The Runner Tumbles

byMoondrift©

A suspicion flashed across my mind. "He's gay and pretending not to be. He thinks I might be a safe companion, one who would not challenge his sexuality."

In that case I was safe too, so why not go with him to the concert, it might prove entertaining, and wasn't it time I did something more with my life other than work, go back to the flat, and visit my parents occasionally?

A friendly but harmless escort; one who would not seek anything more than a sexually neutral companionship; yes, that could prove to be pleasant.

"When is the concert, Roger?"

"Friday the twenty first of January. You will come with me?"

I glanced at him, and there was that look of boyish eagerness again.

"Yes, thank you Roger, I'd like to."

"Wonderful, shall we wander back to your flat now?"

What did he mean, "Wander back to my flat"? Did he think I would let him in? Gay or not I had always vowed that no man would ever step inside.

I needn't have worried. Again he made no attempt to get beyond the lift.

"I'll let you know the details when I've booked the seats," he said.

He stood there as the lift door closed and I felt a tug of regret that I was parting from him. I might ask myself what was happening to me, but even then I knew but wouldn't admit it. Roger had touched something deep within me, something hidden and denied. A man of such immense ability in the complex world of business, but of such simplicity in his relationship with me.

I think that day must have been the happiest I'd known since the night of the fog. Even my triumphs in business didn't seem to match the pleasures of that day.

So little said; such companionable silences; I had even enjoyed the people around us – yes, even the embracing, hand holding couples. It was as if a ray of light had entered into my dark world.

Chapter 8. 22nd January 2005.

We went to the concert last night. It was in the town hall which is only a few minutes walk from my flat.

The music was vaguely familiar; perhaps I'd heard it in odd snatches over the years, but it was somehow different with the conductor waving his little stick and watching the instrumentalists seeming to concentrate so fiercely on what they were doing.

Then there was the audience, so enthusiastic, and Roger sitting beside me.

It had been strange in the time after our walk in the gardens. It was as if Roger had lost interest in me. Apart from telling me of the arrangements for the concert our contact had been only on the business plane. He was not unfriendly, but whenever we were together he seemed absorbed in our discussions about the firm.

I had thought after the night of the fog that no man could ever hurt me again, but I felt some resentment that Roger seemed to have become remote. There were no more suggestions of walks or dinners together, and I began to wonder if he had changed his mind about our going to the concert together.

A number of times I was close to asking him if something was the matter, but I still had that pride that would not let me, as I saw it, demean myself in that way.

The suspicion arose that because I hadn't, to quote Mr. Greenbaum, "Come cross," Roger had decided I wasn't worth pursuing. But again, he had made no approach that indicated that he wanted me to.

I was struck by another thought; did he think because of my blatant and appalling behaviour in my office that I would repeat the offer I made then – or the one he thought I had made? God, was that insane afternoon going to haunt me as well as the night of the fog?

But it wasn't that horrible night that haunted my dreams; it was another afternoon, the afternoon when we walked so at peace in the gardens; the afternoon when people were no longer passing shadows, but had taken on a new dimension; a human dimension.

After the concert we stopped off at a small café for a cup of coffee; there and during the brief walk to my flat we talked of the music and the standard of performance.

Roger's remoteness had gone and we seemed to be back to where we were during our other outings. I wanted us to talk about us, about our relationship, but didn't know how to start. It was only as we arrived at the block of flats that I did something I thought I would never do.

"Roger, would you come for a walk with me tomorrow?"

The words were out; how I had managed to speak them I'll never know; me asking a man for a date.

With a smile and what sounded like enthusiasm he said, "I'd love to, where shall we go?"

"If we drive further down river towards the coast we can go and look at the wetlands they've been developing."

"Great, what time?"

"Say, about nine o'clock."

"I'll pick you up."

"No, I'll drive," I said. "I know where we need to park." That was really a flimsy excuse to show off my Porsche which hadn't been doing much work lately. Of course I should have suggested a run out to the hills and beyond, then I could really have shown him what the Porsche could do. "That could come later," I thought.

"Perhaps we could have dinner together tomorrow?" he said.

I felt a lovely tingled run up my spine. He did want to be my friend; he wasn't rejecting me.

For a moment at the lift he looked as if he wanted to shake hands with me, but then seemed to change his mind and said, "Goodnight Jackie, it's been a lovely evening."

"Goodnight Roger; and thank you."

The lift doors closed.

Chapter 8. Wetlands and Dinner, 23rd January 2005.

We went to the wetlands yesterday. I parked the car in a street near the river and we walked. Since they established the wetlands the native ducks, wood ducks, coots, moorhens and even the Lesser Grebe have returned to this part of the river. The place seemed alive with then.

I had to admit to myself that I was revelling in Roger's company. He was so easy to be with; when I wanted to be silent he seemed to know it, and didn't chatter on. When I wanted to talk he listened to me carefully – at times I thought too carefully.

Have you ever noticed how everybody seems to want to get their word in, and never listen to what you have to say? Then one day you notice that someone is actually listening to you and that can be a trifle alarming because you suddenly become aware of what you are saying.

That's how it was with Roger, but after the first feeling of discomfort at his undivided attention to me, I actually got to like it. Someone apart from my parents actually wanted to know about me; how I thought, what I liked and disliked.

It seemed that was how he wanted it to be. There were moments when I wanted him to talk about him self, but if I started to question him the talk always seemed to come back to me.

We got to the bridge where we were to turn round and go back down the other side of the river. For a while we sat on a bench, just looking. There were not many people around and it was very peaceful.

Despite my doubts about Roger when he had seemed remote, whenever we had gone out together he had shown his pleasure at being with me. I wanted to express my appreciation of this and give him some idea of how I was feeling. I knew that even a short while ago it was unimaginable that I would say what I now said, but somehow Roger had freed me to say it.

"Roger, I do like being with you."

"And I with you, Jackie," he replied.

It was said, but I couldn't leave it at that. There was something I had to know; something I had to say, if I could, to finally clear the air.

"Roger, I don't understand why you like being with me after the terrible thing I tried to do to you."

"I thought we'd left that behind," he said, smiling at me.

The way he said it made me want to cry, and something seemed to be welling up inside me; all the poison that was inside me seemed to be struggling to get out.

"Roger, I gave you reasons why I did what I did..."

"Yes?"

"But there were...are other things."

"That's what I thought."

"I can't talk about it...perhaps I'll never be able to talk about it; but if sometimes I seem...oh I don't know...if I hurt you in some way...if you could understand...if you would still be my friend."

He took my hand and I didn't withdraw it. I wanted to him to touch me, to let me feel his warmth and the strength that lay behind his gentleness.

"You need never doubt I'm your friend, Jackie."

I had let my hand lie placidly in his, but when after a few minutes of silence he said, "Shall we go back now," I closed my fingers over his hand, signalling that I wanted him to go on holding it.

As we walked along hand in hand I knew I was behaving like a silly teenager, but I wanted to behave like one. I wanted to feel what I had never experienced as a teenager. I couldn't give it a name, but I didn't want to give it one. What I wanted was to know that someone liked me – was my friend – had...what...affection for me?

More people were using the path now, some of them looking at this hand holding couple who should probably be past all that, and grinning knowingly. I didn't want their knowing looks; I wanted Roger to myself, so when he said, "Shall we find somewhere to have lunch, " I replied, "Would you like to come back to my flat and I'll make lunch for us?"

I knew I was breaking my long held rule about no men; I knew I was taking a risk; but I wanted so badly to have Roger to myself, even for a little while.

We drove back to the flats, and this time there was no parting at the lift. Once inside the flat doubts arose. I was trembling slightly, wondering if he would take this invitation to be opening for something more than friendship.

I waited anxiously for any sign that he was about to make a move. He made none.

Perversely I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me or if my conjecture about him being gay was correct. I now knew clearly that he liked me...was attracted to me, so why did he not show that interest in me that can be politely called, "physical?"

"For God's sake, Jackie," I told myself, "you don't want him to get physical with you and he isn't, so be content."

After we had eaten we sat in the lounge talking about our walk along the wetlands and what we might do on other occasions. There was something I was curious about, and since I'd opened up to him and we'd talked about friendship, I thought it safe to ask the question.

"Roger, for a couple of weeks after the time we went for a walk in the garden, you seemed to become withdrawn, as if you didn't want to talk to me beyond business matters. Where you regretting our time together...wondering if you still wanted me to go to the concert with you?"

He laughed lightly and said, "Jackie, the reverse was true. I'd enjoyed your company a couple of times, and wanted to give you time to think about whether you'd enjoyed mine; whether you really wanted to be with me again."

"Oh."

"And it worked, didn't it?"

"What do you mean?"

"After the concert you asked me to walk with you today; that was a good indication that you'd made up your mind about me."

"You brute," I said laughing, "You had me worried sick that you didn't like me any more."

"Well now we both know, don't we?"

"What?"

"We like each other. Look I really must be going, I'll have to shower and change for this evening."

I didn't want him to go, and even thought of saying, "Don't let's go to the restaurant, I'll make dinner here, but since he'd booked the table I thought better of it."

It was my turn to see him into the lift, and just as the doors were closing I spoke from my heart.

"You're a lovely man, Roger."

Then the doors closed and the lift descended.

I went back into the flat with some silly tuneless song ringing in my head; "I have a friend...I have a friend...he likes me...he wants to be with me...a lovely friend..."

All through my shower and dressing the words rang in my head. In my man repelling days I thought I was being strong; now in my happiness at having a man...having Roger as my friend, I felt truly strong. If he was gay it didn't matter; all that mattered was that he was my friend.

He arrived once more five minute before time; I would have had no hesitation about asking him in, but since I was ready we set off straightaway.

This time he had chosen a restaurant in the city. It was as if any restraints between us had finally vanished; we spoke freely about the things we would do together, the concerts, theatres, films walks and drives.

Towards the end of the evening a more solemn note entered our conversation. It was Roger who introduced it.

"Jackie, about the office."

"Don't let's talk about that, Roger."

"I think we must, Jackie. I mean...you know what office gossip is like. If they see us being too friendly you know what will happen."

"Yes...yes I know."

"So while we're around the office I think we should play it low key; you know just business and all that."

He laughed and said, "And don't start thinking I've gone off you."

I sighed and said, "I suppose you're right, we don't want them to think there's anything going on between us." I almost added, "I don't want to compromise you." But decided that was best left unsaid.

Chapter 9. The Year 2005.

Looking back at the year I think it might be called, "My Golden Year."

It was the year when Roger and I spent increasing amounts of time together, the year in which I was transformed.

Of course we couldn't keep our friendship hidden from the office people for ever, especially after we met up the Patricia and her by then fiancée in a restaurant. Thank God it wasn't Tessa. The next morning when I got into the office it was to be greeted by Patricia with the words, "Isn't he lovely Jackie, you are lucky; I only had to look at him to see what he feels about you. Do you love him as well?"

That shook me up a bit. The word "love" hadn't come into our conversations. "Friendship," "Liking," "Companionship," yes, but love?

"Patricia dear," I said, "we're just good friends, we like each other's company."

"If you say so, Jackie, but from the way he looked at you...well."

The matter wasn't mentioned again between us, but it didn't stop me thinking about it.

Did Roger love me? I still didn't know if he was gay or not, but there was also the question of whether I loved him. Had love crept up insidiously without my knowing what it was?

It was after Patricia had talked of love that something disquieting began to take effect in me.

To put it as plainly as I can; after that night in the fog I had come to see sexual contact as revolting; as I have said elsewhere, I knew that others did not view it like that, but that's how it was for me.

After the first time Roger and I held hands I came to accept that this was okay - this is terrible, I'm making myself sound like some nineteenth century parson's daughter; but that was how it was.

Seeing Roger frequently, being alone with him in my flat, and on occasion in his, then the mention of love, another new experience came into my life.

I'm prevaricating, I know I am, but understand how difficult it is for me. What seemed to take place as a matter of course with other girls and women had never happened to me, not until that night in my flat.

I became aware of increasingly strong feelings in Roger's presence that disquieted me, and they came even when he was not present. An ache in the pit of my stomach; a ticking sensation in my sex organ; a growing wetness at the top of my thighs and my nipples hardening; I had not known these sensations before.

Even I could not hide from myself what was happening; I was getting sexually aroused and both loving it and hating it. Loving it because I knew that this was the preparation for something wonderful to happen; hating it because I knew no way of dispersing the frustration I felt.

I know this sounds pathetic, but I was so sexually naïve that I didn't even know about masturbation then.

To make matters worse I wasn't sure how Roger felt. Had I known more I might have been able to read the signs, but I didn't know.

I think it was in July of that year that things came to a head. Roger and I had come back from the theatre after seeing a somewhat salacious play. By then it was common practice for Roger to come up to my flat for half an hour for a drink before we parted.

This night I was in a hell of a state. I found it hard to keep still and stop myself from trembling. My inner thighs were soaked and uncomfortable.

I tried hard to sound calm as I asked Roger, "Do you like me?"

He looked at me curiously before replying, "You know I do, I've told you so often enough."

"Yes...yes...but do you find me...find me physically attractive?"

I knew I was humiliating myself but I was past caring.

"Yes, I've always found you physically attractive, Jackie."

He spoke quietly as he often did, but for once his calmness infuriated me. Letting go of the last shreds of my dignity I screamed at him, "Then why the bloody hell have you never touched me, what's wrong with me? You say you find me physically attractive, so what is it?"

He didn't lose that monumental calm as he said, "It's you, Jackie."

"Yes, I damned well know it me, but what about me? I can't go on like this, it...it hurts too much."

I had been standing while I yelled at him. He rose and came to me and for the first time put his arms round me. That did it; I broke down completely and just sagged against him.

"What is it...what is it...?" I wailed, "I don't understand what's happening to me and I don't understand you; you tell me there's something wrong with me but you don't say what it is and that's cruel...why are you being cruel to me?"

For a few moments he continued to hold me, saying nothing, then very softly he said, "It had to be like this, Jackie."

"Like what...you're not making sense...tell me..."

"You had to come to me."

"What...why...we've often been together, so why...?"

He led me to the divan and together we sat his arm still round me.

"I love you very much Jackie," he said, "and I've been hoping and waiting for this moment. I couldn't do anything until I was sure."

"Sure of what?"

"That you were ready; that whatever it was that's made you so wary of men, of me..."

"But I've not been wary of you, I..."

"Oh yes you have Jackie. Right from the start I could see it...see it in your eyes, in your body language, how you related to the people around you as well as me, and as I got to know you, the lonely life you've led. You've been successful in so much, my love, except in one truly important thing."

"And what's that?" I sobbed.

"Your relationships with people, men especially; everything about you told me that you have been deeply hurt."

He gave a laugh that sounded a little sad. "Do you know, that afternoon of the Christmas lunch I..."

"Don't...don't...please don't talk about that, I..."

He kissed my forehead and went on, "It's all right my love, and I was only going to say that if I hadn't understood...if I hadn't known how you were about men, I might have taken up your offer."

"You would have?"

"Yes, so that doesn't make me very nice, does it? But I knew there had to be something more to that offer than a desire for me. You were playing some game that I didn't understand until it all fell apart."

"And you still liked me?"

"Enough to know you better...enough to be prepared to wait for this moment. So you see you had to come to me; I had to be sure or I might have ruined our relationship, and it has become too precious for me to do anything that might wreck it."

"You know what I'm feeling...you understand...I'm not cheap am I, feeling like this?"

"If I did think you cheap, then I'd have to think the same about myself."

He laughed again and continued, "No my, love, if you really want to know, you've been very hard to win."

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