It was a peace she didn't expect
Dessa lay on the bed staring out the open window. It was dawn. The early light of morning danced through the windows and the summery breeze grazed across her bare skin after billowing through the sheer curtains. She couldn't sleep. Her mind was wandering unable to focus. In fact, it was easier to just peer at the cobweb in the corner of the ceiling, contemplating the silken web, wondering what kind of spider called it home. For a moment longer she sunk into the comfort of her mattress and closed her eyes, forcing herself be still, pushing back that sinking feeling. In defiance,she jumped out of bed, raced to the bathroom then caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, shocked at how red and swollen her eyes were. Her auburn hair lay in tangles about her solemn face. She needed to make plans, but she wasn't in the mood for decisiveness.
Dessa just didn't care right now. She'd been searching her mind, asking why, how, what went wrong. She hurt; her chest muscles were tight; the pain was sharp and daunting. She knew it was anxiety. Her mind was reeling with the why yet only a gnawing emptiness answered back.
The truth of his betrayal stung. He cheated and she was seething with anger. His words attacked her heart mulching her love like meat in a metal grinder. No words could express the magnitude of her hurt. Dessa plopped back down on the bed. One bare long leg was dangling then she let it swing back and forth. There was so much yet to do. The wedding, the honeymoon, the rings, how will she ever break the news to everyone? Her sister Darci knew about Jaegar's infidelity. When he confessed, just last Sunday, she'd thrown him out of the house; the house they shared together though it belonged to her. Darci wanted to race over to comfort her. Dessa relented for two days, after that, she needed to be alone, so she asked her sister to leave.
She pulled a cigarette out of the pack that lay on the bedside table and lit it, breathing in as if it was her last breath. She didn't start smoking again until six days ago. She hadn't smoked in over five years. Both her and Jaegar, after becoming serious, decided to commit to a healthier lifestyle. But now? She didn't give a damn. She wanted the monotony of hand to mouth and she needed to relax. She'd quit once; she could do it again. The phone interrupted her thoughts.
She bolted up and stamped her cigarette out when she heard Jaegar's voice.
"Dessa, will you please talk to me?" His was always the voice of reason which perturbed her to no end.
"I'm not ready to talk to you yet Jaegar. Can't you just leave me alone?" Her voice was crackling in the pain she felt.
"Look, we need to talk about the wedding. Dessa, I messed up and I'm sorry. I know you need more time. But hell, the wedding is less than two months a way. We need to make a decision. Please, can I come over so we can talk? I need to pick up some of my things, clothes and papers, my guitar. What do you say?" She could hear the remorse in his voice. She felt the bile rising, burning the back of her throat with its acrid bitterness.
"No Jaegar, I just can't see you. I thought I made it clear last week. Six days gone by, hasn't changed my mind. You deserve to be miserable. Why don't you tell me what I should say to all our wedding guests?" Dessa's voice was rising to match her anger.
"Should I tell them of your affair? How do you suppose I should explain it?" Her fury sharpened the tone of her voice. Still, Jaegar remained calm throwing her mind in a tailspin.
"Dessa you have a right to be angry. I don't know how to fix this. I know it's too late but I do love you. You tell the guests what you must. I'll accept full responsibility. If I can help you please just ask. For now, I'll leave you alone." She slammed the phone down as tears welled in her eyes and in a plea for her own sanity, she begged; "Why do I have to cry again?"
"Damn you, Jaegar! Damn you, damn you, damn you!" The ashtray she threw at the wall, crashed to the floor in bits and left a small dent. Dessa reached for a cigarette. She lay still, except for the occasional movement needed to flick the ashes into the neck of an empty ginger ale bottle. She placed her feet on the cold hardwood floor then sat up letting her head rest in her hands; she felt dizzy, not enough sleep or nourishment. She stood and opened the patio door, then walked over to the window pulling aside the lace curtains, and gazed out.
The little cove inside Doe Bay was calm. Off in the distance, tall sails stretched into the cloudless skies; their masks catching the morning breeze and bellowing their crisp farewells as the wind pushed them further through the Strait of Juan De Fuca. Cypress and Sinclair Island rose out of the bay kind of lazy-like, with soft edges and irregular treetops -- wisps of bangs across the sky. She let the curtain fall. "I won't allow this to set me back. My life will go on" The final five words were but a whisper. She turned toward the door and walked down the stairs to start coffee before her shower.
She sat at her desk looking over the week of bills and the pile of untouched mail strewn about. Her auburn hair still wet from the shower, draped her oval face and her green eyes once alive with laughter, lacked their usual spark. She rested her chin on her hand contemplating every letter.
Then something rose up in her. The culmination of the past week's emotions were triggered, blasting through her. She raced out to the storage shed searching for empty boxes--she wanted to remove every trace of Jaegar from her house. With embittered indifference, she ran upstairs to the bathroom with a box throwing in his shaving lotions and his extra shaver. Next went his shampoo and gels as plastic bottles clunked together. She felt alive with indignation. She dropped in his favorite colognes one after another until they shared broken glass and fragrances, spicy and citrus mingling with woodsy. She taped up the box then dragged it downstairs placing it on the front porch. Next she ran into the bedroom and began emptying the drawers of what he hadn't taken.
New life flowed through her as thoughts sprang forth teasing and taunting. She ran downstairs and opened a bottle of Pinot Noir and went back upstairs with more boxes, throwing in his woven silk ties, jeans, the suits he'd left behind, as well as his silk and cotton shirts. She even considered pouring wine over the contents of the box but, changed her mind & then took a sip allowing the subtle fruit & slight oak taste trickle down her throat. When she pulled his leather motorcycle jacket and chaps out, she brought them to her face inhaling the soft muskiness mingled with the sweat of his manliness and the spiciness of his cologne :an insurmountable loneliness swept over her as she dropped them into the box.
She wanted to rip his good for nothing self out of the pictures they shared together but instead she ran a finger over their image. They looked so happy, content, striking together. Jaegar's hair, raven black and iron-board straight, was worn tied back intensifying his penetrating brown eyes. With a thud, the picture was dropped into the box which she then taped and dragged down stairs. She had half a mind to smash the Fender guitar; she was crazy with anger but not insane, after all.
She started making a trail toward the burn barrel outside and filled it with his boots and shoes, jackets and sweat shirts and whatever else she hadn't boxed up. A kerosene can was emptied before lighting a match. She backed away and watched as the barrel exploded into flames licking at the sides. She realized but did not care, she'd just destroyed much of what he'd owned except for the couple of suitcases, the duffel bag he'd packed, and the boxes left on the porch. She watched until the fire died down to embers, then lit a cigarette and turned away without a second glance.
It's been eight weeks since her break up with Jaegar. The wedding date came and went. What gifts arrived, were sent back; the engagement rings, honeymoon and the hopes of wedded bliss, were now just dull aches in her heart waning away as waves from the parting of shores. Each day she found it easier to get on with the business of living. She embraced the strong, self-reliant Dessa she once knew and was grateful to rediscover her passion for writing. There was a new surge of energy flowing. Her agent was delighted and she became incessant about her deadlines. It scared her, and yet she welcomed it with a desire to move forward, promising to let the past remain, looking forward to tomorrow in all its uncertainty, in all its resplendence.
Dessa sat on the patio of Hemingway's By The Sea, gazing toward Deer Harbor. It was a delicious warm night. She was already light headed from the one Long Island Tea she drank too fast on an empty stomach. She didn't say no when the waitress asked if she wanted another. She worked hard on her manuscript finishing it before the deadline, so she deserved to celebrate. After so many weeks couped up writing and rewriting and then writing some more, she was ready to enjoy a dinner out and a couple of drinks. She resigned herself to the easy-going atmosphere and sultry sound of Sade breathing her voice through speakers willing her to relax. The vibe was good.
She raised her glass and took a sip, condensation clung to the side leaving her hand wet which was wiped across her True Religion jeans. She allowed her eyes to gaze around the harbor taking in the various sizes of the boats rising and falling, moving with the gentle lull of the currents. The sun was beginning its descent, auditioning its nightly encore with brilliance as various hues mused together, a melding of paint and water on canvas.
She lit a cigarette then her body shuddered with self-consciousness reminding her how long it's been since she'd eaten a meal out by herself. The waitress replaced the watered down drink with a fresh one garnished with a happy half-slice of lemon. It's ripeness roamed toward her nose delighting her senses as she breathed in citrusy tang. The waitress pointed toward a man sitting at the bar who nodded and smiled. She smiled back and mouthed a thank-you feeling shy under his far-away gaze. She wondered if she should accept it knowing all to well taking the drink meant he'd want to invite himself to the table.
What harm is there in just meeting and talking to someone? she rationalized. He was walking toward her all purposeful and confident and her nerves gave rise to her anxiousness. His warm smile almost put her at ease as he asked to join her.
"My name is Anthony. And you are?" She liked his eyes. They were the most amazing shade of blue. For a brief moment, she was swept away to a place where waters are wet sapphires and thick lashes are leaves of lush palms. She couldn't recall seeing eyes such an evocative shade of blue. She swallowed before speaking, searching for composure, hoping to mask her nervousness.
"Hi. Nice to meet you Anthony. I'm Dessa." She felt edgy under his steady gaze.
"Dessa? An unusual name. Is it short for Condessa? Or perhaps Dessa Ann? Oh, I know, Moi Dessa?" She laughed at his attempt to be witty.
"Ha! Very cute, and clever. But no, it's just Dessa."
"Well Dessa, I noticed you the moment you came in. I said to myself. Wow, now that's a beautiful woman. I kept waiting for a man, perhaps a husband, boyfriend, brother, some man to show up. The more time that went by with you by yourself, the luckier I felt. Which brings me here to your table. What brings you to Hemingway's Dessa?" His smile could put the night sky of Las Vegas to shame... dazzling.
"Just dinner and a drink, nothing else." Dessa cleared her throat then looked away aware of how conscious she felt with all his manliness devouring her. How silly is this? she thought; then her mind screamed Pull it together girl!
"Gee, I was hoping you'd look at me with those amazing green eyes and say you, Anthony." She nearly choked on the drink she'd hoped would ease her apprehension.
"I'm sorry Dessa. I'm not trying to make a move on you, just trying to capture your interest. I don't mean any harm, really. In fact, and my mom would contest to this, I'm harmless." She didn't miss the playful light in his eyes.
Dessa's smile was wide and inviting. Her green eyes dancing, simply because she was at a loss for words. More than ever, she was aware of just how long it's been since she'd socialized with any man other than Jaegar. It was frightening and yet exciting. She wondered, why do I feel like a shrinking violet under the heat of his steady blue eyes?
With all the directness she could muster and a steady voice to match, Dessa said,
"Listen Anthony, it's going to take more than a couple of minutes to capture my interest, mom or not, I'm not easy, and I'm not looking for a Mr anything." Dessa smiled within at her sharp response, feeling a bit braver.
"Whoa. Alright then. I can see I better watch what I say or you'll corner me with your intuition and shoot down my pitiful pick-up-lines. I can appreciate that. I will say because it's a fact, you are gorgeous. I hope you'll let me get to know you. No expectations, of course."Hmmh, Dessa thought, that's fair, besides he seems charming and he is handsome. Dessa held out her hand which he took and they shook on no expectations, just a little converstaion and a few laughs.
They engaged in small talk. She learned he was thirty-two, a painter, celebrating his recent gallery opening. He talked about his passion for his art and how he came to San Juan from Seattle to paint the glorious scenery and decided to stay. Dessa found their conversation to be easy and entertaining. They were both surprised when the waitress came to their table mentioning last call for drinks. Wow, she thought, we've talked through the night. Dessa stood and Anthony asked if he could walk her to her car.
Once outside, the warm night air enveloped her. She lost her balance and he placed his hands on either side of her slim waist to steady her. His touch was electric, lingering a bit too long over her soft, feminine curves. I couldn't have had too much to drink, she thought, three drinks over a long period of time won't make me drunk. Even so, her mind was heady with his touch. When they got to her Jeep, she turned to say thanks for the nice evening and the conversation. His smile seemed to come easy. The warmth in his eyes softened her edginess.
Then just like that, he kissed her. She was swept away in the moment. The kiss, inviting, searching; without a doubt, she tasted musky mangoes and island berry mimosas with a hint of salty sea. Dessa pulled away. The effect the kiss had on her was numbing. She needed to pull herself together. Oh my God she thought, that kiss was divine, I'm too vulnerable now, but it's wonderful to know, Jaegar's lies haven't hardened me. He could see the apprehension over her face.
"Dessa. I shouldn't have kissed you. It seemed the right thing to do at the moment?" The questioning look on Anthony's face and the raised eyebrows made her want to giggle for some crazy reason. She felt her body relax.
"I know it was presumptuous, and I didn't mean to take advantage of you. Forgive me?" Dessa caught her breath humored by the concern revealing itself across his face.
"I'm just as much to blame. Listen Anthony, I have to go. This isn't the right time for me. I'm trying overcome a recent break-up and the infamous rebound relationship isn't for me and it wouldn't be fair to you. I, I gotta go." There was disappointment in his eyes. He stepped back and allowed Dessa to get in her Liberty.
"Hey, listen, I'm not sorry I met you. So, let's just leave it at that. I hope you find your resolution, Dessa." He placed the card in Dessa's palm pulling his hand back ever slow so his fingertips teased and danced across her fingertips sending chills through her body. She stepped back then up, jumping in her Jeep closing the door heaving with relief. He waved and nodded as she drove out of the parking lot.
When she reached a certain bend in the road, she remembered Jaegar on his Gold Wing with her on the back laughing as the wind tangled with her hair. When she got home, she plopped down and in the dark of the room thinking the night over, wondering about Anthony, about Jaegar, about the direction of her life, realizing she couldn't go forward until she dealt with the past. Soon, the morning took shape and Dessa curled up and found sleep under the warm glow of the steady sun rising.
She jerked up startled by the phone ringing. She pulled the covers over her head hoping to will away Jaegar's voice leaving a message. Call it anger, call it passion but whatever name you call it, Dessa knew she had to answer before he ended his message. She yanked the phone off its base, her tone laced with a mixture of want and disgust.
"What Jaegar, just what do you want and why won't you just let us go? I've moved on. It's time you do as well." Her voice was level and convincing yet her heart was pounding in her chest, mocking her efforts to stay composed. He didn't speak right away. Dessa sensed he was caught off guard. Then in a subdued and hesitant voice, he asked if could drop off some of her papers, books and digital camera that got strewn in the boxes she'd packed. Dessa sighed and then gave a resigned yes.
He said, "see you in a couple of hours," before she hung up. She slumped down on the bed and climbed beneath the covers. She lay on her back staring at the ceiling wondering how she would react. It's been three months since she's done anything other than talk to him and that was just to repeat, it's over, we're through. But now she would be forced to face him. She wondered, am I strong enough? Will I crumble at just the sight of him? Then as if a plea, she begged for strength, for sustenance and for sureness in her decision.
She expected Jaegar but didn't expect her heart to pump in her throat or her senses to come alive. Damn, she thought, I'm over him, I am over him! In one last effort, her mind scream I'm over you Jaegar! Then her eyes drank in the sight of him and her nose breathed the spicy musk of his cologne causing her mouth to go dry and her breathing to quicken. She couldn't deny she wanted to rush into his arms. She wanted to hate him, but instead the love she felt for him blossomed--a morning glory opening to receive the sun. It just wasn't fair. Her shoulders slumped in defeat.
She was aware nothing but time and distance could dismiss Jaegar from her heart. What a fool to think she could wipe away five years in twelve weeks; the conflict raging forth left her breathless. Standing in the living room with him so close and a look of disbelief over his angular face, Dessa came to terms with the serious love she still felt for him.
Jaegar stood searching her face. She saw sadness and his eyes begged forgiveness and she wanted to forgive and forget. She found herself hoping the distance in his mannerisms was just a disguise. She thought, are you going to say something, anything? She looked at him, her green eyes tyring in vain to remain emotionless while his eyes pierced through her questioning...hoping? Why did he always make me feel so helpless?
"You must really hate me." Jaegar's voice was steady but his eyes revealed his pain.
For the first time, Dessa didn't know what to say. She was choking back the tears.
"You know what Dessa? I never wanted to hurt you. I have no excuses and only blame. What a fool I am. I realize, now what I've lost." His regret revealed itself over his face and in the quiver of his lips and in the shame rounding out his stance. She wanted to melt with the love she felt. He searched her face, pleading with his eyes.
"Have I lost you Dessa?" Her heart begged to say no. She wanted to run into the safety of his arms, to bury her head in this strong chest but instead, she lashed out with vehemence.
"You cheated on me Jaegar! And you want to know if you've lost me? It was the ultimate betrayal."
Her chest was heaving from the rage. He swallowed, choking back his guilt.
"I have no excuse Dessa. There is little I can say to take away the pain I've caused. You have every right to be angry." His face was solemn, serious.
"You never told me Jaegar, do you love her. And why, just answer why?"
In the magnitude of her anguish, his heart sank.
"She was a nobody. A client who I took to dinner to close a deal for the office; we wanted her account. We had a few too many drinks. I'm not making excuses for my behavior, but I went to her hotel to go over the proposals and she kissed me and I kissed her back and then, well, it was too late." Jaegar searched her eyes hoping for forgiveness, but instead, saw pain.
"Do, I love her? No, my God, Dessa, no! I will never see her again. I don't expect you to understandt."
He walked toward Dessa taking her in his arms to ease the pain with the love and remorse coursing through his body. She was aware of his own trembling. All the resolve spilled forth leaving her breathless and at peace. But it was a peace she didn't expect.
Jaegar sensed something different. He knew Dessa almost as well as he knew himself. The thought frightened him. So he ignored its presence shoving it deep into the abyss where there was no hope of returning. She shifted her weight from one leg to another. Jaegar refused to let her go. He held on for a long while. She felt his breath on her neck; so she leaned in to him then looked into his eyes. They both searched each other's face and what he saw in Dessa's eyes startled him
"Can I ever gain your trust again, my dear?"
Dessa placed two fingers over his lips. There was a long silence before she tried to speak. Dessa caught her breath. She was without words. Jaegar brought Dessa deeper into his embrace. He knew what she was trying to say. His mind was screaming no, no. His heart was pumping in his throat. He nearly choked on his one last effort to declare his love.
"These past few months all I've done was search for the reasons why I hurt the only woman I've ever loved." Her now calm reserve shook through him in waves.
"Yes Jaegar, I do hurt. The emotional side of me wants to say yes there is a chance. I'm vulnerable right about now but I refuse to be one of those simple-minded women who forgive and forget as if betrayal was nothing. In the back of my mind, I will always wonder if it'll happen again. You had my trust, but now it's gone. I want you to leave. I'm going for a walk and when I get back, please don't be here."
Dessa turned away from Jaegar so she couldn't see the pain in his eyes; so he couldn't see her tears.
She walked across the country road and down the grassy path to a favorite spot on the beach. There amiss the tall grass and wildflower's nodding with the ocean breeze and the waves swooshing onto the rocky shore, the low and grumbling drone of his cycle could be heard. For a moment, her heart constricted then quaked with a predictable thump-thump. She had to will herself not to run toward home and in to Jaegar's arms. It would be so easy, so she didn't move, refusing to give in, holding her breath to still the pounding. With a grief-stricken sigh, she exhaled as the whir and growl of the cycle faded into slight breeze across the ocean and beyond. Then the sun began its lazy but colorful descent in the western sky and for now, Dessa was able to say a mental goodbye to Jaegar as she walked toward home; perhaps tomorrow her heart wouldn't be so stricken. She knew, however, she'd have to contend with each day as it came; perhaps tomorrow she could sing. Her lips curved in a slight smile as she swayed her hips to the realization she just might be alright.