Chapter 4 of "The Girl Next Door". Max and Millie together again.
|Coincidentally, I was surprised to get a local phone call from Dick a couple of days later. We arranged to meet for a beer and a chat, and he told me the story of his return to Australia. “I got to Nashville and made a couple of positive contacts, but then I had a call from a mate of mine in Sydney. He asked if I was interested in a regular gig as a session player at his studio, with the possibility of filling in for one or two of the bigger bands if they needed someone on keyboards. This sounded very interesting, so I hopped on a plane and here I am.”
“Great to see you again, Dick,” I enthused, “and Mike and Barbara will be giving you a formal invite to Millie’s “welcome back” party on 10th, but I’m telling you that you will be there.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for quids, mate,” he replied, “but had you heard that Billy-Joe is also back home?”
“No,” I replied,” and to be quite honest, I couldn’t care less. But what happened about Kraton?”
“You hadn’t heard, then? Kraton was forced to disband after the promoters withdrew their support for the tour. Apparently someone had leaked the stories about Millie and about Denny’s numbers. The story about Millie was fairly obvious—it was pretty much common knowledge, but I wouldn’t’ve thought that alone would cause the tour to be cancelled. I should say that my defection wouldn’t have helped, but I don’t know how the fraud story got out. Not too many people knew about that.”
“I think I might have an idea about the answer to that,” I commented. “When I took the originals to Billy-Joe’s room, I gave the envelope to Carol and, almost in passing, I suggested she might find the contents interesting.”
Dick laughed. “Now that would explain why she and Billy-Joe broke up so quickly; I heard about it all from Jerry Deems, the drummer who replaced Denny.”
A shadow passed over Dick’s face when he thought of Denny, and I was a bit curious. “Dick, you and Denny were very close—why didn’t he give the song sheets to you rather than me?”
“You’re right, Max, we were extremely close, although it wasn’t something we advertised. The affair was over before his death but we still remained very good friends.”
“Now that answers a question that has always interested me. You’re a good-looking guy, but I’d never seen you with a girlfriend. Well, good for you, Dick; I wish I’d known about you and Denny earlier; his death must have been devastating for you.”
“It was, but I had some time to prepare myself, and the shock was shielded a bit by what they call anticipatory grief. To answer your question, Denny told me about the song sheets, but we both decided that I might not be the best person as he and I were too closely involved. He worried that I might just blow up in front of Billy-Joe and ruin any revenge that night be available. So we jointly decided that you would be a perfect candidate. In the light of subsequent developments, I think Denny would have been delighted at how you used the information.”
“Thanks, Dick, I really am touched and grateful, too for the opportunity to use that information to get Millie out of trouble. Just one other question, Dick; knowing what you knew, how come you were still prepared to tour with Kraton?”
“Good question, mate. With the benefit of perfect hindsight, I think the opportunity to play and be heard in the USA was too great to miss out on. I don’t regret it, and I was just glad to be there when Millie needed someone.”
“Amen to that, my friend,” I said emotionally; we finished our drinks and left the pub.
I understood from Mike and Barbara that Millie’s sessions with Moira were working well. She was very receptive to Moira’s therapy and responded well to her suggestions. I also understood that Millie was working out regularly at the local gym, determined to get back her fitness after all the traumas her body had been through. I heard that she was also able to deal with her guilt issues, but there was one final hurdle for her to overcome.
I found out about this hurdle a day or two later when I had a phone call from Moira. “Max, do you think you would be able to sit in on a session with Millie and me? I think that my warning about your relationship was unnecessary and I also believe that your presence would help to dissolve her last barriers to eradicating her ideas around guilt. Only, please don’t let her know that you’ll be there. At 10.15 exactly on Friday, if you will.”
I was ecstatic. “I’m delighted to be asked, Moira, I’ll be there with bells on.”
“Tinkle, tinkle,” Moira laughed as we finished our conversation.
At 10.15 on the following Friday, I fronted Moira’s receptionist, who turned on the intercom. “Millie, how do you feel about Max now?” I heard Moira ask.
“I do need to apologise to him and ask his forgiveness, but then it’s in his hands and I can do no more. I just hope he can forgive me, but I’m not going to wallow in guilt any more.” Millie replied..
“Well said, my dear, now there is someone outside who I would like you to meet.” Walking to the door, Moira shielded my entrance, and then with a highly theatrical gasp said, “Oh my goodness, look who’s here.”
Millie looked up and gasped herself, holding her hands to her mouth. “Max, what are you doing here?”
“Millie, my love, I’ve come to ask your forgiveness for behaving so abominably that evening when you came to reprimand me for my attitude to Billy-Joe.”
“I … I … I don’t …Oh god, Max,” she cried and launched herself out of her chair and into my arms. “Max, I am so, so sorry for what I did and said to you. Can you ever forgive me?”
“Nothing to forgive, Millie, but if that’s what you really need to hear, of course I forgive you.” I said, holding her trembling body close to me.
“Max, how can you take this so calmly? I was a thorough bitch. A gutless bitch, so I don’t know how you can be so noble?” she wondered
“Millie, we’re friends, and that’s what friends do,” I said. “Do you remember that time when Mr & Mrs Goodman caught us stealing their nectarines?” Millie nodded her agreement. “You copped all the blame yourself and refused to let me take responsibility, even though I was the one who took the fruit. You knew I was already in trouble with Dad and this would simply add to my punishment. Do you remember what you said?” Millie shook her head in astonishment.
“You told me, ‘we’re friends, and that’s what friends do’.”
“Oh but, Max, this is so much a bigger deal. It can’t compare with a few nectarines,” Millie was still amazed.
“Permit me to disagree, Millie, my love. Firstly, the principle is the same; it’s just a question of degree. But secondly, think back to when we were seven or eight. When we were caught, we both feared some dreadful punishment; it was almost as if the Goodmans literally wanted our blood! What do you think, Moira?” I asked, artfully, trying to get a positive response from the neutral umpire.
Moira laughed. “I do think he’s got a point, Millie, and anyway, just look at him. He’s quite clearly head over heels in love with you!”
Millie hugged me close and then kissed me. “True?” she asked
“True.” I replied.
“Go on you two lovebirds. Stop cluttering up my office and get on with your lives,” Moira was amused and enthusiastic about the positive outcome to her therapy.
“Moira, I’ll give Millie a lift home, but could I please have a private word with you before I do?” I asked.
“Sure,” she replied and Millie waited outside.
“Moira, you may know that there’s a big party for family and friends in a couple of weeks time, and I wondered how Millie would react if, at the height of the celebrations, I publicly asked her to marry me?”
Moira looked amused. “Sure I know—I’ve been invited; and I think you’ll be dealing with an armful of very happy, very excited and very passionate Millie if you do so. I’ll be watching with great interest!”
I dropped Millie off at her home and while she went to freshen up, I asked Mike and Barbara the same question. They were both delighted. “I think that’s wonderful,” Barbara enthused, “and I think we’ll have to prise her away from you with a crowbar if you do.”
Millie and I spent a lot of time together, getting reacquainted, laughing, kissing and generally cementing our relationship. At one point she told me, “Max, I have been very stupid, naïve and obsessive. I know now what a fool I made of myself, and I will NEVER let that happen again.”
“Millie, I love you, and for me, that’s all that matters,” I replied, but I got the strong impression that she was angling for me to propose. I decided to allow myself just the merest scintilla of revenge and wait for the party. I knew what was going to happen even if Millie didn’t.
A few days later, I caught up with Barbara again. “Look, Barbara,” I started, “how do you think Millie would feel about being married in the full traditional white wedding dress complete with veil and perhaps a train?”
She looked at me levelly, “Max, my dear, are you sure about that after … after what happened?”
“Barbara,” I continued, “Solely from my point of view, Millie would be my ‘virgin bride’. We’ll be together for the first time, and anything else is totally irrelevant.”
Tears started in Barbara’s eyes. “Max Clements, you’re a really great guy, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have as a son-in-law. I think Millie would be over the moon—and think of all the fun we can have choosing the frock.”
Yes, I know, all the girlie stuff. But please, Barbara, keep it a secret until after I propose.”
“Meany,” she laughed and heaved a dramatic sigh. “Oh very well, I won’t spoil your surprise, but just you wait until she finds out—we’re going to have such fun.”
I heaved a similarly artificial sigh and left with Barbara’s laughter ringing in my ears.
A short while later, a potentially very damaging incident occurred out of the blue. Millie and I were sitting on a bench in the park, holding hands and gossiping when a sarcastic voice broke in on our reverie.
“Well, well, isn’t this sweet. Two lovebirds back together again.”
I spun round to see Billy-Joe standing a little behind us, with a sneer on his face and looking thoroughly disreputable. “What the hell do you want, Joseph,” I demanded. “Why don’t you just go lose yourself?”
I was completely stunned at what happened next. Millie stood and turned to me, saying, “Oh Max, don’t be so mean to poor Billy-Joe. He’s lost his band and now he’s so sad.” So saying, she sashayed towards him, looking as if she was going to embrace him. The look on Billy-Joe’s face said, more clearly than any words, “Hey Clements, you loser, she’s still got the hots for me.”
“Millie, please,” I begged, but she turned to me with a half-smile and simply said, “No, Max, I need to do this for Billy-Joe.”
She moved closer to him with a smile on her face until she was within touching distance, then said, “Billy-Joe, I’ve been waiting so long for this,” and his smirk widened.
The next second, it disappeared. With the speed of a striking snake, Millie lashed out with her left hand, catching him a stunning blow across the right side of his face that jerked him sideways. That was followed almost immediately by her right hand slamming into the other side of his face.
As Billy-Joe brought his hands up to his face, Millie’s lightning reflexes were in action again; she balanced on her left foot and lashed out with her right into his groin with all her weight behind the kick. Billy-Joe gave a harsh animal howl and collapsed onto the ground gasping with tears of agony flowing down his face.
Millie came back to me and snuggled under my arm. “Please, Max, take me somewhere nice; I can’t stand the stink around here.”
I looked at her in amazement and she laughed and told me “Max, my love, I knew his ego would let him think that I still had the hots for him and that would let me get within striking distance. One thing I said was totally correct; I’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity and I wasn’t going to let it slip. Now, tell me again how much you love me, sweetheart—I never get tired of hearing that,” and she pulled my head down and rewarded me with a soft, sweet kiss.
The big day arrived with many family and friends present. Millie was wearing the same cobalt blue dress she’d worn for her high school formal and looked dazzlingly beautiful. “I had to tweak it a bit,” Barbara whispered to me, “but she still looks gorgeous.”
“Too right, Barbara; I don’t know how I’m managing to keep my hands off her,” at which she laughed, shook her head and gently slapped my hand.
We were delighted that Dick Cavanagh had been able to be there. There were a few speeches, particularly honouring Dick’s role, and then I was invited to say a few words. Here was my chance. I thanked Dick, Dad and Mike and Barbara, and then asked Millie to join me in front of the assembled crowd.
I looked deep into Millie’s eyes and then dropped to one knee. “Millie Dixon, would you please do me the honour of becoming my wife?”
Millie’s mouth opened and closed a few times with no words coming out and then she burst into tears, flinging herself at me. “Yes, please, I so want to be married to you, my knight in shining armour. Let’s make it VERY soon.” This last was greeted by laughter, whistles and a few off-colour comments.
I took out the original engagement ring and slipped it onto the third finger of Millie’s left hand. “There you go, sweetheart,” I whispered. “Back where it belongs,” which earned me a sweet, warm kiss and a hug designed to break my ribs.
Dick charged through the company and grabbed us both. “This has made it all worthwhile you two. It really couldn’t happen to a nicer couple.”
Millie thanked him profusely and gave him a warm hug and a generous kiss. For my part, I said to Dick, “Look, mate, would you do me a huge favour? Will you please be my best man when we do get hitched. I don’t think it will be TOO long, but we’ll let you know the date and other stuff.”
Millie crowed with delight, and a huge grin split Dick’s face. “Try keeping me away,” he said. “And I’ll tell you what—I’ll write you both a special number as a wedding present.”
“Dick, you’re beautiful,” I enthused. “I’m not going to let this little minx get away again,” I told him, completely within Millie’s hearing. “I’m going to keep her barefoot, pregnant and chained to the kitchen sink!”
Millie giggled and punched me on the shoulder, and I was reminded once again that the sparkle in her eyes and the music of her laugh were highly addictive. Not that I hadn’t known this for the whole of my life, but I made a solemn vow to myself that I was going to do my damndest to keep that sight and sound fresh and present for the rest of our lives together.
I think Millie must have read my mind because she snuggled up close to me and whispered, “I love you, Max Clements, I guess I always have really, in spite of my stupid diversion, and I know I always will.”
“Me too,” I replied, and her captivating laughter let me know that I’d made the right decision.