What spell was I under thinking I might ever trust this man? Why am I still doing this job when every corner hides another red light? When one corner, one day, may have no light at all.
I could do nothing to remedy that now; I had to deal with the present first.
His warm hands held my face, calling my name, rubbing my ear lobes. Was I unresponsive?
I had come to know Andrew well. I had come to appreciate how He ticks: the power plays and manipulations, the tough-guy attitude. I have to gain His respect. In a dissonance of faculties, I fractured into the moment, finding myself still lying in bed and staring at Andrew. Andrew who called my name and embraced me. Andrew who had held my head in His concrete unyielding clamps. Seeing my eyes lucid, He backed away, He stared at His hands. He pleaded again for forgiveness. He would not meet my eyes.
I had to gain the upper hand.
My thoughts struck still on the memory of a teacher in primary school, Miss Pincen. She was a petal of a woman in appearance, but carried a battalion of bulldozers in attitude. Once there was a particularly naughty boy, who struck a classmate. Miss Pinsen would raise her chin, and look down on the boy her reprimand would target, she would place her hand on his shoulder, and she would speak with the voice she reserved for the especially naughty cases. The voice hummed with resonant composure, grinding plosives like sharpened claws and rolling alveolar approximants into tight submissive balls. It wasn’t the words she spoke, it was her imperious tone which carried a lead bludgeon—and the smile. The incongruent smile that tugged from cheek to cheek, a full serviette crinkles smile, which entirely misaligned with the words she spoke. With a face that gushed kindness and words that bled nightmares, she gained the terrified veneration of every student in the class, whilst never uttering an unkind word. Nobody in class 1B ever dared stand out of line again.
I listened to the memory of her voice, analysing the sounds, and trialled my tongue to shape them inside my mouth.
I pivoted the memory of her smile, and traced its edges and fine pursed lines.
Andrew knelt as a humbled crease on the carpet. He would not meet my eyes, only stare at His criminal hands.
“I am so sorry, I never meant to hurt you—not you! Can you ever forgive my terrible actions?” He spoke into the pile of the carpet beneath.
I welded myself as the last radiant angels flew from my vision, pulled back the covers and stood beside the bed. Altering the power plays to suit my needs. I looked down at Him on His knees. The aces were now in my hands. Now I would speak.
I placed my hand on His shoulder, perfected the authoritative downward look, and weaponised my smile.
“I will never answer you if you exert your greater size on me. Know that before anything else.” The darkness that spilled from my jaw curtailed my words. I had shocked myself by my own sharpness. I was but a shadow of Miss Pincen, but still a close bullseye. My performance fuelled my words.
“And entering my private dreams, without my permission, is an absolute violation of trust. You will never exert your physical size on me again, and you will never enter my dreams without permission. You will nod to show me you understand. ” Was this authoritative voice really coming from me? There is a time when a performance like this would have left me fluttering in all four corners. Not today. Not anymore.
He had the decency to break eye contact with the carpet and try to meet my gaze, nodding gently.
The man who looked up at me was not the Andrew I had come to know, but the uncloaked Andrew, the soul from His inside who ached and saw and felt like every other human being. The soul who was so criminally shaded from life by His armoured exterior. How could this be the same manipulative man, the same authoritative man, the same staggering centrepiece of self-assurance who had frightened me so much initially? This, for the first time since knowing Him, did not feel like a power play. This felt raw and fresh and sincere. My centre warmed to Him. I wanted to take Him in my arms and hold Him as I had done the night before, but I knew I could not. I remained strong. I felt the familiar rising of the Stockholm Syndrome crush, it enveloped me, perhaps it was crushing me, not unlike Andrew’s strong hands. He is dangerous, He is fire.
He nodded again, “I regret that you have never seen the best of me, and now I have charred your forever associations with the worst part of me.”
He reached up, slipping His fingers along the ridge of my jaw. A candle seemed to flicker dimly behind His face. “You have met the hurter before the healer, the grotesque before the guardian angel, the attacker before the protector. I am beside myself with grief to have hurt you, I cannot excuse it, but I can try to explain—please?”
He moved His hand, and looked up towards me. Please, the afterthought, but I nodded. I felt I owed Him that.
“As you have probably guessed from the many marks on my body, I have been through some tough and testing times. I am unusual for my people; these experiences left marks that cannot be seen,” He tapped His skull.
Unusual for my people? I had assumed He was British. I wish He would stop adding questions to my list when I am not sure I will stay to hear the answers.
“Occasionally I become—lost—to myself.” He turned away from me, as though He could not face the truth. “Occasionally, I am overtaken by, something. Anger perhaps, past trauma acting out childishly, perhaps, and I become blind.” He turned around and held my arm gently, “But you spoke and—your words.” He frowned suspiciously, “You—I knew you were special.”
Special was He trying to appease me?
“Please believe me; it is only in my interest to protect you. I never wanted to hurt you. I was not—myself. I give my word this will not happen again, not now you know how to shatter the veils, and, of course, you have my word that I will never enter your dreams again without your permission. I can only hope you come to find a way to forgive me, but I do not blame you if you cannot.” His voice pleated in apology.
I noticed His clever wordplay. He was manipulating me again. I lifted my jaw, found my imperious Miss Pincen once more.
“What exactly, will not happen again, Andrew?” I needed Him to be specific.
He displayed no knowledge of His wordplay. “You have my word I will never mean to hurt you again. I am—broken—in so many places, you are the only one who has ever un-broken me. Remember those words. Remember.”
I wondered how good His ‘word’ was, especially when this felt like a half-word, based on my ability to ‘shatter the veils’. He seemed to lack such control over His actions. This was a half promise, and a half promise is no promise at all.
Do I give Him the benefit of the doubt? Do I think He can keep His word, or half of it, as it appears? Do I think ‘The grotesque’ will let Him? I could not say.
I didn’t know if I could forgive Him yet, but I did know I couldn’t bear to see those creasy apologetic eyes any longer. There was a tangible ache that reverberated inside, and He felt genuinely apologetic. I wrapped my arms around Him, and hugged Him. He reciprocated, and this time I had no doubt He would.
The seconds passed from hello hug, to been-a-long-time hug, to feel-better-soon hug, to inappropriate-length-unless-someone-has-died hug. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I let the seconds blend in a warm huggy aura. Honestly, He was a good hug. That was all.
He spoke, “Perhaps I panicked about the gun. It was for our protection, you see. There is a bigger picture, we are in danger without means to protect ourselves.”
I pulled apart from a hug whose length dictated a provision of comfort for my entire planet being wiped out by a freak ice-cream factory explosion, and clasped His gaze.
‘We’ are in danger? I think He meant ‘I am in danger’. How could I be in danger when I have done nothing wrong. Should I be concerned for my safety?
“I cannot say.” The floor seemed particularly interesting to Him today.
“It seems to me, that if being your assistant should incur the risk of bodily harm, I should know about it. This is something you should have mentioned when I took the job.”
“You are the right person for this job, you just didn’t know it then, but I did. If I had told you, you would not have taken it. I cannot tell you any more—I have already said too much.”
“Can you guarantee my safety?”
He glanced up, doleful creases beside His eyes. Seconds passed.
“No—I cannot guarantee your safety, but will do everything in my power to protect you.”
His answer winded me.
I wondered whether the costs of spending time with this man was outweighing the gains. I have walked past so many red signposts and flashing neon signs telling me to turn the other way, but my feline curiosity drove me onwards. Was this the time to turn my back on Him? Was it time to let my questions flow downriver? Was it time to leave?