Do Not Be Fooled By Appearances
It had been many months ago, now, that she had broken away from his warm embrace, leaving him alone in the stairs of the hospital, refusing his offer to accompany her to the train station. She had moved on, showing her contagious smile on her lips every day hence, finding motivation in her work near Dr. Martin after having been fired following the Reagans' false accusations and lobbying, but she still thought about him always and forever. She couldn't forget, in spite of her promise to Susanna Marlowe. Her friends tried to take her mind off things, but for her, dreams of happiness and felicity for two had been extinguished that cold, cold night, under the white snowflakes that whipped her tear-strained face.
In this springday noon hour, she was wandering in the streets, looking for a lunch for Dr. Martin. He had given his to a vagabond man who had stopped by the clinic, close to starving point. She stopped at a restaurant which offered meals-to-go and payed the cashier, taking the warm bag that would make her employer happy. She was heading back to the Happy Clinic when Neil Reagan stopped her on the sidewalk. She had told him time and again that she hated him and had repeated often enough that she could never love a man like him, after all he had made her suffer throughout the years. But Neil wouldn't let go, his perseverance was becoming worrisome. The last time they had met a few days back, he had even tried to kiss her, and she had to push him away, outraged of such behavior, hitting him over the head with her handbag. He had left like an enraged man, promising her that she wasn't done hearing about him.
This time, he slammed the door of his car parked hurriedly by her side, and started walking alongside her.
-Won't you listen to me, Candy?
-Neil, are you deaf or something? I told you I am not interested!
He talked and talked, but nothing worked. She was categorical in her refusal to even speak with him, he was very far from gaining any ground. Disappointed yet again, he returned to sit behind the wheel of his sparkling red new model of a car and threw out the magazine The Scandal by the window, making sure it reached her, screaming at the same time,
-You still love that damn awful actor, do you? See what he's made of his life! He doesn't deserve you at all!
Loyal to herself and her friends, Candy had defended the honor of the man she loved, telling Neil off. He watched, stunned, the blond curly-haired woman who spat at him, with her menacing finger pointing him,
-I won't tell you another time, Neil Reagan! Get out of my life, and if I never see you again, that will only be too soon! Terry is the best man that I ever met, and you will never be worth a fraction of him, whatever he choses to do with his life! Never, do you hear? I will never repudiate him for the likes of you!
He had rarely seen her so vindicative. She loved Terry for real. He remembered seeing them during that Scottish summer, and it was true they had been practically welded together. He didn't know what had gone wrong. His sister Eliza had jubilated, laughing pettily when she had told him that the actor was tied down to Susanna Marlowe, so happy about Candy's misery, knowing she had broken up with him. He had rejoiced himself, because even at that time, he had started to feel something different for the young nurse, which he hadn't accepted until much later. But the actor out of the way would only mean a better chance for him.
He turned one last time to see her bend her back to pick up the magazine, her eyes already veiled as she glanced at the title page specifying that Terrence Graham had renounced his career at the theater, and that he had left for an unknown destination... He felt pity for her, she seemed to him so desperate, holding close to her chest the magazine as if it was a floating device enabling her not to drift on the raging waters of her morose thoughts, as she learned of the sad fate of the man she couldn't forget.
-If truly you loved her... said a little impish voice in his head, adding, If you truly loved her, you would make sure that she was happy... With her Terry, if that is what it takes... Would he find the courage to give her up?
Swearing and cursing, Neil left with a bang, making as much noise as he could, his car skidding to almost hit another coming in the opposite direction. He was jealous, jealous and frustrated about this umpteenth rejection repeated with such conviction by the beautiful Candy.
Candy returned to the Happy Clinic, reading on the way the article about Terry which totally demoralised her. She went on about her business as an automaton, all afternoon. She was worried for him, thinking that the breakup had been much harder on him than on her. She thought about Susanna, for whom he had sacrificed them both... Was she happy? She seemed to be, judging from the photograph published under which she affirmed that she was convinced that Terrence would come back to her soon, and that she was ready to forgive him everything. Candy finished her day in a daze, her thoughts roaming tirelessly towards Terry, wondering where he was now, and what he was doing. Did he still think about her? They had both lied to each other, believing that they could forget their hopes and dreams of sharing joys and trials for the rest of their lives, without consequence to their current state of soul.
That evening, as she came home to the magnolia apartment she was sharing with her friend Albert, Candy had stretched out on the sofa, noticing from her privileged spot some papers protruding from under a chest of drawers. She had investigated, and had found Albert's hiding place, where he had stacked all articles of newspapers and tabloids that had come out in the recent months, and which mentioned the name of the actor Terrence Graham. She read them all over, flipping through the pages of the magazines, raking the articles one by one, searching the smallest tidbit that could help her learn more about the destiny of the one she just couldn't stop cherishing in her heart of hearts.
She learned that after playing Romeo with distinction on the Premiere night, his performance had become more and more ordinary, and at last he couldn't produce the character the way she knew he could. He had lost the role after some weeks, the troupe director Robert Hathaway preferring to give his chance to another actor who had jumped on the occasion to prove his worth. She followed his disenchanted trek, along with the articles that described his decline to the depths with alcohol, seeing the pictures that showed him smoking, alone, his features taut, afflicted. All the articles maintained that it was the accident of his girlfriend, his stage companion, that had wrecked his potential. But she was starting to believe that it was her own departure from his life that had disorientated him. She had chosen to leave, so that he could do his duty to the woman who loved him too much, and who found herself unable to taste life without the presence of that man whom she had saved from an atrocious death. She had wrongly believed that the gratefulness he felt for Susanna would eventually be transformed into love so that they would be happy together.
-What did we do, Terry? We were so strong in our belief to act for the best. There is only Susanna who is showing that smug smile on the tabloid covers, you seem even more taciturn than when I met you in St-Paul! For my part, I succeeded in making a new life for myself, but at what price?
If only he could have been happy, just as he had asked her to be, whatever fate came to them! But no. She now had the certitude that he wasn't happy, that he was still suffering deeply from their separation, probably more than she did, having found an outlet in her work. To realise that it wasn't the case for him, and that he still remained missing after weeks of wandering aimlessly, depressed her even further. She burst into loud sobs and collapsed on the floor, where Albert found her coming home from work, having fallen asleep on the pile of articles, holding tightly in her hand a recent photograph of the actor.
A few days later, Candy was wrapping up her day at Dr. Martin's Happy Clinic. What luck, really, to have met this jovial man! Together, they had helped each other, supported each other, and become instant friends. With Albert, they made up a strong trio and spent many happy evenings playing cards. But even with the doctor's and Albert's cheerfulness, she couldn't forget all that she had read... « Unknown destination » read the article... He had abandoned it all! Was it to say he couldn't live without her? No! That was impossible, Terry the arrogant, such a proud man, so competent, and quite a wonderful actor! He couldn't have let himself become so depressed because of their breakup?
She sighed again, worried, concerned for the man she had loved so much... whom she still loved... She cleaned up and put away all the accessories they had used today at the clinic, making sure that the drawers were filled with bandages for tomorrow and the shelves with vials of the most-used ointments. She changed her nurse's uniform and put it away in the wardrobe at the entrance of the clinic, then picked up her handbag and saluted Dr. Martin with the joyous voice she reserved to hide her sadness.
-Farewell, Dr. Martin! See you tomorrow!
-Have a nice evening, Candy! Said the plump man, accompanying his words with his caracteristic thundering laugh.
He made sure she had left the room and opened his secret drawer where he hid his whiskey bottle, the only one that had survived Candy's raid earlier, and which she couldn't confiscate, having not found it's hiding place!
Candy suddenly struck her head through the crack in the door and said,
-Go smoothly with the bottle, Dr. Martin!
The good doctor jumped, caught red-handed.
-Candy! Hadn't you left already?
-I'm going, I'm going... Good evening! Said the young girl with a wink, picking up the errand bag she had forgotten on the side bench.
-Go, girl! Laughed the doctor. He filled up his glass and slowly swallowed each gulp, as if it was counted.
Going outside, Candy was dazzled by the sun shining low in the sky, at this hour of the day. Children were playing nearby, shouting, making her smile, and she wished them a nice evening. Then she went away, still blinded by the luminous rays, nearly bumping into the man in a brownish suit leaning against the door of a spacious car parked in front of the clinic.
-Please, excuse me sir! She apologized, contrite. Then, too curious, she just had to ask, Did you want to see the doctor? I have just finished my day, but I am sure the doctor would gladly make an exception for you.
-No, Miss, that's very kind of you... I am sorry to bother you. Are you Miss Candy White Ardley?
-Huh... yes, I am...
-In fact, I have come on behalf of a person who greatly wishes to meet you in secret...
-Meet me in secret? Who would want that?
-A person who answers to the name of Terrence Grandchester. Will you follow me?
-Terry! He is here... in Chicago... And he came just to see me! She thought, quite upset.
As soon as she assimilated what he was asking her, her heart started to beat in a disorderly manner in her chest, she just couldn't refuse his request...
Terry! Terry had come to get her! She couldn't believe her ears. She had dreamed of such a moment, without actually believing that it would happen for real... She hoped that he would come to her, to stop his descent into hell... She would know how to help him find the right path again.
-Will you follow me, Miss? Interrupted the man, ignoring the vast array of emotions that had alternately swept over her expressive face, like an open book. He reminded her of George, Great-Uncle William's right hand, whom she hadn't seen for quite some time.
She silently acquiesced, not trusting herself to say a word, and sat on the back seat of the luxurious car.
-And I thought everything was over between us. Terry... Whom I was trying to forget... I will see you again... she thought as the car was advancing on the road leading to the outskirts of town, closer to the neighborhood of elegant and fastuous villas around the lake.
When the car stopped at the end of the long tree-lined alley, Candy emerged from it, and started to run towards the dark villa. The driver saluted her and left right away. As she approached the stairs leading to the entrance door, she saw the lake behind the house, and its calm shimmering waters. She heard from afar the plaintive cry of a loon tearing the air, calling its mate who was taking too long to come back. The mournful sound froze her blood. She hurried to climb the stairs two by two, barely stopping in front of the partly opened front door.
-TERRY! … Cried Candy, breathless.
She penetrated the house where reigned darkness. She walked with quick steps along the faintly illuminated corridor and rushed towards the tall doors at the back of the room, the only ones that weren't shut.
-Is there anybody in here? She inquired, starting to be alarmed.
She entered the room. It was dark. The doors shut themselves behind her. Her heart was desperately trying to jump out of her chest. She put her trembling hands over it, to calm the frenetic heartbeats which she sensed, palpitating throughout all her body, up to her temples. Terry, the man whom she never thought she would see again, was there, right near her! Her inflamed cheeks, she slowly turned towards him, whispering from her voice where pointed a strong emotion,
-Terry, is it you?
It was too dark, she couldn't see properly. She approached the man near the closed door, her eyes slowly getting accustomed to the dim light. When she recognized the silhouette in front of her, the warmth of her body evaporated in a flash, her legs gave way, not supporting her anymore. She leaned one hand at the last moment on a table, to keep herself from keeling over. In a voice filled with wrath mixed with a lightning disappointment, she screamed,
He was standing before her, elegantly dressed as always, holding himself with pride and staring at her with intense eyes. She immediately felt uneasy to be scrutinized this way, wishing at once she could cover up with a light jacket, her simple pale green summer dress showing all her curves. Neil was observing her as if he hadn't seen her for months and was completely subjugated by her appearance. He smiled, somehow altering his whole physionomy, rendering him almost handsome.
-So, were you expecting to find somebody else? He inquired, raising his eyebrow.
Candy's face had become livid in a second, the time it took her to realise that she wouldn't be seeing Terry, that her expectations were thwarted. Her heart bruised, again, because he hadn't come to fetch her, because she ignored what was happening to him, whether he was safe or not. She felt guilty for his unbearable misery, she would have wanted to come to his aid, to breathe some courage into him to help him overcome the pain and return to Susanna and the theater. Because of her unconscious gullibility, she now found herself in an extremely bad posture, before this idiot Neil, who, whatmore, had used her credulity to make her fall into his trap! Outraged, she said,
-How stupid I am! I didn't even beware one moment! You attracted me in an ambush, in spite of the numerous times I told you I wasn't interested! I repeated it ceaselessly, for weeks, but you just won't understand... What will it take for you to comprehend, Neil Reagan, that I don't like you, that the sight of you is horrendous to me! You want to keep me prisoner until I fall under your charm, is that it? But I won't let you! You are not as brave when you don't have your St-Paul buddies with you to help, eh?
-Candy! You haven't changed at all! You can put away your claws, I don't wish you any harm!
Something in Neil's expressive voice surprised her. The intonation reminded her of someone... And in his hazel eyes, she could see a tenderness she had never seen in the eyes of the young man previously, mixed with an expression of immense joy that she thought him incapable of feeling. When he took a step toward her, Candy stepped back, yelling,
-Don't come any nearer, Neil!
-Wooooo, calm down, Freckles!
-Don't call me that! You have no right!
-But... don't you recognize me? They say we see the truth with our heart... Listen to your heart, Candy! It's me, Terry...
-Neil, stop it right now! Do you think I am crazy enough to believe that you could be... Him! I can see that it is you, in spite of the darkness. Terry has surely gone back to New York to be with Susanna!
-That's where you're wrong! I haven't stepped foot in New York for months! Candy... Trust me when I tell you that I am Terry! How can I make you understand?
-What is this joke? You have bade me come here pretending to be someone you're not? I don't find this funny at all, Neil! Who do you think you are?
Candy's complexion had become ruddish with rage at the boor!
-Candy, listen to me, asked the man as he stretched out his hand towards her to touch her face.
-Don't touch me! Screamed Candy again.
-Oh, I see that Miss Freckles will be hard to convince of my honesty... Am I that horrible in your eyes?
-Neil, this charade must stop right away. I have repeated it ever since you put it into that thick head of yours to court me, that it wouldn't work! What will it take for you to leave me alone! You could give me all the flowers in the world, recite to me the most romantic love poems and boast about your superficial riches, but I will never love you, do you hear me? Never! You have been odious to me since the first day you saw me. And now, because you have changed you mind about me, you expect me to swoon before the great Neil Reagan? It is not because all the empty-headed girls are at your feet that I will be too! You disgust me. Now, let me go.
-But, I do really love you!
-How would you want me to believe that? You have only hurt me and intimidated me since we've met!
-You are hard with me, Candy! Let me place in a word or two, I promise you won't regret it.
She raised her eyes to him and saw in his intense gaze an emotion that turned her heart inside out. The last time she had crossed such a look, it was in Terry's blue irises! Could it be... Could it be that Neil felt for her the same kind of love that Terry felt for her? She was all messed up, and her incapacity to answer gave the man the time to explain himself.
-Listen to me. I love you, Candy, I have loved you since day one. Ever since I saw you, Freckles...
-I told you to stop calling me like that! Raged Candy. Move away, or I will push you out of the way.
She advanced and put her hands on Neil's arm to push him away, wanting to clear him from her path and extract him from her sight. At the contact of their hands touching for an infinitesimal instant, electric thrills ran up her arms, just like the ones only Terry had made her feel. She diligently removed her hands from him and glared at him, intrigued. What was happening? She couldn't be in love with that lout!
-You did feel it, didn't you? Tell me that I am not crazy! We are tied, you and I, you can't deny it.
-I... I don't understand what happened... Neil...
-How can I make you understand, Freckles?
Distraught, the man ran a hand through his short hair, and that move reminded her of that same habit that Terry had whenever he was shaken up. She opened her eyes wide, observing him, uncertain. The more he talked, the more she could hear Terry's words, in his tone of voice, in his intonations... He even had that same singing British accent that Neil never used! But which he could have learned, just to fool her, objected her little inner voice... The man sighed loudly and watched her with miserable, contrite eyes,
-It will be harder than I feared. Alistear had told me that you wouldn't believe me...
-Now I know you're raving, Neil! Alistear has been gone to war for months! You can't have seen him recently!
-But I am telling you I have!
The man was starting to lose patience, he could see all his efforts slowly becoming dust. He took a hold of her hand and led her to the sofa.
-Come, Candy, let's sit, I have things to explain to you. You must know the whole story if you want to make a sensible opinion.
He made her sit beside him, in front of the large bay windows from where she could see two loons frolicking on the lake. Candy smiled, thinking that they had found each other at last, the female had finally answered the male's desperate cries, waiting on the calm waters. They followed each other, leaving in their furrow two lines which broke the mirrored lake.
-All of this must remain between us, as you may easily guess. First because nobody will believe you, but mostly because your cousin Alistear's life depends upon our silence. He has no right to divulge army secrets on which he's been working on since he enroled last November.
Candy got up at once, and started pacing the room up and down. She exclaimed,
-Are you trying to tell me that Alistear is not at the front learning about air combat with the French pilots?
-That is exactly what I am trying to tell you, and it's confidential. As soon as he applied, and talked about his interest and experience in inventions, he was approached by searchers who remain in the country and try to improve techniques of arms used at war. In fact, Alistear mentioned that there are three branches, one that is specifically for arms, the other for medicine, and the third in transportation. Alistear asked to be integrated in the transportation branch, hoping to put to profit his own knowledge of engines and planes. He was muted here in Chicago, and it's ultra-secret. He is in transports, but not those you and I would have assumed. Or him either. He wasn't expecting to discover this world of scientists who have all the means put at their disposal to try and find techniques to conquer the enemy. So, Alistear has been working on a potion to transmutate souls, switching the bodies, something that could be useful for the allies on the line of duty, creating perfect spies to obtain information on the enemy's whereabouts and strategic moves, data that could easily be transmitted to the camp when they took the antidote, enabling them to switch souls into the original body... It seems to be working, according to Alistear. He suggested that I test it on me, and to permutate with Neil...
Candy's head had started spinning as soon as he had started talking about transmutation. What could that imply as dangers for human beings if people started playing with souls thus? It was a good thing that it wasn't yet available to anybody! Or else, it would create many problems!
-But... Terry! Is that... is it legal?
He looked her over, slightly embarrassed, and whispered,
-That is why it is still confidential, nobody knows about the project, not even the authorities. Alistear's team is talking about putting it to the test, and they are hoping to be able to use it starting at the start of next year at the front lines.
-That means that you... you and Neil are guinea pigs? It could be faulty and not work in the long run?
-No, as long as we don't take the antidote, we each remain in our new vessels. It's quite simple in fact.
-But what makes you believe that Neil will want to keep his place? He will surely wish to change his mind and reintegrate his own body to have me all to himself!
She shuddered with disgust and to comfort her, he put an arm over her shoulders, pulling her close to him. She then asked,
-How did you succeed in convincing Neal to accept that bargain? He's not gaining much in exchange, he's caught with Susanna!
-That's where things become rather extraordinary, Freckles! Alistear and I were talking in a bar in Chicago. You must know that your cousin has taken someone else's appearance, because he must not be recognized here, since all his family lives in the region. It is rather delicate...
-I can imagine why! Patty still believes he is risking his life at the front and spends her entire mornings praying at Church so that he remains out of danger! Archie has become a workaholic to try to forget his brother's departure and the quagmire in which he volontarily applied for! Yes, you are right, it is rather delicate...
-Don't judge him, Candy, he had to pass some very severe tests to be accepted, it's Top Secret. He misses all of you, believe me, when he approached me at the bar, he was sure I was coming to visit you, he didn't even know that we weren't together anymore!
-We never told him.
-When I told him Susanna's story, he talked to me of this project he was working on and wondered with whom I could exchange a body to give it a chance to work.
-It makes me laugh, now that I think about it. Starting from the moment when you allowed him to play with your dad's plane, Alistear has always maintained that you would be the ideal collaborator for his inventions!
-Well, yes, we did collaborate. Neil surprised us in deep conversation and after telling me some disagreeable stuff, he finally sat down with us and took the time to try and understand. He really astonished me. He told me that you still loved me. The last phrase he uttered in his own body, before he drank the potion, was : « You better make her happy, or I'll come back to fill my place! » To which I answered, « You won't have any chance of reintegrating your body, Reagan! » And then we drank to your health. A fraction of a second later, I found myself imprisoned in his body, and Neil had become me!
After an unending pause, he asked her,
-So, do you believe me, now?
Candy was staring at him, flabbergasted, wavering between the wish to believe or to run away as far as her legs would carry her. It was such a completely incredible and unusual story, and it was entirely illogical. She knew very well what her cousin was capable of inventing... that didn't help her feel confident about the whole idea...
-Is it reliable, that thing... permutation? Because I have already tested myself numerous inventions by my cousin, and I swear that I got scalded more than a few times!
-You do realize I am me, don't you? These are my own thoughts, my own wishes and words, my whole being which now lives in Neil Reagan's body. It does work, he guaranteed it!
-And if... and if it was reversible and I found myself married to Neil's body as well as his soul? I am not sure that is an eventuality that truly inspires me.
-Freckles, it is our only chance of being together... And in the event that Neil breaks our engagement, I swear to you that I would track him down, I wouldn't go back to Susanna, I accepted this folly to be with you, that is all that matters to me, that is what I want. Neil esteemed himself content with the exchange, he was eager to put into practice his new powers of seduction... Somehow I don't believe that Susanna will have a faithful husband...
Candy spied him up and down, but all she could see with her eyes, was the silhouette of her hated cousin, to which she had yelled at their last encounter, that she never wanted to see him again, even less to kiss him! He was there, before him, and yet, it wasn't really him... It was the love of her life, her soul mate, the man she wished to marry... Her Terry!
-Is it really you, Terry? She asked in a doubtful voice, shaking her head. I... I just can't conceive that you are trapped in Neil's body! How... What took you to accept that utter nonsense?
-It was time that you accepted it! I couldn't do this anymore, Freckles... To live without you, it's a nightmare... My life without you is like a city with no laws... Now I decided to renounce everything for you... Why did I accept? It's what I was ready to do to see you again, to have a chance to live by your side. This nonsensical position was driving me insane, I haven't been myself ever since you left. I believed that you didn't love me. It is only when I Neil told me that you were as wounded as I was about the whole thing that I dared... When Alistear presented me with his crazy plan, I accepted eagerly at once, I knew that you would finally understand that my need to be with you could be denied no longer. Candy, I love you, and I can't live without you!
Candy's emerald eyes filled up with tears. Her Terry... The one she loved more than anyone else, he had come back to her! But... He was graced with Neil's body and facial features! Could she learn to make abstraction of his physical appearance and love him as he had become, just to be with her?
-But, Terry, what about your career? Your mother? You've left everything behind you! And it's Neil who will fill in your shoes? How will he ever be able to pretend he is you? He is such a coward and a wimp! He will abuse your body, you know how he is!
-You forget that he is used to pretending, he's such a scheming and lying little twerp! He'll get used to it, don't you worry over him. And my mother knows everything, I told her what I intended to do. I couldn't keep her in ignorance, and she says hi, she is really eager for you to invite her to the wedding!
-The... the wedding?
-You will accept to marry me, won't you, Candy?
She watched him with round eyes, everything was going much too fast for her. He put a knee on the thick carpet before her and took a hold of her hand. She felt instantly all the sparkles go up her fingers and fill up her heart, making it beat faster, leaving her panting.
-I... I don't know!
-What do you mean, you don't know? Don't you love me? Asked the man, grimacing, taking offence.
-Ter... Terry! I know that Neil is capable of all sorts of low unthinkable things to have me consent to a wedding with him, he's been persisting for weeks with his undesired attentions! What proves to me beyond all doubt that you are Terry, and not Neil who is acting to make me believe his stories?
-You don't believe me! Why would I lie? Who else than your ingenious cousin could invent such a story? What could I do to prove that it is really I, Terrence Graham, the one who has loved you since he laid eyes on you, in the fog over the Atlantic Ocean, on a cool New Year's Eve...
He moved like a feline, to be near her and tenderly stroke her cheek. He ran his fingers over her dark pink mouth, lingering longer on her fleshy lips, whispering softly,
-That kiss that I stole at the May Festival... That horseride on Sheila in the College woods... Those secret meetings over the fake Pony hill... And Scotland... my father's manor, the piano lessons... Those meetings in Albert's cabin at the Blue River Zoo in London... Doesn't it mean anything to you?
Candy had shut her eyes and was being convinced by all those souvenirs expressed by Neil's voice. It could only be Terry telling her this, nobody else knew it all, only her and... Terry!
She opened her eyes and faced the man before her. It was really Neil! How could she move beyond his physical appearance which had never particularly inspired her, and to see in this physionomy, the heart and soul of the man she loved more than any other?
-Terry... is it truly you?
-As I've told you! He answered with his special smile that he reserved only for her.
Seeing that she wasn't as rebellious to his advances, he caught her by the waist and pulled her to him. She widened her eyes and observed him, her lips slightly opened. He hugged her tight in his arms, his head taking refuge in her blond curls which smelled so good to him, reminding him of the rare times when their bodies had been close to one another. He raised his head and plunged his gaze into the emerald irises of his sweet loved one,
-When will you kiss me, Freckles? I am dying to!
Candy blushed, and stammered,
-Terry... I... I don't know... You will have to give me time to assimilate all of that! You look so much like Neil that I am repulsed a bit...
-Only a bit?
Candy burst out laughing,
-You know me too well!
Then she became suddenly serious,
-What will we do? Of course I know it is you... Only I cannot disconnect the image of your new body to that of your soul...
He hugged her tightly to him and told her softly,
-I will show you a trick that we learn at the theater. As you know, it happens that we have to kiss an actress, for a role... Close your eyes... Come, trust me. And now, focus on my words, make abstraction of my physical being and the sound of my voice, just listen to the words. Think about me, Terry, as you know me, because this is who is addressing you...
Candy acceded to his request. Terry started speaking, slowly, evoking St-Paul again, talking about his dreams of her, of them... She let herself be lulled by the voice which wasn't the actor's deep and virile tones as she knew it so well, but which had the merit that she could hear his own intonations, his way to talk about life, his humour, his poetry, his words, his accent, his expressions.
-Candy, it is me, you do recognize me, you love me for who I am, not for my face. Believe me, it is the only way I found for us to be together and for Susanna to be happy. She won't even know the difference. I'm telling you, she loves only my exterior shell, she has never learned to know me, has never wanted to know who was the real me, she only wants my physical being. So now she will have it, and moreover, Neil will be able to love her much better than I could have ever done. I am a winner in this, and I am now free to love the woman of my life. What do you say?
Candy opened her eyes. She immediately melted into the gaze full of love directed at her. To know that it was Terry who was there, albeit in another body, a very ordinary body but him nonetheless, his thoughts, his soul, her other half! Which she had believed lost to her forever. It seemed a really slim sacrifice to renounce to his body, if she could be with him. It was him she loved, his essence, not his physical body! She smiled at him, and chuckled.
-What makes you laugh now?
-You do realise that you will now have to act as Eliza's brother to the eyes of everybody else?
-Let me take care of her! She will be hoodwinked... Only us two will know the truth. For the others, they will think you finally fell and accepted your cousins repeated requests, he didn't hide the fact that he wanted to marry you! It is with your friends that it will be harder to pretend, as they know you much better...
Terry had moved closer to her as he was speaking to her. He had to convince her it was truly him, he had to make her love this ungrateful body... It was the price to pay to be able to be together for the rest of their lives! He had abandoned the theater, he had accepted to live in this infamous body, but if she accepted to marry him, it would be worth it, he wouldn't mind it at all. He preferred to live thus with her, rather than spend an entire life by Susanna's side.
He felt her softening. He asked her in a honeyed voice,
-So, will you accept to marry me?
-Yes, Terry! Yes, I accept with my whole heart!
The man smiled at her, and pressed her against him, whispering his desire for her,
-So, how about this kiss, then? You know that patience is not one of my best virtues...
Candy smiled lovingly at him and said,
-That one you won't have stolen!
And she grabbed him by the collar, drawing his head to her height and putting her lips on his warm ones which he offered her. He put his hands behind her neck and approached her face, invading her mouth, unleashing all the love he felt for her, his conquering heart dancing in his chest.
Candy opened her eyes slowly. The car was still moving along the countryside. It was following Lake Michigan. Where was she, already? Ah, yes, that man who had told her that Terry was waiting for her... She would be seeing Terry again! Candy yawned and stretched her limbs, somewhat stuck in that restricted back seat. Her dream slowly came back to her mind, snatched images appearing sporadically to her. The car slowed down and engaged in a private road. She looked out the window and saw the villa at the end of a tree-lined alleyway, whose back façade overlooked the water with the shimmering reflections. This house was identical to the one of her dream! A dream that came back all in a flash! A dream in which it wasn't Terry waiting for her, but Terry in Neil's body! That was not a dream, that was a nightmare!
She guessed the significance of this dream, it was a warning of her subconscious self wanting to make her beware her own unbounded desires! Now it was time to come face to face with the demons waiting for her... whichever they were. She was sure to find Neil there. She would have to convince him once and for all that she would never yield to his misplaced advances. She didn't even dare think of the eventuality that it could be Terry. That was simply impossible! Terry couldn't be waiting for her in that house, he had a duty to attend to, he would never have abandoned it to satisfy some vain personal hopes! And yet, what to make of these articles in the papers that showed his soul's illness and pretended the opposite, saying that he had run away, unable to face up to his reality? She sighed, confused, troubled... If she wanted to stay honest with herself, she had to admit that she did want to see him again, and the lightning proof of this was that she had not been wary at all when the stranger had invited her to take a seat in his car to lead her to Terry, whom she still loved endlessly.
The car stopped in front of the imposing mansion. The sun was low in the sky, the thousand hues of the colored dusk made a magnificent scenery, but still she couldn't help shivering. Who would she meet in this house? She hadn't been careful, certain it would be Terry at the end of the road, she wanted so much to see him that she had naively believed that it would be him...
The driver opened her door and was about to walk her to the main entrance when Candy stopped him, telling him,
-Stay here, Sir, if you please, and wait for me in the car, I am afraid I will not be staying long, if my intuition proves correct.
-That is fine, Miss Candy. Mr. Terrence advised me to remain on call in case you wanted to leave.
Candy thanked the man one last time, and walked in eager steps to the dark villa which looked even more disquieting seen from up close, with the twilight falling. She shuddered, thinking about the man waiting for her inside. At least she knew it couldn't be Terry, It would surely be that idiot Neil who just wouldn't take no for an answer! She would tell him once and for all, clear up things between them!
She entered inside, tiptoeing, feeling exactly like she had in her dream. Instead of screaming Terry's name this time, she walked without making any sound towards the large living room with the bay windows that gave a nice view of the lake. Unlike her dream, there was a dim light on. She saw Neil's back, he was dressed like in her nightmare, in a sober yet elegant suit. Something in his height and shoulders stupefied her. No... It couldn't be him for real, could it? But... that shade of hair that she hadn't seen for months was the same, and it wasn't Neil's reddish brown one. Could he have pushed the limits to wearing a wig for the occasion?
-Terry? She asked hesitantly, her senses alerted by the tall silhouette which she perceived more and more clearly. It's impossible! I must be dreaming still... she thought.
She came nearer to the man who had turned around at the sound of her voice, unable to detach his eyes from her. Her heart waltzing in her chest, her feet took her to him, as if floating on a cloud. She stopped to face him, agape, her soul singing, and shouted,
-Terry! Is it really you?
-I am sure it's not the neighbor! Are you certain that you are well, Freckles?
-Oh! Your voice, it is really yours!
-Of course, it is me and my voice! Who did you think it could be? He asked, laughing, and all of a sudden, the emotion becoming unbearable to stand, he became serious and said with a sob, I missed you so much!
-My Terry... Let go Candy, advancing close to him, near enough to inhale that scent of his that reminded her of so many souvenirs, near enough to brush against him... Let me... let me just touch you!
She pinched his arm while he was watching her, uncomprehending. When she asked him to do the same for her, he laughed and said joyfully,
-I will do even more than pinch you, Freckles!
He didn't wait for her reaction and brought her close to him, hugging her tightly against his chest, breathing in her rose scent that infiltrated his nostrils, remembering all those times he had hesitated to touch her, knowing how wildly she could react. But not anymore, he would tell her, once and for all, all the feelings he had hidden in himself, but which had not disappeared with all this time. He pushed her away gently and raised her chin softly with his long fingers, wanting her to meet his eyes,
-Freckles, tell me, are you happy to see me?
Candy's eyes became moist at once. She put her hands on his face, stroking his jaw, going up his cheeks, stopping on the sides of his head, running her hands in his hair, caressing him softly, touching him everywhere... just to make sure that it was really him.
-What are you doing, Candy? It seems like you want to certify that I am not a ghost or something!
-If you only knew! With the nightmare I just had...
She summed it up for him and Terry burst out in a communicative laugh, a happy sound which filled the smallest spots of the living room, rendering it warm and inviting, and making her laugh too.
-Do you need reassurance, my love? It is me, and only me, wholly, here, with you, if you truly wish it... I left, I couldn't stand it anymore, I didn't leave her anything, not even a goodbye letter! I didn't know if you would accept to see me, after all this time. I didn't know if you had moved on, if you still loved me... I even asked myself if you had ever really loved me... more than as a friend...
-But... what about Susanna? She is surely expecting you, at least that's what the tabloids are saying everywhere!
-Susanna will have to learn that love cannot be made to order. I can give her many things, but I can't giver her what I don't have... Because the love I have, has always been yours all along, my Miss Freckled Tarzan! And if I want to be frank with myself, and with her, and with you, I cannot deny this truth any longer without lying shamelessly to myself.
-But... I had promised her never to try to see you again...
-You didn't break your promise, it is I who tried to see you!
-Oh... Exclaimed Candy, moved despite herself. She swallowed, and added in a constrained voice, You know... you know that I was hoping, ever since learning that you were not to be found, I was so worried for what became of you... I hoped that you would come and find me, that you would tell me that it was me you had chosen! Then I would get mad at myself, because of my promise to Susanna...
-I was so unhappy without you, Candy... He said, caressing her cheek, leaving his hand roaming on that soft skin. It's pure luck that I met that Reagan guy, for once he was useful to someone!
-What? What do you mean? You've seen Neil?
-You were right about this part, it must have been a premonitory dream that you had!
-Explain it to me... Whatever does Neil have to do with your presence here?
-I met Neil in a pub at the start of the week, he was still sober enough to speak... When he recognized me, he broached me to tell me he hated my guts!
-He wasn't in his normal state, I guess booze gave him the necessary courage to confront me. We talked for quite some time. He was discouraged because he couldn't make way with you... he had just realised that it was a lost cause. He talked to me of his plan and gave me the keys to the villa, didn't you know that this place belonged to them? You see, at first he hoped to have you driven here under false pretext and convince you to marry him! I think my threats helped him change his mind about that... I understood that he still hoped to win your heart, and I told him that only if you refused me, then he would get his chance... When he told me that you still hadn't forgotten me, despite the apparent serenity of your actual life, I decided to follow his plan. Just before meeting him, I was hesitating, wanting to go and find you, but I lacked faith, I wasn't sure of anything. You didn't fall into despair, unlike me who ran away from my life, who toured all the bars to try and forget you, to make a sense out of all this empty, empty life...
-Oh, Terry... I... I knew that you weren't well, that you had left Susanna and the theater... that you had left your life. I was so hurt thinking about you! So when this stranger came up to me at the Clinic, pretending that you were waiting for me here, I thought...
-What did you think?
-I thought that you wanted to see me again... I didn't hesitate one second to come and find you! Even though I had made a promise to Susanna, I would have gladly given anything to see you, just for a few moments, just to make sure that you were fine and that you wouldn't do anything rash!
-The rashest thing I did was to let you go that night, on the stairs of the hospital! I... I should have held on to you! I watched my happiness leave me without turning back, and that killed something inside me, I became my own shadow...
-All those articles in the magazines said the truth? I only read them this week, Albert had kept them away from me, he feared my reaction! When I saw that you were at the worst, I wanted to run to you, to tell you that we had made a mistake, I wanted to revoke that promise I had made...
-Everything will be fine, now, Freckles.
He opened his arms wide and she snuggled close to him, finally feeling complete, having found the warmth of his light, of his entire being.
-Oh, Terry... I missed you so! I... I had to be strong, I couldn't think about you, about our breakup, my heart was bleeding and I just couldn't stop the hemorrhage..
-Shhhh, Freckles, I am here, now, and forever, if you really want it. I will not let anybody anymore stand between us, I promise you.
She examined his eyes and sighed with relief as she saw the same love reflected in his irises.
-Terry, I love you.
-I love you too, Candy, and if you accept to marry me, we won't be separated again.
-I want to marry you, Terry, it is my dearest wish, since that kiss you stole from me at the May Festival...
-And I had thought I had pushed you away from me, that time!
-Quite the opposite, it is when you told me your feelings for me were sincere that I realised that I had wounded you, refusing your offered kiss. Then, with that horseback ride on Sheila, you helped me understand that it was you and I, here and now, that mattered, do you remember?
-Yes, Freckles, I was jealous and arrogant, and I wanted you to see only me.
-That is exactly what happened. Ever since that day, there has only been you for me on this earth who could bring me that happiness, that feeling of plenitude which your presence procures me.
His heart elated, he held her in his arms and made her twirl in the big room. They had finally found each other again, their paths were now clearly bound together, illuminated by that blinding light of love which they had for each other. After putting her back down, he kept her close to him and bent over to kiss her passionately.
They stopped, breathless, and he took out of his pocket a little velvet box which he opened, to offer her a golden ornate ring, with a diamond in its center.
-You had thought of everything!
-I don't do things halfway, once I have decided! So, Freckles, will you marry me?
He took hold of her hand and slipped the ring on her finger, it fit perfectly.
-How beautiful it is!
-It was my mother's grandmother's, mom gave it to me so that I could offer it to the woman I chose to marry.
-And... Susanna? How will we tell her?
-I will take care of this, when I go back to New York. But before that, I want us to get married.
-Do you think that is fair, for her?
-Candy, I cannot continue living this way! I cannot live without your love, without your presence, I am the unhappiest of men. It is time for Susanna to face up to reality and accept the truth. She doesn't really love me, you know, she is in love with the idea of love she has imagined in her mind, an illusion, she doesn't know me like you know me, she only loves my appearance, what I represent... Whenever another man will be interested in her, she will let me go.
-You think so?
-I know so. The chosen one will only need to charm her and woo her a bit and she will realise that she is much better off with a man who truly loves her than one who is tepid and insipid, who tries to run away from her by all means!
-When you say it like that...
-Don't worry for her, Candy, she will get used to the idea. She won't have the choice. I think it will be harder on her pride than on her heart, believe me!
Candy raised her eyes and understood as she watched the man of flesh and blood in front of her, finally realising that she was personally responsible for her own happiness. She was the one who made it, now, by choosing to accept the love as it was being presented to her, in Terry. To deny him, had been to push away the love she needed to thrive, and that he had needed to fill up the void in his soul. In Terry's eyes, she could see all the silent promises of their future felicity, finally ready to taste life with him. In a common tacit agreement, they chose in this instant to be together, to build their life together, and to give each other the chance to let blossom those feelings that they had kept buried as seeds at the bottom of their hearts for such a long time.
Many months later, on the eve of their first Christmas in New York, Candy was busy setting the table, singing as she meditated on the news that she was about to share with him as soon as he came back from the theater. She loved the cozy little apartment in which they had moved in after their quick wedding. It was half-way between the hospital where she worked in the paediatric ward and the Stanford Theater, where Terry was playing Pug in Shakespeare's romantic comedy presented especially for the Christmas Season, « A Midsummer's Night Dream ».
The door opened wide, and Terry came in. He had just taken off his coat when Candy jumped on his neck, kissing him to say hello.
-To what do I owe this warmest of welcomes?
-Terry! I have some good news to tell you!
-Don't tell me that I am to be a daddy?
Candy's eyes widened, her smile petrifying on her face.
-What? Did I guess right? Asked Terry with his lopsided smile.
-Who told you? I wanted to be the one to tell you... Admitted a disheartened Candy.
-I saw Flanny today at the hospital when I stopped by to get you, I had forgotten that you were finishing early today. She congratulated me as soon as she saw me... Then apologized for letting the cat out of the bag.
-Oh... My news falls flat, then.
-Come here, Freckles!
He offered his hand and when she took it, he guided her to the sofa, sitting beside her.
-Go on, tell me.
-But you already know!
-What do I know? I have already forgotten!
-Terry! Be serious!
-I am waiting for you to tell me your news again. How were you going to announce it to me?
-I was going to say that you would have to be working double time starting next year...
-For whatever reason? You want us to buy a boat?
-Because we will have another mouth to feed soon...
-Oh, is that right? You want to offer some visitor a bed and breakfast?
-A visitor who will be remaining with us for quite some time, who will grow up at our sides, and who will change our lives...
-Not a cumbersome guest?
-Just a tiny little being, an angel who has chosen to share our lives, Terry!
Her eyes brimming with tears, she took his hand which she deposited on her still flat belly, but which kept the promise of a child who would be with them in some months' time.
-You will be a daddy, Terry!
-Freckles, coming from your mouth, I swear this doesn't have the same effect at all!
-What do you mean?
-When Flanny told me the news, I didn't feel at all like kissing her... He said, laughing.
-It's true! Oh! If you could see yourself! Don't make that face, and come here, I want to thank you for this wonderful gift you are making for me.
Lowering his face closer to hers, he started kissing her like that first night they had surrendered to the other's love. She would never grow tired of this. She followed him to their bedroom, they could eat supper later, there was no hurry. Once more, she let herself be charmed by her husband, happy for this joy, peace and love in their home.
Later, when they had gotten their fill of love and food, Terry exclaimed, getting up from his chair to go to his winter coat hung on the hook by the door, foraging in one of his pockets,
-Ah, Freckles! I was just about to forget with all of this! Here, someone handed me a letter for you!
-Who is it from?
-Open it and read, you will see!
Candy turned the envelope over in her hands, she didn't recognize either the sender's address, nor his writing. Curious, she tore a side, and unfolded the paper that was dated a few days back.
I know that you don't hold me in your heart and that I have been odious with you forever. But I wanted to let you know that I will never forget you, as you have taught me some nice life lessons. I only regret that we couldn't have become friends. I don't know whether our paths will cross again someday, but I wanted to tell you some great news. I am getting married next week, with none other than Susanna Marlowe, whom you know. When I arrived in New York in the spring, disillusioned after your penultimate rejection, broken-hearted, I met this beautiful woman in a wheelchair, who was as sad as I. We became friends, and one thing leading to another, we fell in love and healed our broken hearts, bandaged our wounds, together. I know that you are happy with Terry, I understood that you were meant one for the other, that is why I decided to help him so that he could have a chance to conquer you for real. I owed you at least that. I hope that someday you will be able to forgive and forget all my foolishness.
-Is this serious? Him and Susanna? Did you know about this?
-No, I didn't know the new man was him, I just heard the rumors that she had met someone that became quite special for her.
-Who would have thought? Neil is... He succeeded in being loved by Susanna? I can't believe my eyes! If it wasn't written black on white, I would believe this is a hoax! He must have made lots of progress in his courtship ways or maybe these suited best someone with Susanna's temperament!
-Neil can show himself really romantic, for someone who expects only that!
-You must be right, he is considered by many like a good catch... And that reminds me that I have some other good news for you!
-It is the day, it seems! Why did you not tell me sooner?
-I was interrupted a while earlier... She said, blushing, watching him with love stars in her eyes.
-Patty wrote to me saying that Alistear is soon coming back from Europe! I really shouldn't rejoice for his wound, but as it is enough to keep him from flying, and even from being a soldier, he has no other choice but to come back home. He was offered a researcher's job here in Chicago, as they knew of his acquired mechanical skills. He will be working for a government society who wants to improve the soldiers' fates and find ways to make their lives at the front easier. He will be able to participate in the war effort in his way, while remaining safe and sound at home! Isn't that wonderful news?
-Yes, you are right, things always end up finding their own place.
-Just like us, we finally found ours.
-Candy, tell me, would you marry again if I asked you to?
-Each day that you ask me this question, I answer the same way, Terry! Why still this doubt within you?
-I don't doubt at all, I simply want to make sure that our vows remain constantly in the order of the day, I don't want to forget this promise that we made each other. And so, what is your answer?
-It's always the same, Terry, yes, I want to be your wife, again, and forever! She answered, snuggling against him, offering her mouth to taste another one of his voluptuous kisses.
On these encouraging words, we will leave our two love birds enjoying their Christmas for two, in their warm and fuzzy cocoon, which will soon grow, offering them new delightful occasions to progress together, to support each other in all sorts of circumstances, and to love each other more and more as each day passes...
All is well that ends well.