(As a final prompt for the writing class I am enrolled in, we are asked to think about signposts along the way. This is my entry.)
The Tour Guide
I take a seat at the back of the open wagon, and wait with a handful of others for the tour to begin. The country air is noticeably cooler and I pull my sweater around me. In two weeks, I will be a part of this community – such a strange thought for a city-bred girl, and yet; the timing seems perfect. I am ready for change. A tour of the local vineyard seems like a perfect way to get to know the kind of people the bank will be dealing with, and as their new manager, I’ll need that insight.
I pull out my phone and make a few notes, ignoring the arrival of the tour guide, and the usual safety instructions. In truth, I took the position to get away from myself, and my trail of poor choices. How can someone so successful career-wise, be so dumb when it comes to love? That’s me – always missing the signs, falling for the fairytale.
Distracted, I listen as the guide points out the various types of grapes grown here, the ideal conditions, the harvesting, etc. I should be more focused, but my mind is a fog. At least there is wine at the end, I think.
A sudden jolt signals the ride has come to a stop. As the others disembark, I reach for my purse and stuff my phone into a pocket. For the first time, I glance at the man who has been leading us, whose hand now reaches up to steady my descent, and a I am overcome by panic. It’s been over fifteen years, but he is every bit as handsome as I remember.
I hesitate, uncertain as to whether or not he will recognize me, and feeling the full impact of my vulnerability.
We’d gone to the same high school. I was the new kid, and from the moment I first spotted him, I had fallen. A head above the rest of the students rushing through the hallways, he wore his dark, straight hair parted in the middle and shoulder length. His face, a sullen mask, was perfectly symmetrical, but it was those eyes, deep and gloomy, that hooked me. He was Heathcliff, and oh how I longed to be his Catherine. For two years, I sat behind him in class and fantasized about us. To be honest, I’m not even sure he knew who I was. Apart from the odd nod he threw my way in passing, we never spoke.
I moved away, and then one day, there he was, in my checkout line, and I fumbled over his order, and was about to mention we went to school together, when he asked me if I was seeing anyone. I managed a startled ‘no, and he asked me out, and just like we were dating.
He told me he was going to be a famous drummer, and had connections in the rock scene. He took me to see George Harrison in concert, and Billy Preston, and I felt like I was touching fame. He took to me wild parties where people did drugs and when he saw my discomfort, he’d pull me into a side room and make love to me with our clothes on, and ignoring the doubts, I just kept telling myself: Heathcliff. I’ve found my Heathcliff.
“Beth?” His voice breaks my reverie. “Good to see you.”
I let him take my hand and step down, and realize I haven’t responded, but what is there to say?
We’d met each other’s families, his sister pulling me aside and asking me if I knew what I’d gotten into, and me, flustered, saying I really liked him. And then there were rumours about his last girlfriend, how he’d thrown her through a plate glass window.
“But, he loves me, “ I’d counter.
And then there was the incident with the churches and how he started to believe he was Jesus Christ, and I didn’t know how to handle it all, and then, he disappeared and when I next heard from him, he was in jail.
“I stabbed my father,” he told me, his voice strange, maniacal. “But I haven’t forgotten you, Beth. When I get out of this hole, I’m coming for you, so you better wait for me.”
I feel as terrified now as I did then.
Not letting go of my hand he stands before me, and lifts my chin, forcing our eyes to meet.
“I’m sorry about all the craziness back then, Beth. I’m not that person anymore. I’ve changed.” He looks at my hand and notes the absence of a ring. “Will you give me another chance to make it up to you?”
My mind is red-hot, flashing through the past, my heart pounding like an adolescent girl.
“I have to know,” I muster. “Did you hurt that girl? In high school?”
A shadow crosses his face, and his eyes dart away. He pulls back from me letting my hand drop.
“Did you have to bring that up now? We’ll talk about it, I promise. Just not now.”
I mumble something about wishing him the best and search for my car keys. It might be a long way back to the parking lot, but this time, I am not going to ignore the signs. It’s part of the new me.