I woke early Saturday morning, exhausted by a night disrupted with dreams I couldn’t remember, but that left me feeling anxious. After lying in bed for an hour watching the room gradually lighten I gave up. The dogs greeted me rapturously, thrilled to be going for a walk so early. I wrote a note for Mark and taped it to the bathroom door at eye height, before letting us out into the soft dawn light.
The birds were greeting the new day with the dawn chorus as we walked the short distance to the park. I breathed in the cool morning air, the scent of the roses and jasmine in the garden beds mingling with wattle, an intoxicating mix. Somehow the warble of magpies, laughing of kookaburras and squabbling of lorikeets blended into one harmonious song. I could feel the funk I had been in since seeing Nathan the previous day lifting, the restorative powers of the new day working magic on my mood.
By the time we reached the park I was smiling, able to put everything into perspective. Nathan was in the past, I was in control of me, everything would be fine. My smiled widened as I saw Barney racing towards Pebbles and BamBam, followed more slowly – much more slowly – by Matt. I could feel my smile fading as I watched Matt, he seemed to be limping.
“Matt? Are you ok?”
“Spot of bother last night.”
“A spot of bother? Matt, your face, what happened. Why are you limping?”
As he got closer the massive shiner on his face that swelled his left eye shut was shockingly clear to see, as was the swollen top lip and a graze on his cheek.
“Matt, what happened?”
As I spoke I hurried forward, worried about what other injuries he may have.
“Oh, a bit of an altercation with an aggressive drunk last night.”
“You got into a fight?” I was astonished, I had never seen Matt lose his cool that much.
“Not exactly, I underestimated his aggression during an arrest last night. It took us both a while to restrain him.”
“You got into a fight with someone you arrested? Is that legal?”
Matt gave me a flat stare. “Legal? A fight? I’m in pain, my good looks may never recover and you’re worried if it was legal? He took a swing at me – which connected. We restrained him and arrested him for disturbing the peace and for assault. Fortunately he did not have a knife, or a gun.”
“I’m sorry Matt, I didn’t mean to sound uncaring. Are you ok?”
He shrugged, and winced. “I’ll live.”
“Why did you wince then, is it more than your face?”
“Well, he managed to get a punch in the ribs, guess he’s been working out. He cracked a couple.”
“Cracked ribs? Does this sort of thing happen often?”
Again Matt gave me that flat stare. “Why, thinking of ‘unfriending’ me?”
I took a step back and stared at him. His tone had been hostile, I had never heard him talk like that. Anxiety started to swirl in my stomach.
“I suspect drugs were involved too, he seemed to be out of it with more than just alcohol. This is part of the job Cassie, you know that.”
I did know that, I just hadn’t seen it before. I also hadn’t seen Matt in this hostile mood before and I didn’t like it.
“Well, I should get back before Mark wakes up. Drop in later if you want some coffee or lunch.”
Matt gave me the look I dubbed his policeman face. It was a penetrating stare that always felt like he was peeling back the mask I presented to the world, and reading my true feelings.
But, “I’ll drop in later,” was all he said.
I called the dogs and headed back to the house, feeling unsettled, my peace gone.
Later that morning I was sitting at the table sipping coffee and making recipe notes when Matt walked in. I took one look at his pale face, at the bruises, scratches and swelling, at the careful way he eased himself into a chair, and went to the coffee machine.
“You’re on pain killers right?”
Matt nodded. “Enough to make me feel spaced out. Apparently I have a cracked cheekbone as well.”
I stared at him, several retorts on the tip of my tongue. I swallowed them all, and turned back to the coffee machine.
I placed a steaming cup in front of Matt and sat back in my seat.
“Matt I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have questioned what happened last night.”
“Why not? Cassie, I’m the one should apologise.”
Matt took a sip of his coffee, wincing as the hot cup touched his swollen lip.
“I was wrong to react the way I did. I reacted like you were my girlfriend, the one who left because of my job, and I apologise. And you, Cassie, you do not need to apologise. All you did was show concern, like any friend would. It was me who over-reacted.”
I stared at Matt, I didn’t know what to say.
“Cassie, Nathan conditioned you to feel guilty for everything, to apologise for everything. That’s not how a real friendship, a real relationship, works. If I over-react as I did this morning, I apologise. If you scream at me because I hate one of your recipes, you apologise. If we fight, it’s just a fight. It’s not the end of our friendship, it’s not going to change how I feel about you or you feel about me. It’s just a fight. This morning I was rude to you and I should not have been. So I apologise.”
I sat, still speechless. Matt leaned forward, gingerly.
“This is the part where you say, ‘Don’t ever do that again you tool. Would you like some lunch?’”
To my horror I felt tears well up, my bottom lip start to tremble. I picked up my coffee to take a fortifying sip but my hand was trembling too much so I put it back on the table. The tears were threatening to spill, so I stood up and took my cup to the coffee machine. There I stood with my back to Matt, trying to control myself. Who cried when someone else apologized? I jumped when Matt’s hands touched my shoulders, I hadn’t heard him get up.
“Cassie, what’s wrong?”
I shrugged, made an attempt to wipe my eyes surreptitiously – pretty hard to do when someone is standing right behind you.
“Are you crying? Cassie I’m sorry, I swore to myself I would never make you cry, and here I’ve done it before we are even in an official relationship.”
Giving up the attempt to hide the tears I scrubbed at my eyes, pinched the bridge of my nose and took a deep, calming breath. Turning I faced Matt. This close his face looked a mess, and I couldn’t stop myself from touching his swollen left cheek with my fingertips.
“You’re right, you may never get your good looks back.”
He snorted. “Gee thanks. Cassie, why are you crying?”
“I don’t know, maybe I got myself too worked up over this?”
“You mean you reacted the way you used to with Nathan, you went into panic mode? And now there is nowhere for your adrenalin to go?”
“I think so Matt. I thought I’d come so far, but as soon as you showed signs of anger I went straight back to the old Cassie. I don’t know how to act in a real relationship any more. Maybe I’ll never know.”
Matt ran a finger down my cheek. “And maybe you just need to feel safe, to know you are safe. Maybe you need someone who understands you and who wants to help you. Maybe you need someone patient, who thinks you are worth waiting for. Someone with a cute dimple maybe?”
He smiled and I sniffed. “Your left cheek is too swollen, there is no dimple.”
“Someone who stands in front of you even though he’s wounded, in pain, needing more coffee, and ravenous?”
I couldn’t help smiling. “Idiot, go and sit down. I’ll make us more coffee and then get us some lunch.”
Matt didn’t move. “First, tell me you’re not going to run away, emotionally.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, knowing you, you’re probably thinking you shouldn’t get into a relationship again because you’ll screw it up. Right?”
“Don’t. Don’t think that way. It’s going to take time to heal emotionally. I understand that Cassie. I believe in you. Please believe in yourself, please don’t shut me out.”
He leaned forward and kissed my forehead. “Ouch, that hurt.”
“What do you expect, you’ve got a fat lip.”
“It’s sexy right?”
It looks like a bee stung you.”
“A sexy bee?”
“A bumblebee. Go sit down you tool.”
“You know that scene in the first Indiana Jones movie?”
“On the ship, when Indiana is injured and Marion kisses him in the spots that don’t hurt, remember that scene?”
“I always loved that scene.”
I smiled. “Me too.”
“So, want to be Marion?”
I blinked. “Er, what?”
“Be Marion, kiss me where it doesn’t hurt.”
I studied his face, then reached up and kissed his right cheek. Matt smiled a meltingly sweet smile and pointed at his lips.
“Uh-uh, nope. You said where it doesn’t hurt. You’ve got a fat lip.”
“So kiss it better.”
He shifted position and winced, his face paling.
“Oh for heaven’s sake. If I kiss you will you go sit down before you fall down?”
I reached up again and kissed him carefully on the bottom lip, then gave his shoulder a gentle push.
“Now go sit, or maybe you need to lie down? Are your pain killers wearing off?”
“Yeah I think so. Maybe I’ll just lie on the lounge for a bit.”
“Did you bring your pills with you?”
He pulled them out of his pocket. I took them and made a waving motion. He limped off and I followed with two pills and a glass of water. He took them without complaint, handed the glass back and stretched out, slowly, on the lounge. I stared down at him, his pale face and grimace evidence that he was in considerable pain. Stubborn man.
“I’ll get some lunch, you stay there.”
I turned and went back to the kitchen, my mind a swirling mess of confusion. Nathan yesterday, Matt today. Maybe that was why I reacted so strongly to Matt this morning I realized belatedly. Nathan had stirred up so many memories perhaps it was inevitable I would feel this confusion now. I shrugged mentally. Tomorrow I would think about it. Today I had a damaged man lying on my lounge.