Cherry Girl (Blackstone Affair) (10 page)

BOOK: Cherry Girl (Blackstone Affair)
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I played with her splayed-out hair as we lay on our backs, content to touch its silkiness, until I heard a soft sound, and felt a small shudder, as she turned and wept in the crook of my neck.  Telling me had brought out very painful emotions.  I understood how that worked.  You were fine holding onto your deepest feelings just fine, but as soon as you shared them with somebody, the flood of hurt came busting out.

“He’s there waiting for you, Cherry.  He’s proud of you and happy if you’re happy.  There’s no pain or sadness where your dad is.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

“I just do.  I have to believe in something and I believe in t
his.  For your dad and my gran—the good people—they are in a better place now.  And we can miss them, but I know they would only want us to be happy.”

“I
just love you so much,” she told me, her eyes still brimming with tears.

“I love you so much, and I’ll be coming home to you when I’m done with the army and we can start our life together.  We
’ve got nothing but time.”

“Okay then, I’ll be here waiting for you
right here at this cherry tree.”  She tried to give me a smile with her little tease but I could see it was still hard for her.  The next months would be hard on both of us.


I know.  When I return, we’ll come back up here for our reunion weekend.”  I pulled up her chin toward me and met her beautiful, sad face.  “What do you say to that idea, darlin’?  Back here at Hallborough, you and me, cherry blossoms, row boats and blue dragonflies.”

“Better make it a week, captain.  A measly weekend just won’t do for me.”

“Thank the blessed gods for that, because I’m going to need lots and lots of long baths in that tub together before I’m even close to recovered from being separated from you, Cherry Girl.”

I held her close up against me and worried.  I couldn’t shake the feeling of gloom that hung in the air and feared I might be losing
my mind.  I tried to remember that as I left for my tour this time, I was leaving England with the girl I
loved
waiting for me back home.

Elaina would wait for me.  She
’d needed the reassurance that I would always be her man, but we’d worked that out.  I’d promised her there was nobody else who could take my heart away from her and I meant it with everything I had in me.

I closed my eyes and held her and
prayed.  I prayed that everything would play out, and fate would be kind, and my beautiful girl would be here for me when I came home.

 

 

12

 

 

 

 

Four weeks later

I
woke with the weight of dread pressing on me.
I’d be returning to active duty in the morning so the day was our last one together for more than ten long months of separation.  The SAS might have me on a plane bound for Afghanistan within a day, but my heart would stay behind in London with Elaina.

The last twenty-four hours had been a marathon of emotional highs and lows and…sex, my need to claim her a
gain and again a compulsion that I couldn’t hold back and couldn’t bear to deny.

“How am I going to say goodbye to you at the station in the morning?” she asked in a soft voice, her hand brushing over my chest back and forth.

“I have no idea on this earth how I’ll walk away from you.  I just know that if you don’t help me out by being strong, then the SAS will have an A.W.O.L. situation on their hands.”

“That sounds very bad.”  She moved her hand up to my mouth where she traced my lips with her finger.

“Absent Without Leave
is
very bad.”

“I
finally got a letter from the International Placements office yesterday.  I’d been waiting on it for a while, and there’s a place for me in Italy.  I was setting up to go away as an
au pair
before you came home on leave.  You know about how I’ve been taking Italian and French in school, right?  Well, I’ve been taking the courses so I could actually speak to my host family when I got a placement—”

“No.  I don’t want you to go.”  I moved over her and held her face.  “Please prom
ise me you won’t go to Italy.”

“Why, Neil?  It’s just a job.”  Her eyes searched mine.  “A
nd I’ll be busy while you’re away, and that’ll help me pass the time.  It’s going to be dreadful here without you.”

I could imagine some
Italian count or wealthy playboy sweeping her away just as soon as he got a good look at her.  “Ten months, my sweet beautiful girl.  That’s all I ask.  I’ll be home and we can go wherever you want then, but please wait for me.  I—I just can’t bear the idea of you not here waiting for me.  I know it’s a lot to ask, but I want you here where I know you’re safe and with your family if something…happens.”


Nothing
is going to happen,” she said firmly.  “Everything is going to be perfectly fine, Neil.”  Then her blue eyes softened and she smiled at me.  “Okay, I won’t go to Italy if it’s so important to you.  I’ll find a job somewhere in the city.  There must be a corporation that needs French and Italian because of international business.”

“Thank you.
” I breathed out in relief before kissing my way down her body, pulling the sheet away with my teeth.  The sheet peeled off, revealing her beautiful body in all its bare-skin glory.

“I need a picture of you like this to take with me,” I blurted.

Her eyes widened but then she relaxed, as if she thought about it and decided I wasn’t being a pathetic skeeve, but just a desperate bloke in love who was trying to hold onto her through any means possible.

“All right
then,” she said shyly.  “You can take pictures of me.”

So
, I snapped some naked photos of my beautiful girl and would take them off to war with me.  The pictures would help me to remember how sexy beautiful and generous she was, how she smiled and how she spoke, how she smelled like flowers and looked like a Greek goddess, when I was alone at night with only my memories…and my hand.

 

****

 

Elaina had stepped out to the shops to buy our dinner while I packed up my things.  She would keep my flat organized for me and also had use of my car while I was away.  I loved the idea of her being here in my place even if I wasn’t going to be here with her.  It would help me to know we were together even when we weren’t.

T
he doorbell rang and I wondered who it could possibly be.  My goodbyes had been said to anyone who mattered.  My father knew I was going and had sent his regards in an email.  Typical.  We conversed via written text, never on telephone, and rarely in person.  He usually commanded my presence to his house if he felt the desire to see me.  I didn’t feel welcome in his home, so we were good.

Ian and his mum had already done a big send-off dinner
for me, and I’d had the talk with him about Elaina, and how he needed to look out for her in my absence.  And most importantly, keep that cocksucker, Tompkins away from her. My mates had been by to wish me off, promising pints in the pub upon my safe return.

I opened my
door to find Cora standing on the other side of it and was really glad that Elaina had gone out.  Seeing Cora at my flat would not make her happy.  Not at all.  Elaina really despised Cora and had made her feelings known from the very beginning that she was
persona non grata
.  I got it.  Tompkins was the same for me with her.

“What can I do for you, Cora?”

She smirked.  “Where’s your baby girlfriend, Neil?”

“None of your business,
and her name is Elaina, as you well know.”  I wouldn’t even address her other comment with a response.  Pointless.  “Look, I’m very busy getting ready to take off, so what is it that you want?”

“Only what you owe me, legally.”

I’m sure my eyes popped out of my skull.  “What in the hell are you talking about, woman.  I don’t owe you anything, legal or not.”

Just at that moment, Elaina came up the stairs
laden with shopping bags and smack into our conversation.  Cora turned and said, “Oh good, she’s here.  You really need to know this too, doll.”  Cora fished out a small square paper from her purse and shoved it at me.

I looked at it.  Felt my heart
get ripped from my chest and then thrown down onto the floor so it could be kicked around like a football.  “What the fuckin’ hell is this?!”

“That,”
she said with dramatic emphasis, “is our baby, Neil.  Eight weeks gone.  Isn’t he cute?”

I looked at Elaina standing in the hallway, a shopping bag in each hand, just standing frozen in place
, hearing every poisonous word.  Her face was white as a sheet.

“No!  No, Cora, no fuckin’
way that’s mine!  Elaina?”  I found her with my eyes and begged, “Cherry,
please
don’t go away—”

Cora ignored us both and kept right on blabbing. 
“Oh, but there
is
a way, darling.  Eight weeks ago?  Remember?  You’d just come home from your long, long, lonely tour and were quite out of your mind as I recall.  So long without a woman...you needed a little something to take the edge off?”  She snickered.  “Quite a few times too.  Condom problems…it happens.”

“No…”
My gut churned, and the fear boiled over as her devastating words crushed my whole world.  I had fucked Cora.  More than once.  The day I got home I went straight to the pub and started drinking.  By the time Cora showed up there, I was pissing drunk and horny enough to shag a troll.  And we ended up at her place in a sex marathon that was all about gettin’ off and nothing about feelings.  I’d told her before we fucked that we weren’t going to be together afterward.  One of the condoms did blow out…  Cora had said not to worry… 
Oh. Fuck. No.

I stared at the image on the black and white photo she’d handed to me.

It couldn’t be mine.  Could it?  What would this do to Elaina? 
FUCK!

Cora
turned and shrugged in Elaina’s direction while I kept staring at what I held in my hand.  “Well, that’s all I wanted to tell you, darling.  I know you’re off in the morning and thought you should know that you’re going to be a daddy.  So take care of yourself over there.  Be safe and all that rubbish, oh, and send me a cheque now and again.  I have to pay the bills you know so I can take care of
your
child, Neil.”

And then
, Cora walked out as I stared at the doctor’s scan and felt I might be sick.  I didn’t even say anything.  I couldn’t.  I don’t know how many moments passed.  Could have been a few seconds, could have been an hour but when I looked up, Elaina was gone.  The only evidence to show she’d really been present to hear Cora’s claim, were the two shopping bags full of our dinner sitting on the floor at the top of the stairs.

The hours that followed were something out of a horror film.  I couldn’t find her
and I didn’t know where she had gone off to.  She wouldn’t answer my calls or take my messages.  Elaina’s mum said she’d called to say I’d left a day early and she was going to stay with a school friend.  Elaina didn’t say which friend.  Ian hadn’t heard from her.  Both her mother and brother were mystified as to what was going on and couldn’t help me.

A
nd I was out of time with no good options.

Desperate and terrified,
I pulled every trick in the book trying to get an emergency extension of my tour, but was soundly vetoed.  My final orders stood.  Report to my commanding officer by the prescribed time in the morning or be arrested and tried in military court.

That night was one of the longest, most horrible experiences I can remember.  I didn’t sleep for fear she might show up or ring me.  She didn’t
though.

The next morning I dragged myself to the train station
in misery because my time was up.  I scanned the platforms for any sign of her, my heart in shreds, terrified of what I’d say to her but desperately wishing for a chance to try to tell her how sorry I was, and how we could figure out what to do.  I loved her, and couldn’t lose her, and I’d make things work out—somehow.

My Cherry Girl wasn’t
there.

 

13

 

 

 

 

One year later

My final tour in the army had been the worst of my career.
  I saw the most dangerous action.  The riskiest maneuvers attempted, the closest I ever came to dying.  The most loss of life experienced of troops I knew and commanded.  Just a total fuckin’ mess of events and situations all coalescing into a very dark time for me.

Coming out of it, I was a changed man.  For many reasons
, but the worst part was finally making it back home to London and finding out she really had gone.  Elaina did take the
au pair
position and moved away to Italy to work within a few months of my leaving.

I
’d lost my girl.  My Cherry Girl was lost to me and I faced the prospect of living a life without her.  During my tour, she never contacted me once.  Her mum and Ian still did, but kept out of our business and accepted that whatever had happened between us was not up for discussion, ensuring our privacy was respected.  It felt like she’d died, she was that lost to me.  I think it would have hurt less if she had died. 

When I returned to my flat I found a letter from her dated the day I’d left for Afghanistan.

 

Dear Neil,

This is terribly hard for me to say, but I have to.  I release you.  You’re free of anything you ever promised to me about us.  I understand your situation and accept what you have to do about it.  But, in order for me to survive it, I have to let you go.  It’s the only way I can manage to get on with my life, and I ask for you to do the same with me. 
Let me go
.  Don’t come for me or try to change my mind.  This is how it has to be now.

G
oodbye, Neil, and please know that I’ll be wishing for you great success in all that you do, and praying for your safe return home wherever and whenever that may be.

Be well,

Elaina

 

I read and reread her letter a hundred times.  There were some water splotches on it and I imagined they could have been from her tears.  I couldn’t bear to throw it away but there were many times I nearly did.  The dark times when I was so very angry with her for not giving me a chance to tell her anything about what really happened.

No, I didn’t get that from her. 
I didn’t get the chance to tell her about what I’d been through in the war.  I didn’t get the chance to tell her of the new job opportunity I was offered from a fellow officer—who barely made it out of the army still breathing—we were determined to make into a success.

I didn’t get to tell her about
the bizarre turn of events that left me the sole inheritor of a Scottish estate belonging to a great uncle I’d never met.  There was a house and land involved along with a fair chunk of money, that left me in a very good place financially for the first time in my life.  After actually seeing the place, I didn’t get the opportunity to tell her about it, or say how much I knew she’d love the grounds, or the little lake, or the old cherry trees that blossomed on the property, reminding me so much of our trip to Hallborough.

Everything was fucked up and my heart was broken. 

And, most importantly, I couldn’t tell Elaina that I was definitely not the father of Cora’s baby.  I’d been willing to face up to the responsibility of providing for the child if it was mine of course, but it wasn’t mine and Cora shared that with me as soon as her son was born.  Whether she was being a decent human being or because it was instantly apparent I couldn’t have fathered him, I don’t know.  The point was moot anyway, my loss too great to repair by then.

Cora had up and married the real father before I’d even returned home from my tour.  A big Blac
k bloke named Nigel.  This was all confirmed when I saw them in the supermarket one day shortly after I got back.  The little baby with all the chocolate skin belonged to somebody else.  Cute though.  I managed a very hollow-sounding ‘congratulations’ and walked out of there, the bitter taste of injustice and anger fueling me forward.

I still desperately longed
for Elaina, but the resentment burning inside me at her leaving without a word, had hardened me.  So hard that I closed off my emotions and accepted my fate.  I’d known bitter disappointment and grief before and I’d lived through it.  I was used to accepting things that hurt me terribly and crushed my heart.  This was just another one of those.

I threw myself into work at Blackstone Security International
, Ltd. as Vice President and Chief of Operations.  The boss’s number one.  We offered security services to high-profile clientele, politicians, dignitaries, celebrities and even members of the Royal Family on occasion.  I traveled around a great deal, learning the business with Blackstone and working jobs that paid me very well, but left little time for socializing.  Didn’t matter.  I didn’t want society anyway.  Any desire I’d ever had for love was in the hands of one unique person and she didn’t want
me
anymore.

I reached out to Elaina’s mum and asked about her.  She told me Elaina was happy
at her job in Italy and that she’d requested I not try to contact her.  She just wanted the freedom to live her life and held no ill will toward me for whatever had gone wrong with us, but I wasn’t buying it.  Of course she had ill will.  She felt betrayed that I’d been with Cora.  And then I’d had to abandon her for the better part of a year with a horrible fuckin’ break-up between us.  The whole situation was worse than fucked. 

I stayed c
lose with Elaina’s mum and Ian, hoping for an opportunity where I might see her again, maybe on one of her visits home or something.  That maybe, we’d get a chance to talk about what had happened with us.  That maybe, seeing each other again would spark something and we could find our way back to that beautiful place where we’d been so in love.

I even grew desperate enough to track her down in Italy
once, when I was there working on a job.

 

****

 

The Italian seaside in summer is a stunning place.  The lush beauty seemed fitting somehow as the place where she was now living and working. Elaina deserved to have all that natural beauty surrounding her.  That part made perfect sense to me.

I saw her from a distance on the beach in a sky blue
bikini and a floppy black hat.  Even from far away I recognized her.  How could I ever forget?  She looked so beautiful, my eyes stung as I soaked her in.  Long cherry-coloured hair blew in the wind and whipped down her back. Lovely legs that went on for miles took small steps in the thick sand in order to accommodate the little ones she brought with her.

Elaina
had two small charges, both girls that looked to be close in age, one in each hand and a big straw bag on her shoulder with their supplies for the day.  It took everything in me not to rush up and take the bag away so I could carry it for her.

It fucking hurt
to stay hidden, lurking in the shadows while she settled all three of them onto the beach.  But stay hidden I did.  In total agony.

I watched her build sandcastles with the girls until the tide came in
and washed over their creations.

Washed away…wiped clean…erased…
gone…
As if it had never been.

I
couldn’t bear to see anymore, and quickly realized it was not a good idea for me to be there stalking her.  I felt ashamed for my covert methods and worse than if I’d never seen her again.  Seeing Elaina once more with my eyes just made everything so much harder for me.  I knew what I had to do.

The
time had come for me to finally let her go.

Just as I was taking my last drink of her, she turned in my direction. 
Elaina turned to me and looked over.  She couldn’t see me, I knew because I was well hidden, but she felt me.  I know she felt my presence.

I’ll never stop loving you
, Cherry Girl.  Never.  I can’t stop…and I won’t.

In that moment my heart just exploded
, and what was left turned into a hardened mass of bits and pieces that weren’t worth very much.

My heart stayed
hardened like that for a good while too.  It had to in order for me to take my next breath and to function.  So I learned to live with myself and got on with it.  I didn’t have much of a choice, and in the end, accepting the hand I’d been dealt was easier than bluffing over the shit cards I was holding.

I worked hard
, and lived hard, doing those things that a man needs to do to survive, no matter how hollow the aftermath leaves you feeling.

I did the most difficult
thing I’d ever had to do in all my life.

I let
her go.

I let
my Cherry Girl go.

BOOK: Cherry Girl (Blackstone Affair)
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