“Friends & Lovers” Chapter 8

Arriving home, Meg had just enough time to go inside and grab a shawl against the night chill, when she heard Luke’s motor bike in the driveway. She waited for him on the front porch. He stopped at the bottom of the steps, looking  more nervous than she ever remembered seeing him before.

“Hi,” he said, obviously waiting for her to invite him up. Meg sat down on the top step and waited for him to join her.

“I think we should just stay here, for now,” Meg suggested quietly, hearing his low hum of agreement as he sat down.

“Might be a bit more conducive to talking you mean,” he replied with a hint of a smile, their shoulders just touching as they sat in silence for a long moment. Finally Meg sighed, reaching across to find Luke’s hand. She felt some of the tension drain from his body as he leant tentatively towards her.

“What are you thinking?” she asked, not knowing where else to start.

“I believe you already know exactly what I’m thinking,” he answered with a slight nudge, that brought a quick smile to her lips. “But you are still a mystery to me Meg Nash.” Meg gave a muffled laugh.

“I think I was embarrassingly obvious a little earlier,” she said, flushing with the memory. “It’s not that I don’t want you Luke. God, you must know that!” she insisted, the heat flooding her body yet again. Luke smiled as he looked down at their hands.

“I thought you might like me a bit,” he said, leaning gently against her, then slipping his arm around her shoulders, until she found herself naturally resting her head on his shoulder.

“More than a bit, you idiot,” she answered playfully. “It’s just that….” But she didn’t know how to finish.

“It’s just what Meg?” Luke pressed. “We have to get past this.”

Everything was still, as if awaiting her answer. Even the comforting chirrup of the crickets was absent. Meg felt the tension creep back into her body.

“That’s just it. I don’t think I can,” she said, sitting up to face him, but still keeping a hold of his hand, needing that connection. Luke just stared at her, a look of shocked confusion on his face. Meg had to look away.

“Luke, you’re twenty-three, and I’m thirty-two,” she said. She felt him tense beside her, and she knew she was in for a battle.

“So what?” he said, turning her face towards him. Her eyes were wide, pleading wordlessly with him to understand, so she wouldn’t have to try and explain.

“How can you say that Luke? It’s nearly ten years,” she implored, watching hopelessly, the defiance building in his expression.

“I thought you wouldn’t care about things like that!” he said, his voice growing louder. “I certainly don’t!” he concluded, finally standing in front of her, demanding a response.

“But that’s just it; I do care Luke. I can’t ignore it, for so many reasons,” she said, standing up to face him, trying to take his hand again. He brushed her hand away, and she ached for the hurt and anger she saw battling inside him.

“I thought you were above this petty, mundane thinking,” he said. “It’s so middle class…it’s stifling!” he added, his anger having temporarily won the battle. Meg felt her own indignation rising.

“Don’t intellectualize this Luke! It’s real to me,” she implored, her anger just as quickly abating, as the tears began to burn behind her eyes. His shoulders slumped, knowing he had hurt her.

“It’s okay now Luke, but in time that gap will just seem wider. That ten years even now, means I can’t  afford to live in hope, only to be alone again eventually,”she finished in a whisper, not wanting to give her thoughts shape.

Luke lifted his head, staring into the night sky, as if imploring a higher power to remove all these obstacles; to make all her doubts disappear. “We don’t need to think that far ahead Meg,” he said in exasperation. “We can’t control the future.”

Meg gave a sardonic smile. “That’s the benefit of youth talking. I have to at least try and project into the future a little,” Meg answered, trying to detect some hint of understanding in Luke’s eyes, but she only saw him turn from her again in disbelief.

“I’ve seen the way girls look at you, talk about you. In time I won’t be able to compete with that,” Meg said miserably.

“What? Those girls at school? They’re children Meg!” he said, shaking his head, the strain of the argument showing on his face.

“I know Luke, I’m not stupid! I’m just trying to make a point,” she said, sitting down wearily on the step again. “You could have anyone.”

But Luke wasn’t going to give up. He sat down beside her, placing his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to look at him. “That’s just the point Meg. You don’t think you’re good enough,” he said, much quieter now. “What did he do to you?” he asked softly, and Meg felt the old wounds tear apart, forcing the tears to the brink of her eyes.

Meg stood up quickly, suddenly needing to get away, to hide the shame and despair that was threatening to envelope her. She ran inside, stopping beside the couch for support, taking deep breaths in an effort to stall the tears. The lump in her throat was strangling her. Luke came in behind her, turning her into his arms. “I’m sorry Meg…I’m sorry,” he murmured.

She sank against his chest as he stroked her hair, but she wanted more, suddenly deperate for him to dispel all her fears, to drown all her doubts and hurt in a flood of passion. Reaching up, she pulled his face  to hers, kissing him insistently, demanding his response. He resisted just briefly, confused by her sudden need for him, eventually returning her savage kisses. Her soft moans encouraged him, letting her head fall back to allow him access to her throat, long and pale in the lamplight. His tongue ran down its length, his hands pushing the blouse from her shoulders, revealing her breasts, heaving with anticipation. She pulled him down with her to the floor, his lips travelling down the slope of her breast. Sinking her fingers into his dark curls, she spoke his name, softly urging him on.

“Oh Luke,” she panted. “Just give me this….this one night.”

His kisses slowed, until he stopped, pressing his cheek against her breast for just a moment. With one supreme effort he tore himself from her embrace. Leaning back against the couch, he slowly drew his knees to his chest, letting his forehead rest there. He sighed deeply, Meg shocked into silence beside him.

“I was offering you more than a one night memory Meg,” he said softly, his voice heavy with disappointment.

“What?” said Meg, her mind still reeling, her skin still tingling from his touch. “I don’t understand.”

“I wanted it to be more than this,” he said flatly, slowly buttoning his shirt, finally raising his head to look at her. His green eyes smouldered, stopping the breath in her throat. “I didn’t just want to sleep with you Meg.” With a mammoth effort, Luke struggled to his feet, Meg seeing the distress clearly etched on his face. “It’ll only make it harder to leave,” he said, his voice strained with the weight of his words. He held out his hand and helped her to her feet. Meg felt inconsolably cold and hollow, and in the emptiness she searched for the right words.

“I’m so sorry Luke….please forgive me,” she implored, aching to touch him. “Please don’t hate me; I couldn’t bear it,” she added, feeling her heart close to breaking again, a sensation at once familiar and completely new. Luke ran the back of his hand softly down her cheek.

“There’s nothing to forgive,” he said gently, reassuringly, and Meg knew how much it cost him to say it. “You can only follow your own heart.” He tucked her hair gently behind her ears, and it made her smile for a second. “Know that you’ll always be in mine. Take care Meg,” he said, and kissed her softly on the lips, a great wave of gratitude and sadness washing over her.

Meg watched him walk away, the click of the front door echoing endlessly through the empty house. The desolation engulfed her, unable to stem the tears. She knew she had let someone very important leave her life forever.

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