“Friends & Lovers” chapter 6

The next day at work, Meg felt she wasn’t really present in her own skin. Everything she did felt as if it was done in slow motion, as if she was watching someone else live her life. In every thought, in every moment, she was still with Luke on her couch. And her body still burned with his remembered touch. How she managed to get through the day she really didn’t know. And she really didn’t know how she would have coped if Luke had been there. But as it was, he had gone with the year nines on a field excursion. By chance, Meg only saw him at the end of the day as she was making her way to her car. The school bus had just pulled into the car park, and Luke was ushering the students down the stairs. She waved tentatively, and he gave her the signal to wait, as he sent the children back into the school building. He quickly ran up to her, glancing back over his shoulder to make sure all was proceeding in an orderly fashion.
“Meg, I’m glad I caught you,” he said, his hand quickly brushing hers. “How are you?” he asked, searching her face with concern.
Meg’s heart melted. How she wished she could hold him, rest her head against his chest, walk with him away from there, until she felt like herself again, until they were alone again.
“I’m fine, really. Just a bit drained I think,” she reassured him.
There was a slight awkwardness between them, mainly due to the fact that they were standing in the middle of the school yard, with the sound of excited children all around them. There was nothing they could do or say, exposed as they were. And then Leonard’s voice fell like a virtual wall between them.
“Mr. McLaren, you’re still needed here please!” he called, hands on his hips, his disapproving frown directed at them both.
“Coming!” Luke answered. “Still some last minute organizing for the dance tomorrow night,” he explained, as he started to walk away. “See you,” he said, his eyes belying his casual tone. “I’ll speak to you…”
Meg felt the increase of her heart rate in the tingling of her skin, and she was once again feeling every kiss, every touch, and her nipples hardened just with the memory of his eager hands. Then his words replayed in her head. God! She’d forgotten about the dance! How was she going to survive that!? She hadn’t organized her costume yet; Luke would be there; and just his presence would be enough to unsettle her, with the strain of trying to hide her feelings all evening! Then there would be Leonard’s jealous scowls, or lecherous advances all night. She would be a nervous wreck!
Meg took a couple of deep breaths before getting into her car. First thing’s first, she thought defiantly…the costume shop. Nothing much can go wrong there.
Not quite knowing what pirate’s ladies in distress actually wore, Meg finally settled on a long green and brown velvet skirt with petticoats, a white frilled off-the -shoulder blouse, a wide belt with a large ornate buckle, and a sparkling necklace of fake emeralds and diamonds. At least the colors suited her. It might do her good to pretend she was someone else for a night, she thought hopefully. But Meg was still ironically struggling to discover who she really was, a year past her divorce. And since meeting Luke, she had been blown well and truly off course.
Dropping her bags on the kitchen table, Meg suddenly realized she had barely eaten all day, her stomach had been so tied up in knots. But first thing’s first, she absolutely craved a cup of coffee. She nearly dropped the kettle at the sharp knock on the front door, and hadn’t realized how nervous she still was; jumpy in fact. But before she could answer it, her mother had already let herself in.
“I need to talk to you,” she was saying matter-of-factly, as she hung her cardigan on the back of the kitchen chair.
“I’m fine Mum, how are you?” Meg said with a wry smile, and gave her mum a peck on the cheek.
“Oh, silly girl!” Joan said in exasperation, slapping her hands away. “Guess who I had a visit from today?” she continued, settling herself briskly on one of the chairs, crossing her legs neatly at the ankles.
“No, but I’m sure you’ll tell me. Coffee, tea?” Meg inquired, holding up the kettle.
Joan shook her head with a slight impatient air.
“Sam,” she said blankly.
Meg instantly dropped her cup of coffee all over the bench. “Aah!” she gasped, throwing the t-towel on top of the creeping mess. “What!?” Meg cried, spinning around to encounter her mother’s confronting glare. Joan continued as if Meg’s reaction was of no consequence.
“He tells me he asked you to reconcile, and you flatly refused…told him to get out in fact.”
Meg stood in stunned silence for a moment, trying to guage from what angle her mother was coming from.
“Well, did you?” her mother prompted impatiently.
Meg felt a growing indignation from what she perceived to be her mother’s displeasure at her treatment of Sam.
“Of course I did Mum! What did you expect me to do?” Meg asked, returning her mother’s stare. Meg felt her heart pounding again, but this time Luke had nothing to do with it.
“I expect you to consider it…seriously,” she said, plainly believing she made complete sense.
Meg’s disbelief and anger was growing by the minute. “You can’t be serious! After what he did to me! He humiliated me Mum, and he left me without so much as a backward glance!” Meg raged, old hurt feelings threatening to engulf her again.
Joan had left her chair, obviously deciding she needed to change her persuasive tack. She took Meg’s hands in hers, her face taking on a form of compassion, a calmer tone to her voice as she spoke.
“Meg, you must think about it. It might be your last chance,” she implored, obviously convinced of her own argument. “He seemed very contrite,” she added, as persuasively as she could, as if that would surely discredit any opposition.
Meg knew her mother was very practical, even quite cold at times, but she really couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The tears had begun to fill her eyes, and she fought to stay in control, if only to speak her mind.
“He doesn’t love me Mum. He only wants me for lack of anyone else to fill the gap,” she said, and with every word her determination to make her mother understand, grew. “He’s a selfish bastard Mum. You were the one who was always telling me that…”well shot of him”, you said,….”get on with it”, wasn’t that your words? And now I am trying to get on with my life, you tell me to take him back!” Meg stormed, pacing around the kitchen to keep from shaking her mother senseless.
Joan persisted. “Did you at least talk to him?”
Meg threw her arms up in the air, and turned to glare intently at her mother. “I don’t need to mother! I don’t want him…I don’t love him!” she shouted. “Not any more,” she added, knowing that if he had asked her six months ago, she would probably have said yes.
Joan sighed faintly, and lowered her head, raising it again for one last attempt. “You can get around these things Meggie. I just don’t want you to be alone all your life like I was. It’s hard,” she said, with the obvious unease of her own confession. She wasn’t a woman used to sharing confidences, and Meg recognized that.
“Oh, Mum,” she said, and moved to put her arm around her shoulder. “I can’t, not without love, not without trust,” Meg added, hoping this would be an end to the conversation. With that, Joan’s head snapped back up, her grey eyes flashing.
“Love can be a luxury Meg. Is this because of that young man? Sam said you were with another man last night,” she said challengingly.
Meg suddenly felt vulnerable, exposed, as if her mother would know how much her heart pounded when Luke was near, how his kiss, his face, his touch, filled her head night and day. The thought of him had set her cheeks ablaze, and she quickly turned away, hiding her reaction from her mother, protecting something that was somehow too precious to expose.
“Luke’s just a friend Mum, a colleague in fact,” she stammered, thinking a business relationship was more likely to deter her mother’s assualt.
“Don’t make a fool of yourself Meg. You can’t relive your youth,” she battered home, making sure that her daughter was well and truly rooted in the real world.
It was like a knife through Meg’s heart. Anger and humiliation warred with her emotions. She had been going to ask Luke to stay that night. Her mother was probably right; could she be so naive? Luke probably has more sexual experience than she does! Is that what young people do now, have sex just for fun? Is that what Luke wants? But he didn’t seem flippant or insincere; he had stopped, when she had shown him plainly how much she wanted him. But has she really got the time to play these games? She’s thirty-two, not twenty-two. Meg could almost see her mother’s practical nature planting its flag in triumph in her spirit, her spontanaiety battered into submission. Her own fading spirit bucked weakly in rebellion.
“Maybe I’m not ready yet, to just lay down and die! Maybe I want to spread my wings!” she yelled in defiance.
Joan shook her head, stony-faced, but Meg wouldn’t let her respond.
“I was with the same man since I was eighteen years old Mum. I loved him, trusted him, and he broke my heart,” she said, the tears filling her eyes again. Even Meg was amazed at how fresh the wounds still were, how mere words were enough to dissolve the scars.
“It would be nice to believe that I could at least hope to be loved again sometime,” she whispered, labouring to keep her own voice under control, brushing at her eyes with the back of her hand. “Don’t worry Mum, he’s just a friend,” she reiterated in conclusion, and she had to admit, also in defeat.
Joan gave a little cough, and stood to put her cardigan back on. “And Sam?” she asked, in her usual clipped tone, as if her daughter wasn’t standing there in front of her, stifling her tears.
“No Mum, not Sam,” Meg answered flatly, not even turning to face her mother.
She heard her mother’s staccato steps cross the kitchen floor, and shortly after, the front door click shut. Not even a hug, thought Meg; no words of encouragement, or comfort, or hope.
Numb from the emotional battle, Meg crawled up onto the couch, and drowned her senses in a long night of mindless television, finally falling asleep about midnight, to a night of unsettling dreams, with a constant theme of confusion and frustration.


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