Chapter 12 : Daisy Chains
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One year, three months earlier
Her delicate hands craft bracelets out of daisies, fingertips smudged yellow with pollen. She loops them together, smiling at her handiwork. It is relaxing to create something beautiful, something natural. Leaning on her elbow, she shifts closer to her companion, pausing to watch him sleep.
Sunlight catches natural highlights in his dark hair, his face turned towards her to find shade. Gently, she takes his hand and wraps the daisy chain around his tanned wrists. He has not been home for long and to ask why his skin is no longer fair would be to pull down walls of denial. She sees him sparingly and so she values the time they spend together. She wants each stolen moment to last longer than either of them will live. It cannot be so and as she watches his eyelashes twitch she wishes deeply that he will never wake, that she can keep him all to herself for all eternity. For when he wakes he will surely leave her.
“That tickles,” he murmurs groggily, head slowly tilting towards where she lies on the grass. When his eyes finally open, she swallows a gasp; he is beautiful, perfectly captured by the late summer rays, a picture for her to treasure.
His dark eyes focus on hers and he smiles sleepily. He looks blissfully innocent, an air of tenderness she can’t quite place. For a moment, he only has eyes for her and she seizes it. She leans in to kiss him, enjoying the comfort he offers her as he wraps his arm around her thin frame and pulls her close. She can smell the grass on him, the scent of outdoors. That is where he has always belonged, out here in the open air, somewhere he can be free. He is her handsome wanderer, her travelling lover, a bittersweet companion who must leave her in order to return.
She knows nothing of his travels; she has never asked and he has never told. One day, when the timing is better, she will ask him to describe the wonders of the world she will never see. His eyes will light up, his lips shall paint exotic encounters and exhilarating adventures and her lust for compassion will be satiated. Until then, she must be content with knowing these exciting lands steal her lover away from her for months at a time.
“Gideon?” she whispers into his lips.
“Mmm?” He traces her jaw, his fingers finding her hair and teasing her locks.
“Do you love me?” The words sound childish to her ears but she must ask him time and time again to reassure her, to appease her. Perhaps if he repeats it enough times she will dare to believe it. She will forget her timid little heart and accept his love as though he has never hurt her.
He plays the game, as she knows he will. They both need to hear these words; it gives them meaning, it gives them purpose. “Of course I do.”
“Do you want me to be happy?”
He pushes her hair gently away from her face, kissing her again. His lips are soft, like his words, and she wants to forget the consequences of both as they lie together in the secluded meadow. “Of course. I want us both to be happy.”
“Are you happy now?”
Her words send them hurtling towards disagreement over a fact that she cannot change. No matter how happy they are together, no matter how unhappy they are apart, she will never stop him from leaving her. He chooses his own path and she must follow her own, hoping that one day their paths will cross once again and they will be reunited. Hope is all she can do.
“I’m always happy with you.”
They are the right words at the wrong time. She leans away from him, observing him thoughtfully. He crushes her with his complexity, for she cannot figure him out. He says the things she wants to hear but they are never on her page, never said when she needs them.
“Then stay with me,” she says lightly, as though heavy words would scare him away. Her shoulders sag as she sits up, legs crossed. She scans his face for any sign of remorse, for any regret, for any acknowledgement that he has hurt her. There is nothing but an easy, lop-sided smile. “Stay with me for good. Don’t leave me again.”
He sighs, matching her posture and sitting up. He fiddles with the daisy chain on his wrist. “Don’t ask me to do that.”
“Why not?” she questions, banishing the needy tone from her voice. “If we love each other, why shouldn’t I want you in my life?”
He takes her hand, stroking it soothingly. She stares at his long fingers, entranced. She almost wants to slap them away to prevent him from getting too close. She fears what he will say next. “You know it’s not as simple as that, Andromeda.”
“It could be, if you let it be,” she states stubbornly.
“No.” He shakes his head. “Whatever this is, whatever we have, it isn’t simple. Love is not enough.”
She almost cries in frustration, from exasperation as he tries to be gentle. She wants him to hurt her, to break her heart, so that she would be justified in feeling this resentment, this anger.
“You’re not trying hard enough,” she mutters, looking away from him, hands buried in clumps of grass for support. “You’ve been here for two months and it’s like nothing ever changed between us. It’s working, Gideon, we’re happy. If you leave now, if you give up, we’re as good as over. If you stay, we can make it work.”
“No, we can’t,” he barks irritably. She is taken aback at his tone, turning sharply to look at him. His frown is deep and the colour is rising to his cheeks. “I don’t belong here, I don’t belong with you. You have a husband and a daughter; a family. I can’t have you to myself and that’s why it’s painful to stay here. You remind me of everything I can never have.”
He looks away from her and she is glad; tears are pricking at the corners of her eyes. “I never forced you to be with me, Gideon,” she reminds him miserably. “Think of everything I’ve risked for you, think of everything we’ve been through together. Do you think I would have done that if I didn’t think it was worth it? I love you, I never meant to hurt you. I thought we wanted the same things.”
She studies his face, pleading with him not to give up hope. She clutches his hands, convincing herself that if she never lets go that he will stay with her forever. Her eyes beg for forgiveness for the mess that she has created, for the history between them and all the future that lies in tatters at their feet. They have ruined it themselves, with their selfish whims and incompatibility. For all their good looks, the love between them has often turned ugly and now, though they try to patch it up, the cracks still show.
Neither man nor woman say a word for a long time, the sun sinking lower in the sky as unsaid words float between them. Birds chirp in the trees of the park, unaware that the notes of their good humour clashes with the darker mood clouding Andromeda’s view. She feels betrayed, insulted, rejected; she cannot believe she was the one to chase him away when all she wants is for them to be together, no matter the obstacles. It is no use crying for all she lost for him, for all the sleepless nights and for every awful thing she said to her husband. The past is not what she thought it was and this realisation burns within her like wildfire. It spreads and consumes until she resolves never to speak to her lover again, for fear of what she will say.
Eventually, Gideon breaks the terse silence. “I’m leaving.”
She knows better than to pretend that this means anything other than what she expects of him.
“When?” she asks indifferently, even though her fragile heart is trembling.
There it is, that familiar tremor deep inside, the shattering of her heart into a tiny fragile pieces to be crushed beneath his feet. Her fists clench.
“When were you planning on telling me?”
“Today,” he says nonchalantly. When she says nothing more, he reaches to touch her shoulder, as though his gesture of comfort can help her now. She ignores him. “I didn’t want you to stop me.”
Numerous responses fight for release but she chooses none of them. No words can express the hurt he has caused her today, she cannot tell him how truly cruel he is. Her love is cheapened by his disrespect. She uncurls her fist and flattens her palm against the earth.
“I see,” she manages eventually. “And what else have you kept from me?”
He retracts his hand. “Don’t be like this,” he growls. “This isn’t my fault. There are some things I have to do and they don’t all involve you.”
The sky above her bleeds as the sun dies, the horizon beginning to bury it. “Right,” she mutters.
She shows no emotion as he pulls her to her feet with him, as he takes her face in his hands and kisses her forehead. “Look after yourself,” he says gently, a frown tainting his features. Then, he releases her, turning away and walking out of her life.
She welcomes the solitude. As she stands there, alone, she refuses to think about the consequences. He will return when he wants, when the whim strikes him, and she will wait for him like she has always done. It is not with joy that she does so, but her duty has always been to wait and that is how it shall remain. To abandon him would be to betray them both.
By the time she reaches home, the sky is diamond-studded with stars, the moon pale against the inky clouds. Daisies fall from her dress as she crosses the threshold.
The kitchen table is inviting and she sits, resting her head against the cool surface. Perhaps if she stays there long enough, the world will pass her by. She wants to forget it ever existed in that moment; she wants to not feel a thing and be protected from all the pain he causes her. She refuses to accept this is happening again.
“He’s leaving, isn’t he?” Ted says sadly from the door.
She doesn’t move, hoping that if he will understand her need to be alone. She hears his footsteps echo across the cold stone floor. He drags a chair towards her and sits, a strong arm resting gently around her waist. She leans into his chest, eyes dry as she stares at nothing in particular.
“I hate him,” she mutters bitterly. Ted’s thumb strokes the crook of her waist, kissing the top of her head. She feels so secure in his arms, as though nothing can hurt her. He will defend her from the world and its cruel twists of fate so she never has to feel scared.
His tone is not accusatory. It is not accepting. He is merely realistic; he has long since learned not to struggle against this path that she has chosen, that she has found herself lost down. He cannot change her mind.
He carefully brushes the grass from her back and holds her closer to him. She can easily fall asleep in his arms, safe from her nightmares. Upstairs, the baby wakes, her crying harsh and shrill against Andromeda’s ears. Sighing, she stirs from Ted’s embrace, knowing that this is something she cannot afford to block out. Her daughter does not deserve to be treated the way she treats her husband. None of them deserve what she has done to them.
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