A Man on an Island Ch. 03byTaLtos6©
***Well, you know what they say: Into every life...
But this is Cale. It never rains - not while there's a hurricane as a possibility. This is Cale's life and it's never been an easy one. When I write romance, I try to stay mindful of the way that life - with all of its warts just seldom lays out a smooth pathway. There are bumps and stumps and Holy Hannah, the mosquitoes are as big as...
Oh. Sorry, that was another story. Anyway. I seldom write about good guys or bad guys unless I need it to be obvious. I try to write about people and the things that they do.
There's my really poor and awful attempt at some color in this, so if you speak any flavor of Spanish, please try to forgive me. I'm doing my best. 0_o
They became a little like Siamese twins after that – so much so that quite often, either Emma or Cale would just shake their heads with a chuckle and say that it was stupid.
"My God, look at us," Emma would laugh if she came home and found Cale there working on dinner for them, "I've known people like this when I was at school and afterward," she'd sometimes say after sitting down on his leg with her arms around his neck. "You know those really annoying, clingy couples who look like they're not really that happy but they want you and everybody else to think that they're that happy?"
"Yeah,"Cale would scowl, "I've always hated people like that. Even if they were that happy, to the rest of the world, it's about as enjoyable as looking at a toxic waste spill."
"I know!" She'd say with obvious disapproval and contempt, "I just hate 'em. It's as though they're not really happy, they're just ALMOST happy, and the only way that they'll be really happy is if they can get under each other's clothes or something and they make you feel like you're trespassing to even see them or something."
"Jesus, I can't stand them either," Cale would say with a grin, "Take off your shirt."
Just before the holidays, Emma got very sick with one of the worst colds that she'd ever had. It really dragged her down and they had to cancel a lot of Christmas traveling, which made Emma feel even worse. She took some of her unused sick time and was just ... sick, miserably so.
"I don't care, Cale," she sniffled with a little whine, "It's almost Christmas."
"I was there," he said gently, "the doctor – your doctor, who knows you – warned you against traveling, unless you really want this to turn into pneumonia – again, he said. It took me almost five minutes to get my eyebrows unstuck from my hairline after he said that. Look, I know that this is making you feel even worse. You sit tight for a few minutes."
"What are you going to do?"
He smirked, "They say that laughter is good for the soul, so I'm gonna give you some." He set about getting some of her things together, and he picked up her camera bag and a suitcase. "We're going to my place."
She didn't understand, "Why? What's at your house?"
He gave her a look which plainly brooked no argument, "A very quiet Christmas. Your folks are coming in three days. I've already called them and they have directions. Your mother said not to let you get stupid and run around, pretending that you're alright. She told me that you almost died once. Your dad promised me that they'd come in three days - not the three and a half hours that your mom wanted.
So come on, get something warm on, and if you even own a set of fuzzy pajamas, well they'd better be in evidence, because if you're not wearing them after we get there, you're not gonna like the ones that I buy you and make you wear very much."
She looked at him and saw that he was very serious, "Ok, but where does the laughter come onto it?"
He smiled, "Well, maybe I was wrong. It might be more like a little torture, I dunno, but I'm going to take care of you."
"Holy crap," she said, seeing the imminent peril, "Ok. I'll be good."
Cale was better than his word. At one point the next day, Emma's temperature shot up from her fever and despite her vociferous complaints and even threats, he poured her a tepid bath and put her in it, sponging her to get her temperature down to a point where acetaminophen could begin to get a grip on it. Emma shook like a sick dog, he told her sympathetically, but he didn't stop, and carried her to bed to go on playing nursemaid.
"I fucking HATE that," she shuddered with her teeth clashing together, "I haven't had a bath like that –"
"Since the last time that you overdid it," Cale growled at her, "Face it, Em, You're outgunned here. How do you think that I found out about how to do that for you? Your mother told me what she'd been taught at the hospital when you were a kid, so you can whine and cough and throw Kleenex boxes at me all you want, but I'm taking care of you."
They sat in his bed later with her leaning against him as she sniffled. Emma was in her fuzzy pajamas and feeling somewhat better. He'd filled her with chicken soup and allowed her a few crackers and he kept the most delicious hot lemon tea coming as often as she asked for it.
"I'm not happy," she said a little sullenly, "I know that you're doing your best here and everything, but I'm ruining our Christmas."
He snorted with a soft grin, "You're not ruining it. Whether you like it or not, we're going to make the best of it, that's all."
She moved to sit in front of him and she pulled his arms around her as she leaned back against him. "I'm not ruining it?"
"No," he said softly, "You're sick Emma, but you're not dead. We've got each other, and I don't mind taking care of you at all."
"But – "she blew her nose and wiped it with distaste, "I feel like shit and I'm so disgustingly sucky, I can't even stand myself."
Cale kissed her head, "That's ok. I don't know if I could stand it for long otherwise, but you're a little cute to me when you're like this."
"Well I know one thing," she said quietly, "You sure love me a lot." She sniffled, "You're doing all of this for me and you even let me sit like this with you while I feel miserable and boo-hoo at all of these sappy old movies like this."
She blew her nose again and smiled at Cale a little weakly, "And if this isn't a test of your patience, I don't know what is."
"You may be right," he said looking out of the window at the softly falling snow, "But I'm a guy, so sophisticated girly feelings are lost on me." He hugged her a little and grinned, "I just see this as my punishment for giving you that bath."
Christmas Eve was a surprise to her. Emma had just dozed off early in the afternoon, but when she awoke, she could just feel that the air felt warmer somehow and then she was able to just smell something wondrous through her clogged nasal passages. She got out of bed and walked into the kitchen, "What IS that?"
He smiled, "Something that I hope you can eat a little of, or I'll be eating this for a week. "I've got a turkey for when your folks get here tomorrow, but this is something that I've wanted to do for Christmas forever. That's about the smallest Christmas goose that I could buy, since I didn't know whether you like goose and a lot of people aren't fussy about it."
"I've never had it," she said, "but I'll try. What's that other fantastic smell? I can just smell a little and –"
"To me," he grinned, "this is one of the smells of Christmas. It always has been. It's just red cabbage, shredded and cooked all afternoon. You chop up a small sweet onion and throw it into a big pot, and then you peel an apple and core it or quarter it. You put the apple in the middle of the pot and you add the cabbage, stopping now and then to toss in a few bay leaves, a couple of cloves, and a few peppercorns – whole peppercorns. Then you add some water and let it simmer for a few hours. It's done when the apple is completely dissolved and you can't find any of it.
I think the peppercorns are there for added degree-of-difficulty points because you have to be a little careful not to crunch one. If you find one, you set it aside. When I was a kid, it was my curse. No matter what, I'd get all of the damn peppercorns. My brother Josh never got one. Anyway, I wanted to make this. I almost don't want to eat it. I just want to smell it and it feels like Christmas to me."
Emma lifted the lid and a lot more or the aroma came to her, "Oh Cale, I'm getting hungry."
"You must be getting a little better then," He grinned.
When she turned around to head for the bathroom, Emma saw the tree and gasped. It hadn't been there that morning, but it was there now and decorated.
"I got bored," Cale said in explanation as he shrugged.
It wasn't lit, but it was magnificent even so. She looked like a little girl in her PJs almost clapping her hands together when she asked him to light it.
Emma was happy with the shots that she'd gotten out of the shoot with Cale. She posted many on the sites where she displayed her work, and even she was amazed. She'd had to set up a little company, since there were so many requests for prints. Sometimes, she had to devote most of one of her off days to the printing and shipping.
Best of all, it got her known better and it brought her work.
She was startled one day in the late spring to receive a call from a local store owner. When she went to the meeting that she'd set up, she met Arlene Simmons, a leggy blonde with an air of sophistication and quite a lot of class to Emma's view. She ran the most expensive lingerie store in the area and her store was always full, because Arlene knew something.
As they sat at lunch, Arlene leaned forward, "I've been very successful for a lot of reasons," she smiled, "and one of them is something that I think you know as well, Emma. My prices are a little high because I bring nothing but the best to a little place like this.
That ought to be my downfall, but it isn't. Every woman, Emma, every girl or lady out there wants to have something nice and special to wear for those times when she's feeling like being lovely. I wasn't always disgustingly wealthy, and I haven't forgotten how it feels to look through the windows of a shop like mine.
That's why I have my sales. I pick items carefully and I discount them a little subtly. I've always made room for the woman who ISN'T wealthy. She just had to have a little hope that something that she'd want comes on sale. She just needs to be a little patient and come back often to see, that's all."
She smiled warmly, "You can't imagine how it feels to see a woman who manages to keep her man and family fed with only a little. I remember that, Emma. I know how that feels, to walk into a store like mine and think that you're just there to look – because what's there is for other women, ones who've got money. That's why I do it, I think, for those women or their lovers, if they've got even half a brain. When a woman like that finds something for herself that she didn't think that she could ever have ..."
She sipped her wine for a moment. "I think that you know what I mean, Emma. I saw your work with the male model, and I think that I just knew. Your work was meant to appeal to a lot of women – it causes pleasant daydreams, lights little flames of wistfulness. I like that."
"Thank you, Arlene," Emma smiled, "That was what I was aiming to do there."
"Can you do that with other models as well?" Arlene asked, "I'm about to launch a rather ambitious expansion. I've been starting to offer franchises in other places, and there will be a web outlet as well.
I think that I'm going to need a catalog and if it works out, phase two will be a magazine."
Emma tried to keep her mouth closed to a pleased smile, but she almost lost it when Arlene smiled back, "And a magazine will require staff photographers and a photo editor, think."
Emma was driven then as she worked at a way that could see her get away from nursing and its stupid hours to move on to a rather late, but satisfying career doing something which she'd always wanted to do. Cale was excited for her and encouraged her to no end.
Arlene showed up at Emma's apartment one day to discuss a flyer that she wanted and she arrived with a few armloads of her wares. Emma gawked a little and they grinned at each other.
"These are awesome, Arlene," Emma smiled as she held up a camisole. "But where's the model? You said that you didn't want me to use the agency for this, so ..."
Arlene smiled, "I'm not afraid to put myself into my work, Emma. I thought we could try a few shots of me with these things today, just to see if it'll work. I've booked you today until noon, right?"
"Yup," Emma nodded, liking the task. She didn't see much of a direct challenge to this. Arlene was beautiful and Emma had a suspicion that there was a modelling past that Arlene wasn't talking about, but she figured that she'd know within a couple of test shots. Once a model, always a model.
"I've brought a few things for you to try as well," the blonde said a little hopefully as they walked into the studio which was just off her bedroom. "I want to see how they look on you, and I remember from the last shoot that we did how warm you keep your studio for the comfort of your models." Arlene began to unbutton her blouse, "Well, the clock's running, I guess, so if you're ready, ..."
Cale was on his way home from his lawyer's office, and figured that he was a bit closer to the first call that he had to go to and Emma's place at the same time. He thought he'd surprise her and maybe have a coffee before heading in. He left his truck at the roadside and walked up the driveway, giving a curious glance at the sleek Mercedes parked behind Emma's bright yellow Volkswagen. The thing was so shiny, it looked wet.
He shrugged, Emma knew everybody. He let himself into the hall with his key.
He was looking through his text messages as he put the envelope that he'd been carrying down on the table in the dining room, and headed to the back of the flat, thinking that Emma might be out on the deck with somebody. If she was having company, he didn't want to disturb her, he just wanted to let her know that he'd been by.
He heard muffled sounds from the bedroom, and rounded the corner to see a blonde woman on Emma's bed, and Emma on her knees on the floor. What they were doing was painfully obvious. Emma was making love to the one part that he couldn't give her – because he didn't have one.
Cale's heart felt as though it had just been speared.
He blinked once and the image remained, so he backed away a step before turning to walk silently back out. He leaned on the dining room table for a minute, since he suddenly felt like he needed the support of it. He realised that he'd been holding his breath.
His first reaction had been shock, and that was quickly followed by more pain. The pain remained, but now he was angry at himself. They'd been together for well over six months now. The possibility of this had been about the only fear or misgiving that he'd had in all that time. He hadn't said anything to Emma because he thought he'd sound as though he didn't trust her.
His eyes began to tear. This was all his fault. Emma had always liked women and he'd been a fool to hope for her friendship. That friendship had quickly turned into the love of his life, hands down. He'd never felt so alive and loved before. He blinked as another pair of tears hit his cheeks to roll off into space.
He should have stopped it before they'd gotten involved. Emma had undoubtedly tried her best to deny what she must have obviously been missing, but sometime in their six months, what she really needed had gotten the better of her.
He sighed as he thought that no matter what it might want, hope for, or how hard it might try, a cat can't be a dog. He slipped out the front door, taking care not to let the lock click loudly. He walked to his old truck and slowly drove away from the happiest times of his life.
Emma had some strange thoughts running through her head. This had been the act that she'd ached for the most before she'd had her first lover. This was one of her favourite things to do in the whole world. Why was she so distracted now? She glanced up. Arlene was obviously enjoying this, she thought, what was her problem? She was doing what she'd missed doing for so long, but she wasn't getting much from it.
She had to keep her eyes open the whole time. That was it. Every time she closed them, she saw his face instantly. She kept seeing a slideshow on the backs of her eyelids. A rapid-fire presentation that always came back to Cale sitting against a concrete post, eyes closed, and a single tear on his cheek.
This wasn't going to work; she realised at last and finished Arlene quickly. She pleaded a headache and arranged for a raincheck for the shoot and got Arlene out of the place as fast as she could without letting on too much.
She washed her face and made herself a coffee. What was the matter with her? She shook her head – there was no getting around it, she had just cheated on Cale, and she didn't really even know why.
Cale had always done everything that she'd asked of him, anything that she'd wanted. She looked down. Dammit, she couldn't even blame him for anything in the bedroom. He worked so hard to please her in bed, and he blew her mind every single time. The boy never missed, no matter who was in charge. Sometime in every bit of lovemaking, he always left her a quivering, happy mess at least once, and usually more. She wasn't even considering normal orgasms – she had plenty with him. But Cale took her to the edge of consciousness and beyond, and she always came back to herself to find him holding her and whispering his love.
This was so stupidly ironic it was beyond belief. They'd never spoken of it, but she just knew that if there was one area that Cale felt inadequate in, it was that in spite of every wonderful piece that there was of him, he knew that he didn't have what she had done this for.
She knew she'd been stupid. The guy had so much going for him, and was so willing and attentive. Worst of all maybe, he never ever stopped showing her what she meant to him. Any woman in her right mind would kill to have just a shot at him. And what had she done here?
Yes, it was a struggle for her, but it wasn't as if she was forced to suppress her nature – she'd wanted to be his girl. So he didn't have a vagina. Everyone wants and desperately needs that one person for them – and she'd found hers. It just happened that he was a man. She felt a guilty tear come to her. How many times had she had to listen to women who'd made their choices and were stuck with abusive, or at best, inattentive men?
And here little Emma had won the game with Cale – and she'd just cheated on him.
Well, he was never going to find out, she decided. Emma smiled, she thought that Cale would even understand if she told him and promised not to do it again – he was that kind of man. No, she wasn't going to jeopardise her own good thing, she decided, Cale was worth anything.
She reached into her purse and pulled out her phone. She was feeling guilty, she knew it, but she also wanted to send him a little note to say that she loved him so – because she did. She quickly composed it and hit the send. He might not see it for a little while, but she knew that he always checked his phone every few hours if he could.
She was startled to hear the old ZZTop song that he used as a ringtone. It was faint, but she'd heard it often enough to know most of the words to Rythmeen by now. The phone would play the whole song before it stored the message and gave up.
She followed the sound to the dining room. Cale's phone was lit up and playing on the table. What was it doing here? He always carried it. She walked over and picked it up to open it. She saw her own message there as it stopped playing.