I sat, feeling numb. Had Matt just proposed? And if he had, was it a marriage proposal or the proposal of a solution to my problem?
“Did you just say ‘marry me’?”
Matt put down his knife and lifted his eyes to mine. His expression was intent, serious. I couldn’t read anything else in his face.
“Cassie, I know what Nathan did to you, I still have nightmares about what he might have done if I had not come along. It doesn’t matter that you will stand up to him, although it’s great that you can. But Cassie, Nathan is much stronger than you. If he decides to force you to have sex with him, you won’t be able to stop him.”
“You mean he could rape me if he chose.”
Matt gave me his steady policeman stare. I couldn’t deny it, and I wasn’t going to try. After all, Nathan had done things during our marriage that were technically rape (the source of many of my nightmares). And the only reason he didn’t succeed after the marriage ended was sitting at my table drinking terrible coffee.
“Ok, you’re right, he could. I’m hoping that standing up to him just now will solve the problem.”
“You mean because you didn’t give in to him, he will give up?”
“I’ve never been so firm with him before, not even the last time on New Year’s Eve. He hasn’t contacted me since. I was surprised to see him here this morning actually.”
“He’s got some sort of radar where you’re concerned Cassie. What did he want?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I told him to call me about it at another time, so he didn’t say.”
“And you think he will be different now?”
I met his steady gaze. “He left, and he didn’t do anything to me, he didn’t even touch me.”
“That’s because he saw me coming Cassie. He may still have gone, you may be right. But what if he didn’t?”
I sagged in my seat. I should have realized that of course Nathan would see Matt coming. I should have known that it was not just my defiance - my hard won emotional strength - that had sent him away.
Matt leaned forward and took my hands. I looked up at his face, at the earnest expression in his eyes.
“Cassie, Nathan won’t go up against me. He’s a bully at heart. He knows he can physically overwhelm you, but he can’t do the same to me. I can protect you.”
“So you want to marry me so you can protect me?”
“As my wife, you come under my protection officially. I believe that Nathan will leave you alone then. You will be safe from future hassle from him, safe from any threat he may represent.”
“I see.” I looked at my watch. “I have to go get Mark now. You know the way out, I’ll see you later.”
“Cassie?” Matt sounded confused.
I felt more confused. I jumped up from the table, searching for my bag and a brush. I flicked a glance at Matt, unsure how to react, how to behave.
“I’ll think about what you said Matt. I can see the merit to your suggestion, but I do think it’s a drastic step just to protect me. I don’t think Nathan is such a big threat that you need to upend your life just to ensure he doesn’t do anything to me. I’m not sure it would work anyway. What if it made him angry instead?”
Matt stared at me, a frown creasing his brow and a puzzled tilt to his mouth. A small part of me thought it was adorable, but the rest of me was confused and a little bit hurt. Well, a lot hurt. And a lot confused. I threw a wave at Matt and bolted from the house, forcing my mind to focus on the drive to collect Mark and not on the preceding conversation. Or the whole morning. I didn’t know what to think, about any of it. So I did what I do best, and didn’t think at all.
“You did what?! Matt did what?! He PROPOSED???? Oh my dear!”
Saffron jumped up from her seat and rushed around to me, enveloping me in what had to be the tightest death by cleavage hug I had ever received from her. Not the reaction I was looking for when I called her over for an emergency bestie coffee.
I concentrated on breathing until she let go her death grip and reached for my left hand.
“No ring? You’re going to buy it together?”
At my tone she studied my face with narrowed eyes.
“Don’t tell me you told him ‘no’. Don’t make me slap you.” My eyes popped wide at her words, and she hurried to add, “Of course I wouldn’t really slap you. But I’d want to.”
She went and sat back in her seat, fixing me with a penetrating stare equally as effective as Matt’s.
I sighed. “I didn’t say ‘no’.” I held up my hand as I saw her eyes light up. “I didn’t say ‘yes’ either.”
Saffron narrowed her eyes even further. She took a swallow of her coffee, tapped her fingers on the table top and studied my face.
“Let me get this straight. You had a misunderstanding last night but it was sorted. You finally, finally, finally got together and rompypomp ensued.”
I suppressed a smile at her word choice, a word that she had assured me on a number of occasions did exist and did mean what I thought it meant. She stared at me suspiciously for a second before continuing, “You slept over – probably not much sleeping.” I blushed. “You came home to get ready to collect Mark and Matt was coming in a short while with breakfast. Right so far?”
I nodded, so she continued, “When you got home Nathan was waiting for you and you argued and you stood up to him and told him to leave.” She bounced up and down in her chair. “I’m so proud of you for that! So, Nathan left, Matt arrived, possibly both simultaneously or near enough. Matt proposed and you bolted from the house?! What is wrong with you!”
“It was the way he said it. Like he thought we should marry so he could protect me from Nathan. He didn’t talk about feelings, or anything like that.”
“You wanted a romantic proposal?”
“I wasn’t expecting a proposal at all. We’d only just taken our relationship a step further. And he didn’t talk about, about, you know, about feelings. He just talked about me needing protection from Nathan.”
Saffron drank some more coffee, did some more finger tapping. “I am sure that was at the top of his mind. He had come down the path to see Nathan leave and you collapse onto the ground. That’s what he saw isn’t it?”
I played the scene back in my mind. “Yes, I guess so.”
“So he sees you crumpled to the ground, and of course he wants to protect you. He could have just suggested he move in with you, or that you get a restraining order against Nathan. He suggested marriage. Marriage, Cassie. It has to have been on his mind.”
I stared at her, I hadn’t thought along those lines. Saffron tut-tutted.
“I swear Cassie, sometimes you can be so dense. Or maybe it’s that self-destructive bent that you haven’t quite overcome. So ok, Matt could have worded it better. But, did you ever think that maybe he’s been waiting to propose to you for months? That he’s been waiting for you to heal enough to reach out to him, to heal so that you can become the couple everyone else could see you already were? That maybe he was only waiting for you to be ready to take the step so he could say the words that have been burning a hole in his brain?”
She was so eloquent that it was my turn to narrow my eyes in suspicion.
“Has Matt been talking to you?”
“No of course not! Cassie, blind Freddie could see the connection you two have, and how Matt feels about you. And how you feel about Matt. It was only you who didn’t know. And Matt, at least about your feelings for him. Believe me, it’s been the longest, most frustrating soap opera any of us has ever watched, the story of Cassie and Matt!”
I felt a little miffed. “Well sorry to upset your viewing preferences!”
Saffron chuckled. “Don’t be a goose. We all love you, both of you. We’ve just been waiting for you to discover that you loved each other. Well, that you love Matt.”
I blinked in surprise. “You all knew I love him? How? I didn’t know until lately.”
Saffron came around the table again, this time sitting in the chair next to me and putting one arm around me. “Cassie, all your friends who love you know what you’ve been through. We knew you had a lot of processing to do and a lot of healing. We waited, as Matt waited. We waited because we love you.”
She tugged on the ends of my hair, using a bit of force. “But, you have been an idiot this morning. I can understand why, I’m sure Matt can too, or he will once you explain. Cassie, think about how he would be feeling at your reaction to his proposal. You didn’t accept, instead you ran away.”
I face palmed myself. “I did, didn’t I? I didn’t think about it from his perspective.” I groaned. “I’m an idiot. He probably won’t want to talk to me now.”
Saffron laughed. “Of course he will. But I think you have to make the first move this time.”
“I need to go see him.”
“I think so.”
I jumped up, then sat back down again. Saffron anticipated my question.
“I’ll watch Mark, not that I’ll have to do much watching mind you, with the girls here. Get yourself going and see Matt.”
I panicked. “Now?”
Saffron stood up and pulled me to my feet. “No time like the present.”
She pulled me into a hug and then pushed me to the door. “Go, talk to him and don’t run away again! No more running away Cassie.”
No more running away. Good words. Wise words from my wise friend. I went out the door, stopped to pick a deep red rose from my garden, and set off along the path to Matt’s house. It was a leap year right? The girl can propose in a leap year. My steps faltered with my thoughts, but I kept on walking. No more running away, not from the past and not from the future. Reaching Matt’s door, I knocked.