment about the unusualness of his action. Her mind raced with plans.

Gary wiped an excess of suds from a plate, turning it gingerly as though vigorous handling would split it in two. ‘Did you see Geoff Simmonds' daughter today?' he asked, depositing the plate on the table.

Rachel searched the bowl for an elusive teaspoon. ‘I didn't know he had one,’ she replied.

‘She's two months old.’

‘I didn't know he was married.’

‘He isn't. The child's mother is the one he took to Cynthia's wedding.’

‘Are they going to marry?’

‘Shouldn't think so. There's no point. Lavinia's not a regular girl friend any more. He met someone else while she was pregnant.’

Rachel swilled the draining board, barely listening to the narrative about Geoff Simmonds and his harem. Her attention was centred on the evening's agenda. She would wear her honeymoon clothes, the black bra and frilly knickers and the off-the-shoulder red dress she wore on the first night, the one Gary had described as fetching. The dress would be too big and not quite warm enough, but she didn't care; it was more important to wear something he liked. She would leave her legs bare and wear sandals, with a liberal amount of perfume behind the knees. A smattering of make-up and a touch of lipstick would suffice; better not overdo it.

The wine she bought to toast their anniversary was in the fridge, ready to produce at a moment's notice. Gary obviously didn't realise what date it was and she determined not to reproach him or do anything that might upset the equilibrium.

Gary asked, ‘Is that the lot?’

Rachel hung the dishcloth on the mixer tap. ‘Seems like it. Why don't you go and watch telly for a bit?’

‘I think I will,’ he said, and disappeared from the kitchen with Rex ambling in his wake.

RACHEL had achieved a romantic feel to the room by dispensing with the central light and utilising four pink-shaded lamps, strategically placing them behind potted plants to create a shadowy effect. Simulated flames danced around the logs on the electric fire. A Barbra Streisand tape played in the background. A crafty squirt of perfume on the light bulbs diffused an interesting fragrance; spicy, and a bit Indian. Rex was curled up on his bed, one leg masking his eyes. Satisfied she had created a mysterious and sensual atmosphere, Rachel took her glass and sat alongside Gary.

Gary sipped his wine. ‘This is nice. What made you buy it?’

‘I thought I'd stock some wine in case it was ever needed.’

‘Good idea.’

‘Did you have a good weekend,’ she asked, uncertainly.

‘Yes, thanks. Did you?’

Disinclined to admit Sunday's desolation, Rachel nodded. They were conversing like mere acquaintances but at least Gary seemed relaxed. If she could keep him in good humour maybe she could inspire his interest. Rocking slightly, humming to the music between sips, she tapped her sandaled foot on the leg of the coffee table. Sometimes, by design, she brushed against Gary's jeans-clad leg and felt considerably cheered when he didn't recoil as he usually did when she got too close.

Cautiously, she lifted her hand, intending to rest it on his arm but at the precise moment her fingers located his sleeve the telephone rang. She cursed her stupidity for not having unplugged the instrument before settling down. Reluctantly, she went to answer it.

‘Rachel?’

‘Oh, hello Mum.’

‘Happy anniversary.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Are you doing anything special?’

Since Rachel had been contemplating a spot of revelry, she gained some solace in blaming her mother if her objective failed. Aloud, she said, ‘We're having a quiet drink.’

Gary was still sprawled on the couch, his legs spread wide. He glanced enquiringly in her direction and mouthed: ‘Mum?’

She nodded to indicate that it was.

‘Your Dad's out,’ Amy said. ‘I wondered if I could come round.’

Rachel gasped. ‘Tonight?’

‘Certainly tonight. I want to join in the celebrations. Ask Gary if it's okay by him.’

Dismayed, Rachel presented the request to Gary, imploring him by a rapid shake of the head to forbid it, but Gary smiled and gave the thumbs-up sign. He trailed to the phone and took charge of the handset. ‘Hi, Mum. How long will you be? As long as that? Oh, well, it'll give us a chance to spruce ourselves up.’

Spruce? What did he think she was wearing, for heaven's sake.

‘Okay, Mumsie, see you later.’ Gary replaced the receiver and addressed Rachel. ‘She'll be here in two hours.’

Two hours! Rachel was appalled and mournfully castigated herself for not having the wit to oppose her mother.

Gary removed his green sweater and returned to the couch. He yawned, stretching his arms. Rachel noticed that two shirt buttons had come undone: her fingers itched to meander through the assemblage of fine hair.

THEY had finished the first bottle of wine before she knew for certain she would kiss him. Half way through the second, Gary was sufficiently inebriated for her to take the chance, confident from the repeated endearing smile that this time there would be no rebuff. Casually flinging one arm across his chest, she lowered her face, ready to accost him with her tongue. His mouth was slack and unresponsive as she exerted pressure on his lips. She closed her eyes and willed herself to carry on, lowering her hand until she felt his loosened belt.

Gary pulled his mouth away. ‘Not now, Rachel,’ he said, hoarsely, easing his body away from hers.

That did it. She propelled herself from the couch, shrieking with frustration and glowering fit to kill. ‘A year, a bloody year, and still I haven't been laid. Am I supposed to wait until our next bloody anniversary?’

Rex left his bed and took refuge in the kitchen.

Slowly, Gary got to his feet. ‘Don't swear, Rachel. You sound like a trooper in the trenches.’

‘You'd make the bloody angels swear. I wish to Christ I'd never married you.’

Gary looked pensive and a little alarmed. ‘Did you say we'd been married a year? Is it our anniversary? Is that what this is all about?’

‘God, you're the limit. Don't tell me you didn't know. Your damned homosexual friends would have told you if you'd thought to bloody ask.’

Gary stood with his eyes cast down, silently considering the imputation.

Perfectly inert, Rachel waited uneasily for his response, dreading confirmation, hoping for a denial. She had expected him to thunder in retaliation, not root himself to the floor in silent submission.

Eventually, Gary said: ‘Sorry, Rach. I know what you must think of me, but I can't get worked up over sex. The thought of naked bodies touching is a real turn-off for me. But I do love you and, believe me, I am not homosexual.’

Not wanting to break the spell of confession, Rachel kept her voice low when she asked why he hadn't told her.

‘I kept putting it off.’ Wearily, Gary toured the room. He circled the table and the couch, and stopped in front of a framed landscape by the bookcase, the picture that had belonged to his mother. He fingered the frame, muttering sentences under his breath, then, after straightening it, he turned to face Rachel. ‘I didn't want to distress you. That's the reason I avoid you, so I won't get you roused.’

Although the admission was daunting, at least her husband was talking. Since that in itself was progress, Rachel accepted it with weird enthusiasm. Spontaneously, she sidestepped the low table and went to his side. ‘Did you know how it would be before we married?’

Gary's reply was vehement: ‘No. I promise you, I didn't. I fancied you like mad. Really wanted to get married. But it went wrong on our honeymoon, when you slipped off that transparent nightie, and I ... I stroked your breast.’ He began to fidget. Drops of perspiration erupted on his nose. ‘The central heating was on full blast if you remember and we were sweating. Our bodies squelched.’ Gary screened his ears with both hands. ‘The sucking sound ... was … hideous ... I felt I was drowning in wet mud.’

Rachel was staggered. Sucking sounds! Wet mud! Was she so grotesque? Yet, even as her mind sprinted through the various incidents when her advances were spurned, recalling the hurt and the devastation of rejection, she recognised at long last that it was Gary's abnormalities rather than her body that caused his problems. He must have agonised for a whole year; his reluctance to speak out was perfectly understandable. Her relief was immense. He loved her. No matter what else was wrong, Gary loved her.

The doorbell sounded.

Rachel wanted to ignore it. She wanted to take Gary in her arms, to comfort him and support him in his predicament. But he wouldn't want it. He wanted no contact at all. For the moment, all she could do was reassure him of her willingness to carry on with a celibate existence and gladly shelve the lovemaking. She had no alternative but to administer a compassionate smile … and open the door.

THE rest of the evening passed as though nothing had gone on between them. No doubt relieved that his dilemma had been aired, Gary told modern jokes and recounted anecdotes of youthful pranks. A third bottle of wine, contributed by Amy, was consumed during a laughter-filled hour, the first time this side of her wedding that Rachel had seen him so composed.

At eleven o'clock, when Amy made a move to get her coat, Gary jumped to his feet. ‘I'll take you home,’ he said, reaching for his sweater.

Amy buttoned her coat. ‘It won't take many minutes to walk.’

However, Gary would not hear of her walking home unescorted. ‘It's pitch-black by that field. You never know who might be prowling.’

For the first time in ages Rachel argued against her mother, agreeing with Gary that she should be accompanied, but insisting they go on foot because of his well-oiled state. Fifteen minutes was all it would take, there and back.

SHE had a lot to ponder on as she cleansed and creamed her face. Once she had thrust away Gary's appalling reference to wet mud, she found she could forgivingly review his disclosure. It would be a blessed release, now that things were out in the open, to act normally and rid herself of the continual mistrust.

Moving to the bed, she fished under the pillow for the flimsy baby-doll nightdress, and swiftly stuffed it in the linen box. Oxfam would appreciate the donation, along with all the other provocative bed wear. From the dressing-table drawer, she withdrew the flannelette pyjamas Gary's mother had given her. Slipping on the jacket and tugging the trousers over her hips, she peered in the mirror. The butcher's stripes were monstrously mannish, but if that was what it took to keep her man it would have to do.

Kissing Rex on the head, she clambered into bed and punched the pillows behind her. She estimated that Gary's homecoming would be delayed by at least half an hour, owing to a fresh fall of snow. This gave her time for a quiet read. However, by the end of the first page tiredness defeated her. She gave a noisy yawn and drowsily consulted the alarm clock. Five minutes to midnight and not a sound violated the silence of the outside world. No wind, no footsteps, no Gary. It had been a memorable day, she thought as, strangely content, she snuggled down to sleep. The anniversary, albeit not the kind envisaged, had been an unmitigated success.

IT was the cold that woke her. She pulled the covers more tightly around her shoulders, the unfamiliar flannelette reminding her of Gary's confessed repugnance for physical contact. Without thinking, she wriggled to the extreme edge of the mattress. A moment's displeasure assailed her as she challenged her ability to maintain pretence of not minding, querying how she would suppress the desire for copulation when the mere sight of him drove her wild. Restlessly, she turned onto her back, rolling her head to one side to peep at him. But, with the curtains obscuring the street lamp's customary illumination, the room was too dark to see.

Needing reassurance that their relationship was unharmed Rachel extended a cautious hand, but Gary's side appeared to be unoccupied. She pushed her arm further across and felt only the smooth, cold sheet. Suddenly alert, she clicked on the bedside lamp, squinting in the sudden glare. Incredulously, as her eyes became accustomed to the light, she took in the empty space beside her. Equally disbelieving, she noted that the time was five o'clock. She lay against the pillows, trying to take in the meaning of Gary's absence, ultimately decided he must have been unable to sleep and gone downstairs. With so much on his mind, he had probably drunk himself silly.

He would need her assistance, she thought, hopping out of bed. Black coffee would do the trick, and encouragement to sleep. Grabbing her gown, she scuttled towards the stairs.

Rex growled at the disruption.

Rachel burst into the living room, expecting to see Gary in his usual prone position on the couch, a whisky glass perched precariously on his chest. She came to a sudden halt, her hand cemented to the door handle, her lower limbs paralysed. Nerve ends jerked as she beheld the scene as she had left it more than five hours earlier: one solitary pink lamp aglow in the corner, projecting a small potted palm's shadowy fingers on the wall, and no sign of Gary.


(to be continued)

11 comments:

Don't unplug your hub said...

If you see Rachel, could you give her my email address please. :-)

Valerie said...

Heehee, John, do you think she'll like your shed?

Akelamalu said...

OMG what's happened to Gary?

Valerie said...

The mystery deepens, Pearl

Montanagirl said...

Where in the world is Gary? Hmmmmm....Love this story, Val.

Banker Chick said...

I really need to go back too the start of this,to learn more about your characters.

Ron said...

OMG...you have me in TOTAL suspense, Valerie!!!!!!!

Faaaaaaaaabulous chapter! So much revealed, yet so much hidden.

I'm DYING to find out what happened to Gary.

Excellent mystery writing, dear lady.

You ROCK!!!!

Hope you're enjoying a terrific Tuesday!

X

Valerie said...

Banker Chick, the story is almost half way through, hope you can find your way to the starting line.

Hi Ron, I like a little suspense now and again...hahaha.

Brian Miller said...

nice..you ratcheted up the suspense in this segment val....enjoying the ride...

Bernie said...

This story is so good, if I were reading it in book form I wouldn't put it down until I finished. Living on the edge about what is to come......:-)Hugs

HermanTurnip said...

Alright, Gary is turning out to be a right basterd. Phobia schmobia. Man up, Gary.