… … …
She recognises the knock at the door. She's been expecting it. Expecting him.
She turns her head towards the repeated sound but she won't allow herself to respond to it in any other way. She knew he would come and she knows that, ordinarily, she would give in. So she has spent the last hour building up her resolve; reminding herself of the many reasons why she has come to this decision; reliving each moment, etched as they are in her memory.
She knows that he'll persist. His third knock just sounded and it won't be the last. She probably has enough willpower to survive eight or nine, but the thought of what state he might be in is already creeping in - had begun to before he even arrived - and if she can't switch off the part of her that cares, then that figure will be closer to seven. Probably six.
He knocks for a fourth time.
What happens next, though, she had not anticipated. She has always attributed his insistent knocking to his selfish belief that she's just too far away from the door to get there any faster. He doesn't usually speak until the door is open, and even then, very little is said with words.
"Gillian, I know you're in there…"
She leans back into the sofa, telling herself not to give in.
"I know you're expecting me…"
She keeps her eyes on the door, but her thoughts on why she mustn't yield.
His voice is different now and it intrigues her. He sounds sorry. That usually comes from the pathetic look in his eyes when she opens the door to his bruised and bloodied form. He always knows that he shouldn't have done it again. But there's always a next time.
That's why tonight has to be different.
"Gill, I know you're determined not to give in this time. I know that I take advantage of the fact that you're too nice to leave me standing out here - not knowing if I can even stand properly…"
She doesn't know where he's going with this but she's tempted to go to bed and leave him speaking to an empty room… Because she can't help but feel that he's about to come up with something that will break her resolve. She watches the door, warily, as he continues.
"I know that I don't deserve you. I know I've treated you like absolute crap. So I want you to know that I didn't do it. I didn't go, love. There's no blood for you to clean, no bruises to ice. And I'm not drunk."
Though she doesn't want to believe that he would lie just to get her to open the door, she finds that she is more inclined to suspect that than to think that he is telling the truth. After all, why else would he be there?
"It's not a ploy to get you to open the door. But I can understand why you'd think it is. But, really, you don't even need to open the door. I just wanted to tell you that I didn't go. And I was sitting at home and I- … I was thinking that I- …"
At his sudden silence she leans forward in her seat, despite every instruction to herself not to. She's never known him to be lost for words and now her stomach churns as she imagines what it is he cannot say.
The ringing of her cellphone startles her.
A glance at the screen confirms her assumption that he is calling her and she forces herself to wait before she accepts the call. She needs to be sure that she's happy with her decision to find out what's going on. She finds it comforting that she's certain she will hurt him herself if this is all a con.
She answers the phone with a curt, "Cal," but he can no doubt hear the hope that she can no longer hold back, or her relief that she didn't have to go through with leaving him to bleed on her doorstep. She's not sure she would have succeeded.
"Hi, darling. I thought I should probably stop shouting through your door at this time of night."
Though he's joking, she can hear that he's nervous and she becomes acutely aware of her own anxiety. Speechless Cal, and nervous Cal, are not things she's used to.
"I'll open -"
"No," he cuts her off surprisingly quickly. "No. This might be better, actually. I know you ask me not to read you, but you know that sometimes I can't help it and… maybe I don't want to see."
It's no longer anxiety. It's fear she's feeling now. This is all too strange and mysterious.
He continues despite her worried interjection, his next words increasing her heart rate with a completely different emotion.
"I love you, Gillian…"
They do nothing to ease her fear though, in fact she's even more concerned as to why he's telling her this now.
"And, just to be clear, I love love you…"
She's sitting on the edge of her seat now, torn between listening to what he has to say, and running to the door to stop him from saying it.
"I know it doesn't seem like it. I know that… But I've tried, recently and… I thought twice tonight. Twice, three times, four times; thirty-eight times! And all about you -"
"Right, Cal, I'm opening the door. Whatever's going on-"
"Nothing's going on, Gill, I-"
He stops speaking when she swings the door open. He looks up at her, his hand slowly lowering the phone away from his ear. And he isn't bruised, and there is no blood. And she's even more confused.
He slips his phone into his pocket, his hand remaining inside, and he seems hesitant to continue with his story.
They stand and stare at each other; she takes in his appearance, looking for clues as to why he's come. Finding none, she decides that asking him is the best tactic.
"Why are you here?"
For perhaps the first time in all the years she has known him, his expression is completely open when he replies. "To tell you the truth."
She swallows the fearful lump that forms in her throat. "About?"
"Well, I was sitting at home and I was thinking about what you said… That I shouldn't come crying to you… And I realised that it's my fault that you had to say that… And it's my fault that you would never be able to follow it through."
She stiffens, wanting to defend herself against the accused weakness, but she knows it would be a lie.
"You'd have waited a bit longer, but you'd have opened the door. And if I'd been battered and bruised, you'd have cleaned me up…" He takes a step closer. "You get me, darling. You don't like it all; you certainly don't have to put up with it all. But you do. And you always have… And I'm sorry that I've put you in this position where you want to be able to give that up… And I'm sorry that you can't."
Again, the correct response seems to be to defend herself, but she's sure there was a compliment in there somewhere.
"I just wanted you to know that I recognise what you do for me… And I appreciate it. And I - … It's been too long since I last said thank you. And far too long since I said it without you having to ask me to."
She can't shake the feeling that there's still another shoe to drop. And she hasn't failed to notice that he hasn't mentioned love since she opened the door.
"Thank you, Gillian, for always being here."
She waits: For him to say something else. Or for the shoe. Neither comes.
"You're sure you're not drunk?" She asks the question before she even realises she's going to speak.
He smiles. "I'm not drunk."
He laughs now, and her own lips curve into a smile. "Not this time."
"Good," she whispers. "I'd like to remember your gratitude this time."
She's still waiting to realise what's really going on, and he seems to correctly interpret whatever he can see in her expression.
"This isn't the build up to some terrible confession… I was just sitting at home and I realised that you deserve to know that I do care, and I do notice how much you do for me. And I'm going to stop taking advantage of you. Because you deserve so much more and I'm sorry it's taken me so long to do this."
He looks and sounds sincere. She wonders why it's taken him so long, but that's a question for later.
"And the 'love' thing?"
She'd expected him to break their eye contact, to at least look a little embarrassed about what he said, but his eyes remain firmly fixed on hers and he confidently answers her question.
"In the interest of full disclosure."
Her eyebrows rise, surprised by that admission.
"I need to stop lying to you," he explains, "- either directly, or by omission. I figured telling you my biggest secret is the best way to show you that I'm serious."
"That's your biggest secret?"
"Well, it was. Emily cottoned onto it… And now you know."
She nods. "It's safe with me…" she tells him, softly. She can't admit to any more than that just yet. "Do you want to come in?"
"Only if you want me to, love."
She gives the shoe another couple of seconds, then she smiles. "Come on. We can talk secrets."