Amira was admiring a different generation of sweet peas. This lot were winding up the footpath railing and onto the front doorsteps. They seemed to be singing a soft, repetitive song. Tell him you miss him. Tell him you miss him.
After a while, Amira caught on and replied, “No, I won’t.”
Tell him you miss him.
“No, he’s married.”
Tell him you miss him.
“His partner will get upset with me if I tell him that.”
Tell him you miss him.
“He doesn’t care if I miss him or not.”
Tell him you miss him.
It was not like Amira to refuse to listen to instructions.
Tell him you miss him.
Amira sighed and picked a couple of pretty sweet peas. It was pointless to not do as they wished. They being that which was behind the sweet peas. She went inside, placed the flowers between two bits of paper, and put them in the middle of a heavy book. A few days later, she took them out and they had turned into pressed flowers. She carefully slid them into an envelope with a note saying, I miss you. Later that day, she addressed the envelope to Gabriel, put it in the mailbox on the corner, and said to the wind, “I hope they know what they are talking about.”
Teresa and Bryan were going well. Well enough that, long ago, Teresa had introduced Bryan to her girls. He still only stayed overnight with Teresa when the girls were with their father in the city but he was a frequent day visitor when the girls were home. Teresa was conscious of protecting her girl’s interests and not stressing them with a new family member. She was equally intent on keeping Bryan as her boyfriend. She knew that romantic relationships are special and should be nurtured as something precious and unique. As Bryan was relatively young and didn’t have children yet, Teresa felt that he needed time to adjust to the demands of two girls in their early teens. She was realistic about step-parenting. It is hard enough for parents to come to terms with the unselfishness that is required for children, let alone, step-parents who do not have the biological and emotional attachment to the child. Adjustment time on both sides and low expectations seemed to be the best approach. Teresa did her very best to make it all work.
Overall, it was working, with only minor problems every now and again. However, after all her careful work, a bull had been let loose in the china shop. The girls had inadvertently let their father know about Bryan and he was furious. Arthur was intelligent, vindictive, and unhappy; just the right combination to create trouble in other people’s lives. Further, he was an astute liar who, always, convinced himself that he was speaking the truth. He prided himself on his high ethics. Teresa did not take his trouble-making lightly. That would have been foolish. She did not tell Bryan anything about it as she didn’t want to burden him. Anyway, she felt Arthur was a problem that she had invited into her own life so it was up to her to deal with him. Although she was correct about Arthur, she underestimated Bryan.
Teresa had received a letter from Arthur’s solicitor saying that he was going to fight for sole custody of the children on the grounds of being better equipped to raise them and, also, because their mother was providing an unsuitable and unstable environment for the girls due to her frequent and varied young, male companions. Teresa knew that Arthur did not really want the girls. He was far too busy. They would end up on their own for long stretches of time. Arthur had a lot of money. He would employ the best lawyers. He was a convincing actor and would present well in court. Teresa worried that, in comparison, she may come across as less than marvellous. Besides, no matter how she came across, she knew the impact that a powerful, wealthy, and determined man could have in any situation. Teresa was angry but, more than that, she was scared. This would have an enormous effect on her girl’s well-being. She tried to reassure herself with the thought that although Arthur had the fire of vindictiveness inside him, she had the fire of a mother’s love.
The girls and Amira were sitting at the round kitchen table having dinner. The dusk had receded and it was getting dark outside but Amira hadn’t bothered to close the curtains yet. In Waldmeer, it didn’t matter. Two headlights suddenly appeared not far from the window and they all wondered who it was. The girls ran outside eager for any visitor. However, when they saw it was a man they didn’t know, they quickly ran back inside to Amira. It was Gabriel. After Amira waved to him, the girls deemed it safe and decided to follow him down to the bungalow. He didn’t send them away and, having the openness of children, they decided to stay with him for as long as he would allow.
About fifteen minutes later, the three of them appeared at the back door of the main house. “There’s water all over the bungalow,” said Marilyn anxious to report the news.
“Oh, no,” said Amira. “Is there a leak?”
“Yes,” said Gabriel. “It’s only above the bed. My art stuff is fine but the bed is wet.”
They all went to investigate and Amira brought a bucket. There was no room to move the bed anywhere so Gabriel lifted it onto its side, guessed where the leak was coming from, and put the bucket there.
“I’ll fix it later,” said Gabriel.
Amira was not as confident in Gabriel’s handyman skills as he seemed to be but, not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm, she said, “Sure.”
“I told Gabriel that he can have my room tonight and I’ll sleep in with Marilyn,” said Bianca wanting to keep their visitor longer. The girls missed their Dad.
Amira looked at Gabriel who wasn’t objecting. “If he doesn’t mind sleeping in a girl bed,” she said.
Gabriel smiled, looked at Amira and said, “I have done that before.” Amira ignored him.
And so, that was the first of Gabriel’s staying in the girl bed which happened numerous times over the coming months. He kept saying that he was going to fix the roof but needed to find out how. He didn’t seem to be in any great hurry.
One thing that Amira had, always, found interesting about Gabriel was the way he touched people, particularly, men. It wasn’t the fear-based, competitive way of touching that straight men do to other men. Nor was he, necessarily, flirting with them. Sometimes, he was. Generally, he touched men quite naturally and freely. Perhaps, more so than he touched women. Amira surmised that it wasn’t so much that he didn’t like to touch women in the same way but women tended to react more needily than men and take it as an opportunity to attach themselves to him. Men didn’t seem to respond like that. Either they were straight and accepted the affection in good faith (or not) or they were gay and accepted it but without expectation. Perhaps, Amira reflected, because many men in the gay community have already had to learn some level of emotional independence due to an unconventional life, they do not so quickly deteriorate into needy love-patterns. At least, not in the beginning.
On one of Gabriel’s visits, Amira asked him about Paul.
“We separated six months ago,” said Gabriel. Amira was surprised that he hadn’t already told her. Gabriel looked upset. “I didn’t want to be part of the divorce statistic but now I am.” He looked away. “We were married for less time than the year we have to wait for the divorce to go through. And because we were married less than two years, we had to go to a counselling session.”
“How was that?” asked Amira.
“Terrrible. Painful.” Gabriel looked disgusted with the whole thing. “Never again.”
Amira wasn’t sure if he meant never again for marriage or divorce but assumed both by the look on Gabriel’s face. “How is Paul?” she asked feeling that it was Paul who would be suffering more from the whole process.
“He’ll be fine. He’ll move on and find someone else,” said Gabriel. The conversation was deemed over.
“What the hell?” said Bryan. He was really angry. Teresa had never seen him even close to this angry. “You thought you would keep the whole thing about Arthur and the court case to yourself? Why in God’s name would you do that? Do you think I am incapable; a child?” he added sarcastically, “In case, you haven’t noticed, Teresa, I am a grown man.”
“Of course, you are but…” said Teresa.
“Don’t you trust me? Do you respect me so little? What else haven’t you told me? What else?” he demanded.
“You’re being silly,” said Teresa quietly.
Bryan was in no mood for correction. “I thought we were in this together. Obviously, not. Am I some sort of toyboy that’s good for fun but not much else?” Toyboy was a word Teresa never said around Bryan because she thought it was insulting to both. “Am I just a rebound from Arthur to amuse you for a while when your girls aren’t around?” There was no point trying to talk reason with him. Bryan held Teresa’s face in his hands and said in disgust, “You have no intention of having a serious relationship with me, do you?” With that, he grabbed his jacket and slammed the door.
Neither Teresa nor Bryan slept much that night. The girls were in the city with their father and so Teresa’s flat was particularly empty. The flat was above the Waldmeer bookshop and overlooked the main beach. It was four a.m. Teresa opened the balcony door and then went back inside to get a coat. The early morning breeze off the water was fresh. The sky was a mixture of clouds, stars, and a half-formed moon which would sporadically appear between the clouds as if to remind anyone watching that it was only hidden but not absent.
The thing which most surprised Teresa about Bryan’s reaction was his distress at being excluded from her life. Although she was very upset about the argument and somewhat worried that it may be their last argument, she could not help feeling a little pleased that he actually cared about being in her life that much. On that partially comforting note, she went back to bed and did get an hour or two of sleep.
Teresa didn’t contact Bryan. She felt that if he was going to come back, he had to do so when he was ready. It only took two days. Bryan was a straightforward person. He didn’t dwell on things. He said what he wanted and then, without him consciously trying, troubles would fade from his mind. This trouble didn’t exactly “fade from his mind” but the anger did and was replaced with an idea.
When Teresa opened the door and saw it was Bryan, she had tears in her eyes. She wasn’t one to cry in front of other people. She had spent too long in a fragmented marriage to do that. Bryan hugged her and they both only very reluctantly let go of each other.
“I have an idea,” said Bryan when they were sitting on the balcony drinking some of Teresa’s herbal tea. “I think we should get engaged.” Teresa spit out her tea. Bryan knew she would be unprepared so he didn’t take offence. He even laughed.
When Teresa realised he was serious, she took his hand, and said softly, “Bryan, I love you. It’s that simple. But you haven’t had your children yet and I would never take that away from you.”
Teresa may not have been prepared for this discussion but Bryan was, “I think we have already discussed the point of my being quite capable of making my own decisions, haven’t we?”
“Yes, we have,” said Teresa smiling. He didn’t, often, put her in her place.
“It might help with the court case to have a stable relationship and you will feel more willing to share the girls with me,” he said hopefully. “Regardless, I want to marry you.” Bryan looked towards the ocean. It was so familiar to him. “You have had a far more interesting life than me, Teresa. I have only ever lived here but I don’t need to live anywhere else to know what I want. At this stage, I don’t think you are ready to marry me but if you will get engaged, I don’t care how long it takes you to get to that point.”
Teresa was truly stunned by Bryan’s maturity. She felt embarrassed to have not seen it before but told herself that, maybe, it wasn’t even there before. It was there now. Right now, he was more of a teacher than any kind of a “toy”. I guess that’s what love does, Teresa though. Those we love become our teachers whether we intend it or not.
Read more of Waldmeer
NEWS: In the coming months, I am going to make the whole of my non-fiction books, Love’s Longing and The Love of Devotion, available for reading here on my website.