“Friends & Lovers” Chapter 5

They turned off the road and slowly made their way up a long winding driveway. A small old weatherboard house came into view, nestled amongst the trees. As she removed her helmet, Meg heard the intermittent ring of bell birds, and the urgent scattering of some parrots they had disturbed as they drove up. Apart from the birds, Meg realized it was a very quiet spot, far enough from the road to exclude the noise of any passing traffic. Meg felt a little strange as she took her first couple of steps, and realized she had to find her land legs again after the tension of the ride. Luke took her arm as they walked up to the house.
“I feel a bit wobbly,” said Meg with an embarrassed smile, very grateful for Luke’s solid presence beside her.
“You get used to it,” he said, giving her arm a reassuring squeeze.
Her skin was tingling, and every muscle was singing. “How do I turn this off?” she thought, just a little alarmed at her own physical reaction. Luke was so relaxed, so attentive, but she felt so wound up. It was all so exhausting, like an inward battle that resumed every time Luke was near.
A small, wiry young man, with wild red hair, and glittering blue eyes, greeted them on the verandah.
“Luke my man! How goes it?” he called cheerily.
“Good man, good,” Luke answered, smiling, not letting go of Meg’s arm, as he ushered her up the stairs.
Meg couldn’t help but smile at the obvious easy friendship between the two men. They shook hands, and embraced briefly, then Luke draped his arm around Meg’s shoulder as he introduced her.
“Rick, this is Meg. Meg, meet Rick Stafford, lifelong friend, and all round great guy,” Luke offered with a smile.
“That’s me,” said Rick, planting a friendly kiss on Meg’s cheek. “Welcome.” “Beers all round?” he asked, not really expecting an answer, as he turned to go inside. “Sit,” he added, pointing at a table and some old canvas chairs at the end of the decking.
“Just one mate,” Luke called after him. “I’m driving, and I’ve got to get this lady home some time tonight,” he added jokingly, as they perched precariously on the old creaky chairs.
Rick momentarily stuck his head out the door.
“Nonsense! You’re right aren’t you Meg? Of course you are,” he said, retreating back inside, to reappear moments later with three frosty glasses of beer.
Meg hadn’t managed to say a word yet, until this whirlwind of a man finally took a seat opposite them.
“Cheers!” he exclaimed, raising his glass.
“Cheers!” answered Meg and Luke in unison, and with the first sip, Meg felt some of the tension drain away.
“So, what’s the story?” Rick asked, eyes darting mischieviously back and forth between them.
Luke grinned. “The story is, that Meg and I are colleagues,” he said, as if brokering no further questions.
Rick raised his eyebrows in mock concern. “Colleagues and friends, I hope,” he said with playful emphasis.
Luke held Meg’s uneasy gaze, and answered for them both. “Oh, I would say we are definitely friends,” he said, with just a hint of seriousness in his eyes.
“Definitely,” Meg agreed, returning his look. She only looked away when she took another sip of her beer, hoping for another shot of courage, as the alcohol settled warmly in her stomach.
But Rick was still giving Meg an appraising look, obviously not satisfied with their explanation.
“You went to Uni’ with Luke then?” he asked, with blatant affected nonchalance. His curiosity was obvious, and Meg started to feel a little uncomfortable, but also a little amused.
“No, I’m afraid my Uni’ days are way behind me. Luke and I are just teaching together at the moment. Well, not together as such, just at the same school,” she stammered. She felt her cheeks blazing, hating the fact that she could blush so easily. It made her feel so vulnerable, so young.
“Oh, I see, not together ‘as such’,” Rick repeated, then laughed when he saw her discomfort. “I’m only kidding!” he exclaimed. “I’m sorry, I’m a bastard,” he said self-deprecatingly.
“Yes you are,” agreed Luke with a grin. “Although I thought you’d be nice for a bit longer,” he added, punching his friend playfully on the shoulder.
Meg made an effort to move the conversation in another direction, and maintain at least a shred of control.
“So, how do you two come to be such friends?” she asked, really quite interested in their story. Their shared history was plainly obvious.
“Oh, we go way back, to kindergarten days,” began Luke. “We’ve just always been around eachother.”
“Always will be I expect,” added Rick, with the first serious note Meg had detected. “We don’t live in eachother’s pockets, but we never let too much time go by without catching up, having a surf, knocking back a beer or two. That’s just the way it is, hey brother,” he concluded, draining the remainder of his beer.
“That’s the way it is,” reiterated Luke, raising his glass to his friend, then taking another sip.
“This man, his family, reminded me what good people were, kept me sane; kept me on the straight and narrow to be honest,” said Rick, his honesty, and appreciation for his friend, shining in his eyes.
“My dad wasn’t the best of parents,” said Rick in elaboration. “Not the best person really, but I was always welcome at Luke’s place…thank god,” he added quietly. He shook his head and grinned broadly, springing up from his chair. “Another beer?” he asked, moving towards the door.
“Not for me mate,” said Luke quickly.
“I will thanks!” called Meg, suddenly not wanting this time to end. This time with Luke, in this quiet place, that could have been miles from anywhere, from any responsibilty, any doubts. She wanted to feel the boundaries between them soften, blur, and disappear; to blend their separate worlds and feel a part of someone else again. Suddenly, she was feeling very brave!
Meg looked at Luke, challenging him, silently begging him to stay, not to shatter this wonderful illusion.
He held her gaze, his eyes peeling away the protective layers, and she would finally be completely lost to herself, at least to the self she had known for the past couple of years. At that moment she knew, she hadn’t allowed herself to really feel, or experience anything for a long time, or get close to anyone for an even longer time.
All semblance of courage deserted her again. What shape would she take after all this was over? Meg felt strangely dizzy, a rollercoaster of emotions threatening to derail her. She gripped the arms of her chair, as if trying to hold on to reality.
Luke must have seen the shift in her eyes, and with a quick movement, he came to stand behind her, just as Rick emerged from the house. His long thighs were pressed against the soft canvas of her chair, and the back of her head brushed his stomach, as she tentatively leant back. His hands came up to rest on her shoulders, his fingers playing gently in her loose hair. Meg knew a line had been crossed, a door opened. “She could be in control,” she told herself, although her heart was racing, her head swimming! “Don’t think about it! You think so much, you forget to do anything!” Meg took a deep breath, and brought her hands up to cover his, then just as quickly returned them to her lap, as Rick brought out her second beer.
“Hey, you’re not leaving?” Rick inquired, noticing Luke out of his chair.
“No, Meg has ordered another beer,” Luke proclaimed, then bent down to whisper in her ear, his lips brushing against her hair, his breath light on her cheek. “I wouldn’t dream of leaving yet.”
Meg felt herself blush and quiver, and felt Luke’s answering pressure on her shoulder.
Luke returned to his chair, and Rick continued talking as if nothing had happened; as if Meg’s whole equilibrium had not shifted, and her emotions weren’t spiralling almost beyond her grasping sensibilities.
“So, has Luke told you about his travels?” Rick asked.
Meg cradled her glass in both hands, hoping to get a firm grip on her emotions.
“No, no he hasn’t,” she answered, giving Luke a questioning look.
“Yes I did, remember. I told you I’d been doing a few things inbetween studying. That’s what I was doing, travelling I mean,” Luke explained, seeming to be a bit reluctant to elaborate any further.
Rick gave a small hiccough of a laugh, and shook his head.
“Those few things he’s talking about Meg, included volunteering to help build an orphanage in Chile, and teaching in remote Aboriginal communities in th Northern Territory,” he said, smiling broadly at his friend. “This man has got a heart that matches his ideals,” he concluded.
Luke was looking a little uncomfortable listening to Rick’s accolades. Meg reproduced Rick’s wide smile, her heart near to bursting. Of course that’s what he was doing, this beautiful, caring, unselfish young man. If she had been attracted to him before, now she felt totally justified in that attraction.
Luke started to elaborate just a little on his experiences, if only to cover his embarrassment. It was easier to talk about it, than listen to his friend sing his praises. Meg was entranced.
“That’s so brave, to allow those things to touch you so intimately,” Meg said, trying to find the right words to express the admiration she felt. She knew she would never have had enough courage to move beyond the intellectual discussion of such problems.
“I’d imagine you can never forget those things once you’ve seen them yourself,” she added. “I mean, you can’t pretend they don’t exist anymore.”
Luke was looking at her intently. “Exactly,” he said quietly, his eyes turning a deeper green, as they seemed to do when he was in serious contemplation.
For a moment Meg quite forgot that they were not alone, as they exchanged a silent understanding.
“He does have fun sometimes,” Rick interjected, lightening the mood. “He’s not a bad surfer, always first in and last out. And he did get drunk once.”
“Once!” said Meg in amused disbelief.
Rick was laughing. “He was giggling like a girl before he passed out.” Meg couldn’t quite imagine it.
“I just fall asleep if I have too much. Not a lot of fun for anyone really,” Luke explained in his own defence, sending a pointed look in his friend’s direction.
Meg noticed that the sun had started to slip down behind the trees, and the late afternoon light was in its last throes of glory. The far end of the verandah was in total shadow, and the birds were raising their voices in a closing hallelujah chorus. Luke seemed to have the same realization, moving from his chair to come behind her again.
“We better make a move. It’ll be getting dark in half an hour or so,” he suggested, helping her from her chair. Meg was sad to leave. He would be taking her back home to her usual life of seemingly endless routine, and an empty bed every night. She noticed a small flutter of panic in the pit of her stomach, and instinctively clung to Luke’s arm more tightly, as he helped her down the stairs.
“You O.K.?” he asked quietly.
“Yeah, of course. I was just having a nice time that’s all,” she replied with a gentle smile.
“Me too,” he said, and slipped his arm around her shoulders as they walked to the bike.
Rick had disappeared inside, and soon came back out again, carrying a small wooden box which he handed to Luke.
“Oh, thanks Rick. I nearly left without it,” he said, carefully opening the lid. “That’s perfect man, just perfect,” Luke enthused. He turned to Meg. “For my mother, what do you think?” Luke asked, revealing an engraved brooch, set with red and turquoise stones.
“Oh, it’s beautiful!” exclaimed Meg, running her fingers across the lustrous surface of the stones.
“Yeah, she’ll love it, I know,” said Luke, holding it up to the fading sunlight. “Rick’s a silversmith, and this is a special order for my mother’s birthday. The red stones are for poppies, her favorite flowers, and the turquoise is for the ocean…she loves to be by the sea,” he explained, with obvious delight at his choice. “The engraving represents the leaves and the waves,” he concluded.
Luke slipped the small box into the pocket of his knapsack, and they said their goodbyes with quick kisses and lingering hugs, leaving Rick waving from the verandah as the bike wound its way down the driveway and out onto the road.
Meg was much more relaxed on the way home, courtesy of the couple of beers she presumed. She realized it was probably the first time she had stepped out of her comfort zone for a very long time. Her senses had been heightened, and she felt deliciously alive. The air was getting cooler. and she started to really notice its chill as they cut through the advancing evening, winding their way back to more familiar territory. Meg leaned in closer against Luke’s back, making the most of being so close to him, wishing the ride could go on through the night, imagining being close to him in ways that sent her pulse racing. But all too soon, Luke turned into her driveway, and was helping her from the bike. She let him remove her helmet, feeling the sudden rush of sound it brought, and the prickling of her scalp, her hands hanging limp by her side.
Luke was standing very close in front of her, and his hands came up slowly, lifting her hair from her neck and around her face. Meg closed her eyes and leant her head back into his cupped hands, moving her cheek against his palm, savouring the feather-softness of his touch. She dare not look at him and engage any logical thought. It would make it all too real, this beautiful guilty pleasure.
Meg gasped as she felt the warmth and softness of his lips on her eyelids, and if he hadn’t moved his arm around her waist at that moment, she was sure she wouldn’t have been able to stand. His lips moved down her cheek and along her jaw, to finally cover her mouth, gently teasing her lips apart, his tongue tentatively seeking hers. Before she could really respond, he withdrew, to cover her face with endless light kisses. But then she felt his body stiffen, his hands tighten around her waist. Only then did she open her eyes and look up into his face. He was looking at something straight ahead of him.
“There’s a man on your front porch,” he said softly, in an obviously concerned tone.
Meg turned quickly in his arms. “What?” she asked, alarmed and a little disorientated.
She had been totally lost to his caresses, on the verge of asking him to come inside with her. She peered hard into the half darkness, as a man walked towards them down the path.
“Sam?” she said in disbelief. Meg felt Luke’s hand leave her waist, and she strangely, and immediately, felt alone and cold, as if standing on the edge of a great height. “What are you doing here?” She was more than shocked; she hadn’t seen Sam for over a year, and here he was walking toward her, so very much out of place. As he got closer, Meg noticed how tired and dishevelled he looked. His hair was longer than usual, and he obviously hadn’t shaved for days. His clothes were crumpled, and when he finally spoke, she detected the sharp smell of alcohol in the air. He didn’t seem to even notice Luke there at all at first, his manner oddly disturbed.
“Meg, can I talk to you for a minute? Can I come inside for a bit?” he asked distractedly, reaching for her hand.
Meg stood in stunned silence for a second, until Luke spoke. “It’s okay Meg, you go. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, placing her bag beside her. She turned to him, her eyes full of all she couldn’t express, her disappointment, her shock and confusion. He smiled gently, and quickly squeezed her hand. “You should go inside,” he repeated with a quiet reassurance.
“I’m sorry Luke,” was all she could manage.
“It’s okay,” he replied, and turned to wheel his motor bike down to the road.
Sorrow, and a growing anger competed for Meg’s attention, as she turned quickly and strode up to the front door.
“Come inside!” she hissed, as she brushed past Sam. She needed to inject some degree of normality, of sanity, into this situation, and all she could think to do was make a cup of tea.
“I’ll get us a drink,” she said, hurrying into the kitchen. She slowly filled the kettle, and took those moments to reconnect with reality, taking long slow breaths.
Sam was sitting on the couch when she handed him his tea, but he put it straight on the table, while Meg clung to hers for support.
“What do you want Sam?” she finally asked. He seemed hesitant to begin, merely staring at his hands with a strange distraction.
“She’s left me Meg,” he said, looking at her with a manic kind of distress in his eyes.
“What?” Meg replied in disbelief. “What’s that got to do with me Sam?’
Behind the shock, Meg felt a smouldering anger begin in the pit of her stomach. How dare he come to her with his problems! Did he expect her sympathy, her support or advice? She was stunned.
“She never understood me like you, never supported me. She just changed…,” he blathered, still unaware of Meg’s discomfort.
Meg had to interrupt him, or he would have kept talking, wallowing in his self-pity.
“Sam!” she said, in a firmer, louder voice. “She probably just realized how self-centred you really are. You’ve just proved it by coming here tonight!” she said, her anger rising. She stood up and strode back into the kitchen, hardly bearing to be in the same room with him. How dare he! Meg slammed the cup onto the sink, and clenched her fists, trying to stop her hands from shaking. But Sam had followed her into the kitchen.
“Come on Meggie,” he whined. “You’re the only one who really knows me,” he continued, trying to take her hands in his.
“No Sam!” she shouted, pushing his hands away. “I’m the only one who would ever put up with you, and I can’t believe I did it for so long!” she said, everything suddenly so black and white. She backed away from him, until she ran into the bench behind her. Sam kept coming towards her, the fixed grin on his face telling her he hadn’t heard a single thing she had said.
“Come on Meg, we were great together,” he drawled, pinning her against the bench. “I could always make you moan,” he said quietly, trying to slip his hand under her shirt.
“Stop it Sam! You’re drunk!” she yelled, turning her head disgustedly to the side, and clumsily slapped his hands away. She realized she was a little bit frightened, of this man, who had been her husband for ten years, and now so much a stranger. He stiffened against her, his eyes grown dark, and his jaw tight with anger.
“Oh, but he does it for you does he?!” he hissed, grabbing her forearm tightly and pushing her hard against the bench. Her heart started to pound, and she realized he must have been watching them from the darkness of the porch. Her rising fear was just as suddenly replaced by indignation and anger, and she pushed him away as hard as she could. He stumbled back in disbelief.
“Yes he does Sam, as a matter of fact!” she said through clenched teeth, wanting to hurt him. “And it’s none of your damn business what I do with my life any more!”
Sam’s look of disbelief was almost comical, and Meg realized he had probably never heard her voice raised in anger against him before. She felt her courage growing, and knew she had to finish this while her blood was high.
“Now I’d like you to leave,” she said quietly but firmly, and stared at him until he turned away.
Meg watched him stalk back into the loungeroom, her hands gripping the bench behind her until her fingers ached. She didn’t move until she heard the front door slam. Letting out a relieved breath, she stumbled back into the lounge, and crumpled onto the couch, the tension suddenly draining from her body. Feeling extremely fragile, she leant forward to rest her forehead on her arms, taking deep breaths to try and calm her nerves, until a knock on the door made her jump to her feet, the adrenalin coursing through her body again.
“Oh god Sam, just go!” she thought, suddenly feeling very tired, as she slowly opened the door. But it wasn’t Sam, it was Luke, and he didn’t wait for her to ask him inside. Meg let him lead her over to the couch.
“Are you okay?” he asked, taking a seat next to her. “I thought I’d just wait a bit, make sure everything was alright, then I heard raised voices,” he continued, his voice trailing off as he lifted her face up to his. His worried eyes explored hers, and he gently pushed the hair from her face. “By the way, he’s gone,” he added quietly. “His car was parked down the street.”
As he stroked her face, and the excitement subsided, Meg felt herself start to tremble, and the tears begin to burn behind her eyes.
“Just shock I think,” she managed to say, before the tears spilled over, and she collapsed into Luke’s arms, the sobs shaking her to the core.
Luke gathered her onto his lap, stroking and kissing her hair, as he gently rocked her in his arms. As her crying slowly subsided, Meg felt warm and heavy. Her emotions were raw, and her need for him was all she could recognize. She wound her arms around his neck, and tentatively began to kiss his neck, where her head had been cradled just a moment before. A soft sigh escaped his lips as her kisses grew more urgent, finally reaching his mouth, where she demanded his response, her tongue flicking against his, leaving him in no doubt what she wanted. He hesitated only for a moment, laying her back onto the couch, he took control, thrusting his tongue rhythmically with hers, his hands moving firmly but gently under her shirt, grazing her nipples through her bra, until her breasts ached for him.
Luke’s mouth left hers to explore her throat, forcing a carnal moan from the depths of her being, and she thrust herself up to meet him, her fingers clutching his dark curls, feeling the length of his desire burning against her thighs. His lips returned to her face, where her tears hadn’t quite dried, and as if they had literally doused his passion, he suddenly pulled away, frowning down at her, a wild compassion mixed with desire in his vibrant green eyes. His hands came up to gently wipe the wetness from her cheeks.
“I’m sorry Meg,” he said, in a strained whisper, as he slowly sat up beside her.
“No Luke, don’t. It’s alright,” she tried to reassure him, taking his hand and bringing it to her lips. He gently pulled his hand away, and took both her hands in his.
“You’ve had a shock, you’ve been crying. And you’ve just confronted your ex husband for the first time,” he said, not trusting himself to look at her. “You’re vulnerable Meg, I don’t want it to start like this. You’re not completely yourself,” he said, his face serious when he finally turned to face her. But when he saw her concern, he smiled gently, and raised her hands to his lips again. She had to agree with him, and smiled shyly at the memory of what she had just done, a slight warmth touching her cheeks.
“No, I’m not,” she said softly. “I wamt you to know I don’t do that very often,” she whispered. “Not at all really,” she added, laying her palm against his cheek. She waited until their eyes held eachothers for amoment. “Only with you.”
They sat quietly for a moment, her head resting on his shoulder, waiting for a sign, waiting for the time to finally let go of eachother.
“I’d better go,” he said finally, moving slightly forward on the couch.
“Mm,” Meg replied. “Before I decide to do something totally out of character again,” she added, and they both chuckled tiredly, Luke finally finding the willpower to stand, leaving her right side feeling coldly naked and exposed.
Though she had wanted him totally, overwhelmingly, she loved it even more that he had cared enough for her to stop; that he had thought so much of her that he would deny his own need. Meg realized that no-one had ever cared that much for her before, not even her own husband had given her that respect. It was a precious gift that she would never forget.

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