Now that I had my license back I started building up the new coffee run in the northern suburbs. It had proved a good choice, with plenty of customers right from the first day. I started with a morning and a lunch run, but felt that I could easily do an afternoon run as well. Saffron was doing brilliantly with the original coffee run, and there was still no sign of anyone who might be suitable as a replacement. Not that I thought she needed to be replaced, she had worked out far better than I imagined. Well, I knew that she would be fantastic at the job, it was her professionalism I had been not so sure about.
My mind was still vacillating between what I wanted – Matt – and what I thought was safer – no Matt. I had written a letter myself and given myself a stern talking to about living in a grey world and living with colour and how every choice is a risk. All great advice but I still didn’t know what to do. So I made an appointment with Sue, for Wednesday afternoon. And that was why I was sitting at a pavement table outside a new coffee shop that had opened in the town centre, and how I saw Lucy.
She was walking towards me, but on the opposite side of the street. Although my first instinct was to slide under the table, I resisted the impulse. It was ridiculous to have such a reaction, and besides, I would look like an idiot if I did that. And I was wearing a skirt, so the chances of sliding under the table and retaining my dignity (ignoring the lack of dignity involved in sliding like a spineless coward under said table in the first place) were minimal.
So I sat and sipped the excellent coffee, just like a grownup, as she approached. With the first irrational panic dissipating I was better able to notice other things. Like the diamond engagement ring flashing on her left hand – cue my own bare left hand clenching into a fist. And the deeply unhappy expression on her face, the stiff way she was holding herself, the way she appeared not to notice anything around her. Oh dear, either she was having a bad day, or the Nathan effect had started sooner than I anticipated.
Because while I hoped for both their sakes that Nathan had changed, I knew that it was not possible without a lot of counseling. Not with his personality disorder. I was surprised to see Lucy looking this unhappy so soon. The honeymoon period, by which I mean that time during which his personality disorders were suppressed, was a magical time for me. There is nobody so charming, so wonderful, so perfect, as the person with a narcissistic personality disorder. At least at the beginning.
Something must have happened, they must have had a fight. Or, maybe I was over-reacting and she had just had her car bashed by a wayward shopping trolley, or she had stepped in doggie doo-doo and was smelling the pungent odour with every step. Any number of things could have happened. I was likely colouring her doleful expression with my own experiences palette. Deciding that anyway it was none of my business, and thanking my lucky stars that I no longer had to worry about Nathan apart from his behaviour as a father, I put Lucy out of my mind and focused instead on my coffee.
“So how did you feel on seeing her?” Sue was peering at me over her glasses again.
“Panic at first, I wanted to hide, to avoid any possible confrontation.”
“And why did you think there would be confrontation?”
I sighed. “I don’t know. I haven’t exchanged one word with Lucy since Nathan told me he was seeing her.” He also told me he wanted to see us both at the same time, but Sue already knew that and it had no bearing on this conversation.
I thought about it. “I guess, seeing her so unexpectedly made the past and the present collide in my mind. It was a knee-jerk reaction.”
“And she is wearing an engagement ring? How do you feel about that?”
I realized I was twisting a non-existent wedding ring, which meant I was assaulting the skin on my ring finger, and grabbed my coffee cup with my right hand to keep it busy. Taking a cautious sip – it was hot – I thought about that too. “Gutted. I don’t know why though. We’ve been divorced for a long time now, and I certainly don’t want him back. It’s ridiculous to feel this way.”
Sue’s eyebrows did their regular climb up her forehead. They must be the fittest eyebrows in town. “I don’t think it’s ridiculous, I think it’s normal. You have a past with Nathan, and now another woman is going to take the place that was once yours. It’s normal to feel upset by that. How do you feel now?”
“I’m ok. I don’t want him back, that’s for sure. I guess it was a shock, and I was upset that I was upset about it, if that makes sense. But now, well now I kind of feel sorry for Lucy.”
Eyebrows snapping back down so sharply I could almost hear them click into place Sue responded, “Yes, I feel sorry for Lucy too. She’s chosen a hard road, not that she knows it yet.”
“Well she didn’t look happy today.”
“But, as you say, there could be a dozen reasons for that and they don’t necessarily have anything to do with Nathan. What about the thought of Lucy with Mark and Emmerson, particularly Mark?”
I shrugged. “I’ve gotten used to that. She seems to be good with them, and Mark says her daughter is ok.”
“Might be different when they marry?”
I shrugged again. “Maybe, but I don’t think so.” I really didn’t think it would worry me. Lucy did seem to be good with the kids, and ultimately it was all about being sure they were happy.
“Ok, so this seems a good time to ask about things with Matt?”
I took a fortifying mouthful of coffee and proceeded to tell Sue all of my thoughts over the past few days. I told her about Andrew and his grieving over Bev. I told her about Saffron and her issues with Ben, and my thoughts on how painful love can be. Lastly I told her about the picnic and what Saffron had said.
Sue tapped her pen on her teeth as she listened, occasionally scribbling down something on her giant pad. When I finished she drank some coffee, slid her glasses down her nose a smidgen, and fixed me with her eagle eye.
“Do you know how brave you are?”
I blinked, taken aback. “Um, no?”
“You are brave. It takes a brave person to handle what you did, to put it behind herself and to go on to make a success of her life like you have. You are one of the strongest, bravest people I know. So why stop now?”
I was speechless. “Eh?”
“Now, with the worst behind you, and a good relationship beckoning, why are you hesitating?”
I hated it when she did that. With just a few words she could get me looking inside myself, facing the truth. “I’m afraid.”
“Of love. No, not love. Of losing love, of something going wrong, of having it all and then losing it. Of Matt dying, he’s a policeman, it could happen. Of our relationship going sour and me being alone again. Of Matt dying and me being alone again. Of having something wonderful and then losing it. Of being alone after knowing what it’s like to be with someone who makes my world better.”
To my horror tears began to spill down my cheeks. I didn’t even know I was crying. Sue handed me the box of tissues and I took one.
“Oh Cassie, there are no guarantees in life. You know that. You’re a mother, you know the fragility of life. That doesn’t stop you loving Mark does it?”
I shook my head.
“And you love your close friends.”
The tears continued to flow. “And I loved my parents.”
“Ah. We haven’t talked about them in a while. Is that the root of your problem now do you think? What happened to them?”
“Is it? I don’t know. I mean, I haven’t been thinking about them specifically. They died in an accident, it wasn’t to do with love.”
“But you lost them, tragically, suddenly. You loved them and you lost them and you didn’t see that coming, you couldn’t have. You’ve had to deal with a lot of loss Cassie. Do you think you fear loss more than you fear love? It’s harder to be alone after you’ve been loved than it is if you never had that love. Is that how you feel?”
I stared at her. Was it? Was that why I felt this fear every time I considered getting closer to Matt?
“I don’t know. Maybe. It was such a shock when my parents died. I guess like every child I took it for granted they would always be here. And then they weren’t. And I did feel so alone.”
Sue leaned back in her seat. “Go home, give it some thought. Write to yourself about it if you want to.” She pushed her glasses back up her nose. “Cassie, life can be so hard. Bad things happen, bad people happen. But good things happen too, and good people come along. Sometimes it can be so difficult to live in the moment and not in the past. But, living in the moment, right here and right now, is all any of us can do. The bravest thing we can do is accept the joy without reservation.”
She thwacked her big notepad onto the counter and pushed her glasses up her nose again, unnecessarily. I took my cue, gathered my things, threw the used tissue into the bin and prepared to leave.
“Want to come see me next week?” Sue grinned. “I could use a good coffee around the middle of the week.”
I laughed. “I’ll make an appointment on my way out.”
I did as promised, and made an appointment for the following Wednesday at the same time. Deep in thought as I got into the van I answered my ringing phone without looking at the caller ID.
“Cassie, is it ok if I come to see you on Friday? Please? I really need to see you.”