Chance: A Day in May Ch. 08bythe Troubador©
Chapter 08: Chance
The ride to the restaurant had been quiet. Helen prided herself on her ability to engage anyone in a conversation which seemed to have deserted her since opening her door to Duncan. Duncan's own short, one or two word answers to her sallies hadn't helped. Thank goodness the ride had been short. Even that was relative with the thoughts churning around their heads.
Duncan was embarrassed at being tongue tied. Try as he could there didn't seem to be a thing he could do about it.
Helen couldn't imagine how she got so flustered.
The ten minute journey drug out forever.
She hadn't seen Duncan since that last view in her rearview mirror as she turned the corner out of Ritzville. He had looked so beautiful, so strong brave and wise; so lonely. It was a wonder she hadn't turned around and gone back before he was even out of sight! Even more a wonder was she hadn't wrecked the car the way her eyes were glued on the rearview mirror.
She had promised herself not to allow Duncan's presence to fluster her. That promise was broken before they left the condo.
Now here he was again. She was afraid to look directly at him. Every time she did all she saw was how small and suicidally brave he had looked standing between her and that huge bully, a monster of a man who had 'claimed' her as his "woman for the night." She'd been terrified when no one in that little tavern had said or done a thing.
Then Duncan stepped forward to place himself between the cowboy and her. How courageous he had looked, dwarfed by that drunken giant. She shuddered again remembering the crowded bar and how none of the locals had been willing to stand up and defend her.
Then the very next day things had turned upside down.
Chester had been so embarrassed at his actions the night before. His sorrow over the way his wife had deserted him had been real but he never hinted at using it an excuse for his actions. His remorse and shock at his actions in that bar was very real.
With Duncan's understanding they had gained a real friend. Friends, really, for Chester had been well liked in the town. Everyone looked at Duncan and her as friends, and Duncan had become a true hero in her eyes.
She'd spent too many hours wondering how Gerry would have handled that situation. She knew he would have stood up and objected to the way his wife was being treated. What she didn't know was how forcefully would he have followed up? Chester was a very large, very fit man. In his drunken haze he had been terrifying.
Even if Gerry had stood up against him, she knew he would have tried to bluster the drunk down. Threatening an out of control drunk would only have antagonized him further. Once Gerry would have stood as her protector, he had done so in the past. But he had changed. It frightened her to think of Gerald using in his haughty manner giving the monster orders. His condescending way, talking down to what he considered a lesser man would have led to disaster. Envisioning Gerald, an overweight chair bound fifty-year-old executive against a large, athletic man in his prime would have been a disaster.
Not that Duncan was physically impressive. For one thing he was a decade and a half older than Gerry. But he had something else going for him. Duncan was trained to use his intelligence in confrontations. Even so he knew instinctively such an approach to a drunken wild man would only make the situation more desperate.
She wondered what Gerry would have done after he had been knocked down in that bar. She was afraid he would have just crawled into a corner and left her to fend for herself.
She knew what Duncan would do, she had seen him do it. Talking to Duncan the next day he confessed he had never tried any of the martial arts moves he had used. They were the only thing he knew that would give them a chance. What would have happened if the fight had gone against him? She knew that too. They would probably still be fighting; Duncan would never quit as long as he could stand.
Duncan hadn't tried meeting brawn with brawn but used his mind. She felt a sense of wonder at the memory. It embarrassed her but she felt the little shivers run through her when she remembered.
How terrible this vacation had turned out. She planned it to reconnect with her husband. Instead he deserted her in a strange town.
Then a knight driving an RV rode to her rescue.
As they pulled into the restaurant's parking lot Helen took a quick peek at Duncan in the light from the parking lot. He was tense and ill at ease.
Calling him had been such a bad idea. She knew he would drive over if she called.
Oh, Damn! That peek at Duncan's profile started those little ripples in her belly again. She was a married woman owing her husband to be faithful.
She'd already cheated on him and except for Duncan's unwillingness to push further over he line, she would have slept with him again. How could she think of him that way, when her husband of these many years was half way around the world?
That was the problem. He wasn't here despite his promise. He knew they were drifting apart and knew this vacation was planned to get them back together. They should be spending the sunny days talking, finding a way to make their marriage strong again.
How could it have gone so wrong!
Duncan held the door as they entered the restaurant, then casually placed a proprietary hand in the small of her back to usher her in. At the hostess' station he gave his name. Then as she confirmed their reservation he asked for a private table. The hostess looked surprised when Duncan released her hand. Helen tried not to watch as the woman snuck a peek at her hand. Helen nearly giggled, wondering how much Duncan had tipped her.
"I am sure we have something that will suit you Mr. Handsworth. It has a commanding view of the lake and the mountains." she promised as she gathered menus and led them across the room to a small alcove, half hidden behind lushly growing plants.
Helen's back was warm under Duncan's comforting hand. She was shocked realizing she was sidling over closer to his side, allowing his hand to slip across to cup her hip. His very closeness was causing her breathing to speed. Helen began panicking, realizing what just being near him was doing to her.
Her husband should be giving her feelings like this. But Duncan felt so right!
Once at their table Duncan seated her, involuntarily brushing his hand across the nape of her neck as he turned to sit with only the corner of the table separating them. It seemed so natural for their knees to touch. It was growing warmer in the room.
"I've missed you Helen, that trip from Ritzville to Seattle seemed longer and lonelier than I remembered. How has your vacation been?"
Helen opened the menu before replying, "Without Gerry being here it has seemed pretty pointless. How's Seattle?"
"Still raining," he answered with a smile, opening his own menu before asking her if she knew of any specialties of the house. She had not been out to eat since arriving and was unaware of any.
After ordering the conversation was slow but warm. Helen hadn't really done anything more with her photography since arriving. She had taken a few shots she had hopes for. Duncan promised her they could bring them up on the monitor in his RV. If they were what she was looking for they could print them out for her portfolio.
The meal was good, the company and they finally relaxed while eating. Still Helen's butterflies kept growing. Just being near this man made her melt.
Finally, after sharing a slice of Double Dutch Chocolate cake, the meal was over. When they brought the dessert cart Helen had looked so longingly at it Duncan selected the cake, asking for two forks. Duncan leaned back to take a good look at Helen, then leaned forward to plant his elbows on the table. After looking carefully into Helen's face for what seemed like hours he placed a thin leather folder on the table before her.
"I've done something my conscience required me to do, Helen. I didn't really have the right to do it. I'm going to ask for your forgiveness after you've read this." Here he leaned back and took a sip of his coffee. "I ordered this the morning we came down off the mountain." He smiled, "The one where the lion screamed."
Helen, blushing at the reference looked at him searchingly. "What's in the folder, Duncan?" she asked.
"The report is yours, Helen. I have one other copy which I'll destroy if you ask me." He looked down into his coffee, "I would like to give you a quick summary before you read it, if I may?" She nodded.
"I called a corporate security firm I have used in my business for many years for background checks of potential employees. I asked them to discover your husband's movements and destination after he left you in Ritzville." He added in almost a whisper, "Something about his actions the few short minutes I had with him didn't make sense. I asked my friend to find out what was going on."
Helen's mouth dropped, "You sicced private detectives onto my husband?" she forced out, her voice rising.
Sheepishly he answered, "Well, yeah, in a way. But it isn't public knowledge..."
"You went fishing, using a detective, trying to discredit him after you seduced ME?" she hissed in a voice quivering with rage.
"It wasn't like that, Helen..."
"What the hell was it like then?" she demanded in a pinched voice he could hardly hear.
"He had walked out on you, leaving you in the lurch..."
"And what business was it of yours?" she asked in that same vicious whisper. "It was my life, and that was my husband you were attacking! Did you think you could paint him with a big black brush so I'd drop in your lap, lover?" Angrily she shoved her chair back, then pulled it back even closer to the table, "Was I some kind of prize for you, if you could 'get the goods' on Gerry? Just what do you think of me, Duncan? What rights have you to go after my husband? Did you think after you porked me you could somehow reel me in for your VERY OWN?" Her voice rose to a near shout on the last words, and she looked around nervously to see if anyone had heard her.
"Let me tell you now, Mr. Duncan Handsworth, I'm not an object, and I'm not for sale. I've had a good marriage, Gerry and I are going to save it. Did your 'operatives' discover Gerry had a little something on the side in the Philippines? Well, I don't believe it."
"Helen, you have the right to be angry. I had no right, no real justification to ask for this report. Believe me..."
"Humph! You're damned right you didn't!"
"I wasn't trying to manufacture something on Gerry. Let me tell you what he found, and this is a reputable security firm. They do a lot of background checks on possible future hires into sensitive positions. They are not in the business of chasing errant husbands, and this was not what they thought they were doing."
"Your husband told us he was on his way to the Philippines. When he arrived at SeaTac airport he cashed in his ticket to the Philippines, as did his Personal Assistant who met him at the airport. He didn't tell us she was coming with him on the extended foreign stay. Did you know about it? They used the cash from the tickets to the Philippines to buy two first class tickets to Singapore. Which is where they have been holed up."
Helen buried her face in her hands, trying not to hear his words.
"The security firm made very sensitive inquiries with Gerry's employers. In no way were they calling attention to his actions, they were just casual phone calls to various areas in his company asking to speak to him. They expected to find, for instance, that he had been sent to the Philippines on an emergency but that another problem came up in Singapore taking precedence. That Myra and Gerald trip had been rescheduled to handle the new situation."
Duncan watched Helen, trying to read her expression. "All our inquiries received the same reply. Your husband had gone on a long overdue vacation with his wife. At his direction no one was to be given his location, he did not want to be disturbed. His PA had taken advantage of his absence and she herself had taken a two-week vacation. They didn't know where she had gone but were sure she could be reached if necessary. We told those we contacted that it wasn't necessary to disturb her, we would see Gerry on his return."
After a long, pregnant pause, Duncan asked, "Helen, can I take you home now? I will leave the folder with you, it is yours. I want to talk to you. If you will allow me I would appreciate the chance to keep you company while you are digesting this. Helen, this has nothing to do with my feelings for you."
Duncan rose, helping Helen from her seat. Dropping money on the table he escorted her to the car. Helen was numb, her mind a jumble. One moment she wanted to turn on Duncan and pummel him, the next she wanted to fall into his arms and weep. All the time, those maddening tingles coursed through her body every time he touched her. Despite what he had done, he still affected her.
The drive back was very quiet. Helen was confused, felt lost. She had felt guilty since Ritzville, now she felt betrayed but her guilt was still there. Even worse, her compass was broken; for the first time in her life she had no direction. Even with Gerry's apparent indifference the past few years she knew her marriage, her life, could be straightened. It would take only understanding and care on both Gerry and herself to make the marriage strong again.
For the first time she feared Gerry had no interest in the marriage. She would read the report, study it carefully; if were true she would have to admit Gerry had little interest in the marriage... or her.
She couldn't let herself go, she had to remain strong and weather this out. But God it was so difficult even thinking about it.
Duncan drove carefully, his mind grim behind a carefully schooled, emotionless face. He had feared Helen's reactions to the news he carried. Would her feelings toward him change after learning the truth? Would his carrying that message change her view of him?
It was true, the messenger was often shot.
Helen had become important to him, he hadn't considered it possible at his stage in life. After his wife's death he believed relationships, loving such as he had enjoyed these many years past were only in the past. He hadn't believed it possible for a man his age to love and be loved. A grand passion such as he had enjoyed with his first wife would be impossible. For one thing, the most important thing, women like the one he had married were rare..
Then Helen blew into his life, exploded was a more apt description. She had blindsided him. Driving back to Seattle Duncan had tried to convince himself their liaison was short and complete; intense but transitory. He tried to believe it was over.
But those days in Seattle, his inability to pick up and continue on with his life, to get her out of his mind, convinced him what they had started was much more serious than he had tried to believe.
He had no idea if Helen felt the same way. Worse, after handing her that damning report she might hate him for interfering in her life.
Despite her explosion in the restaurant Duncan was convinced he couldn't leave her alone tonight. Somehow he was going to install himself in her condo for the night. She would need a friend tonight. It would have to be platonic but she shouldn't have to face the darkness alone. It may be she would spend the night venting her anger on him. His face an expressionless mask, he thought, "This might be the last time I see her. If so, so be it. Whatever happens, I have to see she has herself back under control."
Wordlessly he parked, rounding the car quickly to help her from the car, then walked her to the door. Silently Duncan took the key from her hand, opened her door and ushered her through into her condo, his hand casually resting on her waist. Helen looked like she was walking in a fog. Even so she was startled when she heard Duncan close and lock the door behind them.
She spun away from his hand, glaring at him. Duncan silently shrugged off his coat, draping it over the arm of a chair by the door. Helen seemed to gather her strength as she watched him.
Taking a deep breath she started. "Keep away from me, and keep your hands OFF me, you big APE!" she screamed. "I don't need some guy I just met moving in on me. I'm waiting for my husband! Leave me ALONE!"
Duncan stepped away, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"Why- are- you- DOING THIS? I thought we were friends!" she screamed.
Duncan stood quietly before her with his hands in his pockets as she ranted. He wore a sober expression as he met her gaze, "Helen, I am no more of a threat to you now then I was the day we met. I feel very unhappy bringing this news to you. I honestly hadn't expected what I discovered. On the other hand, you are a very intelligent woman. I can't believe you had no suspicion that something was going on. Perhaps not as serious as the report shows, but you must have had your suspicions."
A long silence had the two of them standing, Helen's stance stiff and closed, the two searching each others face. Gradually Helen's posture softened, her shoulders slumping she clutched her arms across her chest. Her eyes fell from his to look at some spot off to the side.
After a lengthy wait Duncan continued, "You called and asked me to come. I'm here and my only concern is seeing you are all right. I can't leave you alone, you don't need that. At the same time you don't need someone putting unwanted pressures on you."
Helen, her arms clasped under her breasts, began pacing around the room. As she walked her shoulders rounded further, her chin dropped from its proud, challenging angle. Picking up the report she pulled it from the envelope, reading as she paced.
To Duncan, watching as she moved about the room, it seemed his friend was shrinking into herself as she read. She fought desperately against them but saw the glisten of tears in her eyes.
At long last she turned facing him her back against the window. The dark of the night framed her slim body. She stared at him for what seemed hours before taking a deep breath.
"Duncan," she whispered, so softly he could hardly hear her. "Did Gerry really do those things? Is this report true? Was he really in Singapore with his assistant?"
Carefully weighing his words, speaking slowly, softly and clearly he answered, "I am so sorry, Helen. That report is accurate. It has only been a day since it was completed. The investigator called me as soon as he had it complete. Colin gave it to me yesterday."
The silence in the room was deafening. Finally he walked slowly to where she was standing, her face buried in her hands, tears streaming down her face. Duncan hesitated before placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. He knew instinctively Helen was crying for her lost marriage, weeping for a love she knew was lost.
Her life's partner had cared so little for her he had abandoned her. It was doubly hurtful as the unfeeling way he had ignored the last ditch effort Helen was making to save their union. He lied to her about the value he placed on the marriage. Worst of all, he his plan was to leave her even as they planned this trip together.
Duncan squeezed her shoulder gently. "I came here as your friend, Helen. Whether you learned of this from the report I brought or in a more emotional, less private situation, you would have learned. Don't believe I caused his betrayal. I didn't.
"I would like to stay the night as your friend and confidante. Not as a lover. You need to talk, I want to listen. I'll stay out of the "guy mode" and not offer endless, unwanted solutions. Perhaps tomorrow, after we have talked, maybe had a nights sleep, you will see what you should do next. If you wish, I'll help you any way I can. I am sure we can find a direction that will give you at least temporary peace while you search for a more permanent solution."