Period of Adjustment Ch. 12-14bycoaster2©
Chapter 12: Coming Back to Earth
Denis arrived home late Wednesday afternoon and we enjoyed another wonderful meal prepared by Cassie. It was her tradition to welcome her husband home from any road trip with something special, and I was the lucky addition to that table. After the meal and cleaning up the dishes, Denis and I retired to his study for a conversation.
"Colin, I think I can say with some confidence that your problems with the River Riders are coming to an end. The man you encountered on Monday was freelancing. Apparently, he had come to Scarborough to make his own drug deal, unknown to the club members. As you've probably guessed, we have someone on the inside of the gang and that's why we're fairly confident of our information.
"Turgeon must have recognized you from the past and decided to take a run at you on his own. Instead of informing his people, we're guessing he figured he'd be the hero of the day by taking you out. The gang itself has decided they've spent enough money and time on you with no results. You aren't a threat to them anymore, and most of the old gang is now either dead or in jail. The new boys don't know you and couldn't care less about the past."
"I'm glad to hear it, Denis. I'm getting kind of tired of looking over my shoulder all the time."
He nodded understanding. "I know. I also feel fairly confident that you can go back to being Colin Stewart. I've done some checking with various law enforcement agencies and your fingerprints are either not on file or there is no information that would cause you a problem wherever you went. I suggest you re-establish your proper identity when you settle on where you want to live. The last time we talked about it, you seemed to be thinking about British Columbia."
"Yes. I think so. That's a huge relief, Denis. I don't know what you did or how you did it, but I'm really happy to be just Colin Stewart again. Just saying it in public takes a weight off my back."
"I'm sure it does," he smiled. "I'm glad I could help."
I booked my vacation and the flight was scheduled to leave early afternoon on the following Tuesday. I phoned Kayla and we planned on spending the coming weekend together. There was an American League hockey game at the Exhibition Grounds Saturday evening, and once again we could take the streetcar almost to the front door.
With some advice from Cassie, I booked a reservation at a nice restaurant not far from the arena. We could walk there or take a cab if the weather was foul. The weather was cloudy and cool, but not unpleasant. We had spent the day downtown, exploring the shops and generally enjoying each other's company. We never seemed to run out of topics of conversation. Kayla was incredibly well informed, and I felt like a student as she caught me up on politics, lifestyle changes, fashion, and of course, motorcycles.
We spent over an hour at a downtown Harley dealer, trying to decide if I wanted one, and if so, which one. It was fun. I thought it could wait until I was settled in Vancouver, but window shopping and listening to Kayla and the salesman talk shop was entertaining. I got the distinct impression she did her own servicing and likely some repairs as well.
"Yeah ... I've put some later modifications on my bike. It started out life as a '92, but it's probably something like a '01 or '02 now. It doesn't have a lot of hours on it, so I'm pretty sure I can get a good dollar for it if I want to sell it or trade it in." She obviously took a lot of pride in her ride and I admired that.
"I might look for a good used bike myself," I suggested. "Somewhere along the line, these bikes got more expensive than most cars."
"Yeah, but cars aren't anywhere near as much fun." She was convinced that I was likely to buy a motorcycle and she was probably right.
It wasn't until we were in the restaurant that I got a chance to talk to her about my plans. It was also time for me to come clean about my real identity.
"Kayla, I think I owe you an explanation and an apology," I began. "I've haven't been completely honest with you about who I am."
She looked up with interest, but not surprise.
"My real name is Colin Stewart. You already know I was a CSIS agent and I was in prison for eight years. I changed my name to protect myself and my friends, but it didn't work. I'm sorry if I misled you, but I thought it was essential. Recently, Denis let me know that it wasn't necessary any longer. I thought you should know."
I saw a small smile on her lips as she listened. "I was wondering when I'd get to know the real you. Cassie told me that you were someone special to them, but that you had gone through a very difficult time. I knew about the prison sentence and I knew you were with CSIS, but that's about all. I kind of guessed some of the rest. Cassie also told me about your latest adventure in the mall parking lot. You seem to attract trouble lately."
She didn't say it in an accusatory manner. In fact, it was almost with a touch of humour.
"Well, now that we've cleared that up, I hope you aren't put off. I'd like to get to know you better and I was hoping you might feel the same way." I looked at her for a clue to how she was reacting.
"I thought we'd covered a lot of that ground in the last week. Just how much more do you need to know?" she grinned.
"Uhhhmmm ... whatever you're willing to tell me." It was a desperation answer to an unexpected question.
"I don't have any deep, dark secrets. I'm pretty much a 'what you see is what you get' kind of girl."
"Well, I'm still surprised there isn't a lineup of guys trying to date you. You can't be unaware that you're a very beautiful woman."
"I'm very selective about whom I date. I've been burned a couple of times and my longer affair made me think twice about relationships. But ... and it's a big 'but,' when Cassie talked about you in glowing terms, I listened. She and I think a lot alike. We don't look for a pretty face or some kind of macho image. She and Denis are perfect for each other, but they don't match up physically. I know I'm attractive, but sometimes that can be a handicap. The fact that you and I are spending some time together should tell you something, Colin." She was smiling as shared her thoughts.
"Yeah, I guess so." Just listening to her cheered me up. I was beginning to get my confidence back. After all, if the woman was very picky and yet was willing to be with me, I should be flattered. I was flattered.
"I've decided to go to Vancouver and meet with Harold next week," she said. "I've got some time off coming and I want to see what my opportunities are for a better job."
I chuckled, "I'm almost sorry I can't be there to influence the outcome. Not that it would make any difference to Harold. He's deaf to my BS."
"I think it's a lot more important for you to get yourself some rest and restore yourself. Cassie said you were going to St. Maarten. You're really going to enjoy it there. It's a fascinating island with two completely different parts. I was there a few years ago and loved it."
"I'm looking forward to it, although I'd be a lot happier if you were there too."
"Maybe next time," she smiled.
I arrived at the airport the following Tuesday with the single carry-on that I'd been using. Kayla would be leaving tomorrow for Vancouver and expected to return on the weekend. When we parted on Sunday evening, I wished her luck with a light kiss. We had progressed that far in our relationship. Still very little personal contact, but I wasn't going to rush it with her. There was too much at stake.
St. Maarten/St. Martin was an amazing experience. Two different cultures, Dutch and French, alive and well on one Caribbean island. There were times during that two week stay that I thought I was in the south of France once again. I rented a scooter on my first day. It proved to be the perfect transportation on the little island.
I shaved off my goatee, and began to acquire a tan. Every day had sun, even when a shower or two passed through. The temperature was warm without being stiflingly hot. A breeze was common, and I was happy in my light shirt, shorts, and sandals. My room was comfortable and more than big enough. The food at the hotel was excellent, as it was in several of the restaurants I tried.
It took a few days, but nearing the end of the first week, I could tell how much more relaxed and at ease with myself I had become. I had plenty of time to think, but gradually, I was able to erase the memories of my past. I had even begun to get over my hatred of Taggart. He was dead and I could forget about him. Natasha was different. I hadn't yet forgiven myself for her death. It would stay with me for a long, long time.
I was finding myself thinking more and more of Kayla Van Sand. I hadn't even really kissed her, and yet she was in my thoughts constantly. We were both being equally cautious, perhaps afraid of more disappointment. I wanted to take our relationship further, but I was nervous about pushing her too soon or too hard. Was I being too careful?
By the time I boarded the aircraft to return to Toronto, I was satisfied that I had learned a lot about this Caribbean island. I was even reasonably confident that I knew how I wanted my life to proceed from here. What was left to be decided was whether I would be charting that path alone or with a partner. I knew what I wanted, now it was left in my hands to obtain it.
I phoned Cassie when I stepped off the plane that evening. It was after ten pm and I didn't want to disturb her when I finally got to their home. She answered quickly and told me she would wait up for me to arrive. Denis was out of town once again and would be home tomorrow. I caught a cab and was at their home before eleven thanks to the light evening traffic.
We agreed to talk about my vacation the next morning. I was tired from the long flight and Cassie normally didn't stay up later than eleven. We hugged, and I happily headed off to bed. It was beginning to feel like home and I thought that I might be taking advantage of my friends. I didn't want to overstay my welcome.
Chapter 13: A Time for Decisions
I slept in the next morning. When I finally awoke, it was after nine. I could hear Cassie moving about in the house, so I moved to the ensuite and went through my normal routine. When I walked into the kitchen, Cassie gave me her typical big smile and a kiss on the cheek. That thought about how comfortable I was here passed through my mind once more.
"Good Morning, Colin. Your breakfast is in the oven. I gather you slept well?"
"Yes. I think that vacation did me a world of good, Cass. I've been sleeping much better lately. Not so many bad dreams."
"Wonderful. I was hoping that would help. You'll have to tell me all about the island. Do you think Denis and I would enjoy it?"
"Absolutely! It's part French, part Dutch, and all beautiful."
"I'd better start working on him then. He's due for a vacation in the new year, and I would love to show a winter tan." She paused, looking at me. "I just realized you shaved. With that tan, you look very sexy." I'm sure I blushed.
We talked some more and I outlined the pleasures of St. Maarten/St. Martin. I think Cassie was serious about going there. After I had finished my breakfast and cleaned up the dishes, I poured a second cup of coffee and we sat again at the kitchen table.
"Kayla came to see me last Sunday, Colin. She was asking a lot of questions about you. I think she is very interested in you, but she is being very careful. I don't think she can stand being hurt again."
I nodded my understanding.
"It wasn't until after she was involved with that man that he told her he was married. She was already in love with him and was torn whether to break it off or continue. She let the affair drift for a few weeks before his wife discovered the truth. When it came down to it, he wasn't going to marry her. He was just happy with having a mistress. Kayla didn't realize that until it was over. I think that hurt more than anything. She thought it was love and he didn't."
"Well, she knows I'm not married. She knows I'm not the kind of guy the jumps from one girlfriend to another. I don't know what I can do to prove I'm sincere. We haven't been intimate, so ... I don't know quite what to say or do that will convince her I'm genuine.
"Even then, we don't know each other that well. There are no guarantees in life. I find her fascinating and exciting and beautiful. But that doesn't mean we are right for each other. I've been burned too. Maybe not the way she has, but enough to make me careful and patient as well."
I know Cassie understood and believed I wanted what was right for Kayla too. She knew me well enough not to worry about my motives. I hoped that she had passed that assurance along to Kayla.
"You should phone her tonight. I'm sure she'll want to talk to you about your trip and her interview. I got the impression she didn't want to tell me about it so I wouldn't spoil it for you. That sounds good, doesn't it?"
"I hope so. I had visions of her and me working together. Kind of a new-age Nick and Nora Charles."
She was genuinely astonished. "My god, Colin, are you that old that you remember them?"
I laughed. "No ... but I'm a big fan of old black-and-white mystery movies. We had a big library of them at Kingston. So ... maybe John Steed and Emma Peel?"
Cassie laughed. "In your dreams, Colin, in your dreams."
"We'll see, Madam Simard. Time will tell."
I couldn't wait to talk to Kayla and phoned at five that afternoon.
"Oh, Colin, welcome home! How was your vacation?" She sounded very up.
"Great! I enjoyed every minute of it and I think it did me a lot of good. I feel a lot more grounded today than when I left. And how about you? How did you make out with Harold?"
"Why don't we talk about it in person? Are you free? Can you come here?"
I looked at Cassie and she nodded, almost knowing what the question might be.
"Yeah. Can I pick up something for us to eat? Do you like Chinese?"
"Sure, that will be perfect. I've got some wine and we can have a nice evening and tell each other about our adventures."
It was less than an hour later when I arrived at Kayla's place. Cassie had given me a menu from her favorite Chinese restaurant. Even great cooks enjoy take out food now and then. I phoned in an order and picked it up on the way. It was still hot to the touch when I delivered the large bag to Kayla's kitchen counter.
"My God, Colin! There's enough food here for six people," she laughed.
"I wasn't sure what you liked, so I brought a nice variety," I offered meekly.
Kayla was shaking her head. "Let me get the plates out of the oven and you can open the wine."
Kayla was right. There was enough food for at least six people. We chose some items that could be frozen and then heated again. At least there wouldn't be too much waste. When we got further along in the meal, I couldn't contain my curiosity any more.
"So tell me, how did you make out with Harold?"
She grinned like the Cheshire Cat. "I have a job offer. The role is perfect for me ... industrial counter-espionage. The salary is better than I'm earning now and the benefits are at least as good. All in all, I couldn't be happier. Plus ... I really liked Harold. He's a pro and you can sense he doesn't put up with any nonsense. You play by the rules if you want to work for him."
I was nodding my head in agreement. She was exactly right. "That's Harold, all right. I'm happy for you, Kayla. It means we'll likely be working on the same team, assuming Harold still wants me."
"Oh, he wants you all right. He might have been kidding when he said my employment was conditional on getting you to sign on the dotted line."
"When do you start?"
"Two weeks from Monday. I've handed in my notice last Friday and I'm done a week from Friday. I don't think there'll be any tears shed at York."
"Dumb bastards! You'd think they'd know better by now. Oh well, their loss is our gain. Harold won't let you spin your wheels."
"I'm excited about it, Colin. I can't thank you enough for giving me this opportunity. Without you, I'd never have known about it. I owe you a lot."
"Good. I'll have to think of ways you can repay me," I smirked.
"I've been working on that. I have some ideas." I could see the laughter in her eyes. She was happy, and that made me happy too.
"What about a place to live?" I asked.
"I'm already searching on line. It's a bit more expensive, but I should be able to find something. There are some nice, small condos for sale on the old Expo '86 site. I don't need much space. This place is just 1100 sq. ft. and it's plenty big enough. I'm hoping to find a place with a view."
"I think your timing is probably pretty good. There should be some bargains around right now with the slumping market. That won't last long, so grab something you like while you can."
"Where are you going to live?" she asked.
"Don't know yet. Probably rent until I find something I really like. Like you, I don't need much space. It's more a matter of location. Of course, we could always go in together and share," I grinned.
She looked a bit startled for a moment, taken aback by my offhanded remark, but said nothing.
I decided to leave it at that. It was a smart aleck thing to say in the first place. I didn't want to spoil the good mood. I should have known better than to say it.
When I went back to the Simard's later that evening, I had a lot to think about. I wondered just how offended she might have been with my glib suggestion. It didn't seem to be a big deal for the rest of my visit, but I felt on edge and more than a little careful with my comments. I think Kayla might have picked up on that too. We had lost that comfort zone we were in, and it was entirely my fault.
As I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, I started to form a plan. The cat was out of the bag as far as my feelings for Kayla went. Who was I kidding? I was in serious lust for the woman. The fact that we would be working in the same office, if not together, wasn't going to lessen that feeling. I also suspected she would be the object of interest to any single man within fifty miles. Hanging back to see what might happen wasn't an option. It was always better to take the initiative. Once my mind was made up, I was able to get to sleep. I knew what I wanted to do.
"Cass, I'm going to head back to Vancouver tomorrow. I need to get my car in Kelowna and I want to find a place to live before Kayla gets there."
"Why? I mean, why before Kayla gets there?" She was startled by my abrupt announcement.
"Well, don't say anything to her, but I'm going to find a place so nice that I can convince her to share it with me. She won't be able to resist ... I hope."
Cassie laughed one of her famous belly laughs. "You think that will work?" she finally managed.
"Don't know. But I'm damn well going to give it a try," I said with more bravado than I felt.
"Colin, I think you're missing something here. You haven't told her how you feel about her, and I know she hasn't told you about her feelings either. Don't you think your plan will paint her into a corner ... a corner she might not want to be in just yet?"
I stopped for a moment. She was right, of course. I was pushing her into a yes-no situation. I could read Cassie's thoughts. I might be making a blunder I couldn't recover from. So much for that plan!
"What do you suggest," I asked in surrender.
"Just what I said. Tell her how you feel. It's too early for either of you to commit yourselves. Both of you need time to find your feet. New jobs, getting over old, unhappy situations, a new city. Too much to put on either of you just yet. Take your time. Let it happen at its own speed. I know for a fact that Kayla has some feelings for you. She wouldn't be spending time with you if she didn't. She's that kind of woman. She doesn't waste time on losers. Just don't push too hard too soon."