I thank my LadyCibelle and Techsan for their patience, proof reading, and editing skills and of course encouragement.
I was probably on my forth or maybe fifth pint of the evening - I wasn't exactly counting — and I had been staring down at the almost empty glass thinking that it was about time it was filled up again, but when I looked up to catch the barman's eye, I saw her reflection in the mirror behind the bar.
How long she'd been standing there, I have no idea. But our eyes met the moment I raised my head.
She looked somehow bedraggled, not her usual immaculate self that I'd been used to seeing in the previous two years. She was still as beautiful as ever, but her eyes looked sunken. And I'd say, that since I'd last laid eyes on her two months previous, she'd lost a couple of pounds in weight that she couldn't really afford to.
For a few seconds neither of us moved, we just stared at each other in the reflection of the mirror. Then she seemed to straighten her back; she got a little taller, taking herself to her full five foot three inches. I watched her as she took a deep intake of breath, then strode confidently, but somehow at the same time tentatively, towards the empty stool beside me.
"Can we talk?" she asked, as she climbed onto the stool.
"Can't see that there's much to talk about, Susan," I replied.
"Please, Pete? I need to explain, if only for my own peace of mind."
"Then explain; I'm not deaf!"
"No, Pete, not here, everyone can hear. Can't we go somewhere more private?"
"I like it here - all my friends are here. And George over there does a really good job of keeping my glass full. Don't you, George?"
The barman nodded in our direction, letting Sue know that he could hear every word that was exchanged between us.
"Your friends aren't here, Peter; they are back at the institute and the university, where you should be."
"No, they're all my friends, all neatly lined up in rows on those shelves. And George only has to pull on that pump handle over there and some more of my friends come out to play. It's a good pint he serves up here. Hey, George, this one's nearly dead; you'd better earn your keep."
George picked up a fresh glass and pulled me another pint. "Anything for you, Miss?" he asked, as he placed the glass in front of me, whisking away the empty one.
"I'll have a brandy please? I think I'm going to need it!" Susan replied.
"Your tab, Pete?" George asked.
"Does it look like I've got a choice?" I commented.
George picked up his pen and made a quick note on the little pad by the till.
"Pete, can we at least sit at a table or in one of the booths back there? I really need to explain," Susan insisted.
"If we must, but I can't see the point," I said reluctantly, sliding off of my perch and onto my feet, and just a little unsteadily as well. "Make sure no one nicks my spot, George; this shouldn't take very long." To be honest I didn't really want George hearing this exchange either.
Susan led the way to one of the booths at the back of the bar, the only one that wasn't already taken. She slid daintily in on one side of the table and I collapsed onto the bench opposite her. Then I leant against the seat back, and waited for her to say her piece.
Susan took some time composing herself. I assumed she was getting her probably often-rehearsed little speech right in her mind.
"I'm sorry, Pete! It was a mistake; I shouldn't have let it happen," she finally said.
I do believe she expected me to say something in reply. But to be honest I was too pissed — in both senses of the word, drunk and angry - to come up with the comic repartee in reply, that I'd like to have done.
After waiting a few moments Susan went on. "You know who he was obviously?"
That question I could reply to. I wasn't quite that drunk yet. "Yeah, of course I do. I'd seen the pictures of you and the fucker around your mother's house enough times."
"You hurt him badly, you know?" she informed me.
Not something I didn't know; I'd injured both my hands in the process.
"Yeah, well, he and you hurt me pretty bad yourselves. What was I supposed to do? Shake his hand as say 'Hi, Gordon, I'm Pete and that's my girl you're shagging there?' If the bugger had stayed down when I put him down the first time, he wouldn't have got hurt half as much as he did. But the arsehole thought he was a tough guy, didn't he? He forgot all about the old saying the bigger they come the harder they fall."
I could see tears forming in Susan's eyes as the scene was brought back into her mind's eye.
"No, your lover boy thought he was going to wipe the floor with the little archaeology student; only to find out he'd picked on a geek who knew how to look after himself. The bastard was lucky I never killed him. And then he goes running to the police!"
"Not exactly running, Peter; they took him to hospital in an ambulance, and me as well!"
That surprised me, "You as well? But I never touched you!" I said defensively.
"Of course you didn't, I know that. Dumb-arse fell on me when he was trying to get up, dislocated my shoulder in the process."
I do believe my face must have cracked a little, and I almost smiled at the thought. Sue must have been watching me closely and she noticed the change in my expression.
"It wasn't funny, Peter; it hurt a lot! Still gives me trouble now, sometimes; and the doctor said it could dislocate again anytime in the future, if I'm not careful."
"Well, if you hadn't been in bed with the bastard in the first place, it wouldn't have happened, would it? So don't go trying to lay the blame on me."
"Oh, god, Peter, I wasn't doing that! I was trying to explain how the police got involved. The ambulance men called them, when they saw the state Gordon was in. You realise you broke his cheekbone, don't you?"
"So, I busted a couple of bones in my hands in the process, so I would call that even, wouldn't you?"
I instinctively felt my right hand, the one that was still giving me grief, with my left.
"Not exactly. Gordon lost four teeth as well, you know," Susan said, reaching out toward my right hand, I can only assume to inspect the damage.
Instantly I dropped my hand below the table, out of her sight and reach. "Is that all? I was hoping for all of the bloody things; teach the git not to grin at me like that again."
"When did he grin at you?"
"When he saw me standing at the door. He thought it was quite funny, him fucking you whilst I was standing there watching."
"Sorry, I don't understand. I didn't know you were watching us. How long were you standing there, watching us?"
"Dunno, a couple of minutes maybe."
"And you did nothing, said nothing?"
"No, I was waiting for the opportune moment."
"I still don't understand. What opportune moment?"
"Just before he thought he was about to cum in you. That's when I thumped him the first time. The wanker thought I was a fucking voyeur or something, and had a bloody great grin on his face. Kind-a lost that though when I hit him, didn't he?"
"Oh, god, you not only caught us, but you stood there and watched as well."
"But I was your girlfriend. We were going to get engaged and married," Susan exclaimed. "And you stood there and watched another man having sex with me."
"No, you weren't. You hadn't been my girlfriend for several minutes by the time I got to your bedroom door. I heard you the moment I entered your flat that day; I know the sounds of Susan getting shagged extremely well. Actually you were a lot more vocal than you normally are that day, really enjoying yourself. You should have discovered that watch you gave me ground into the kitchen floor. You ceased being anything to do with me the moment you got into that bed. Shit, the instant that you met him that day if I'd known about it."
"Peter, surely you don't mean that. You came to the bedroom. You hit him!"
"Of course, he knew you were my girl when he entered that room, didn't he? I mean, you never told him it was all over between us, did you?"
"Of course I didn't, Peter. I love you. We were going to get married."
"Yeah, going to. And he knew that, but you still climbed into that bed and he climbed in there with you. He knew full well the kind of risk he was taking. Jesus, he was lucky I didn't kill him; you know there are some blokes who would have. He deserved everything he got. Now are we finished? Can I get back to some serious drinking?"
"No, we haven't finished, Peter. I haven't explained to you how I finished up in that bed with him yet. I'm hoping that you might understand," Susan said.
"Susan, you don't have to explain, I can work it out for myself. I was supposed to be away on that dig for two weeks, and you got lonely. Gordon, your old boyfriend turns up in town, you decide to forget about me, have a good time with him whilst I'm away and shag the bugger; that's all there is to it!"
"No, it wasn't like that at all, Peter. It wasn't really a spur of the moment thing, it was something that... Oh I don't know, it was something that I felt I had to do, I can't really explain."
"So what's the point in you being here; unless it's to rub my nose in it?"
"No, no, I didn't mean to say that, I must explain. You must forgive me."
"All right if you must explain what you can't explain then get on with it. I haven't got all night to sit here listening to your tripe."
A kind of resigned look came over Susan's face. Mind I couldn't see it properly; I was trying to look at her as little as possible. Of course, even seeing the woman was upsetting to me. This had been the woman I'd planned to marry and spend the rest of my life with, until that night.
"Pete, you know that Gordon and I were together for a long time."
"Yeah, well, I couldn't really not know that, could I? Your mother has pictures of you and him together, scattered liberally all over the house. And she's forever comparing what I do to what he used to do. I should imagine she's a happy woman now that you're back with him."
"I'm not back with him, Peter, and I never will be. I can't be sure he set that scene up that you walked into, but I suspect that he did somehow. I will never speak to him again, that I can promise you."
"You've broken too many promises for me to take that statement seriously, Susan."
"I know, but it is one promise that I will keep. Now please let me try to explain this to you without interruptions, Peter. This is hard enough as it is."
I almost said 'but you invited a reply, ' but decided against it.
"Gordon and I were together right from when we met back in school. He was my only boyfriend, before you, and I thought that I loved him. I still do think that I loved him in a way, but nothing like how I love you. I do believe that I loved him like a brother, but not having a brother, I never did realise it. And I hate what he made me do that night."
I think that touched a raw nerve, in me. Susan just insinuated that Gordon had somehow forced her to have sex with him the day I had caught them together. That would have been rape and from what I'd seen there was no way Susan was being raped that day. Although there was something about the scene I walked in on that day. Something had niggled away in the back of my mind. Something that I had never been able to put my finger on. And I still couldn't.
Susan must have noted the slight change in my demeanour; she faltered in her diatribe and started crying. I handed her a clean hanky from my pocket. It was an instinctive gesture, not meant to show any concern. She cried for a little while and then wiping her eyes took a deep breath. Then staring at the table in front of her, she continued.
"Just after my father died - you know Ralph is my stepfather?" She looked up for my affirmation.
"Yes," I replied.
Susan's eyes dropped back to the table. "Well, just after my dad passed away, a girl who lived a few doors down the road from us got pregnant. She was only fourteen, a year older than me at the time. Anyway mother started to get paranoid about Gordon and me and what we were getting up to. We'd been hanging around together since we were twelve, and my mother got it into her head, that if Sally Roberts was having sex with her boyfriend, then it stood to reason that Gordon and I would before much longer, if we hadn't already.
"So my mother collared me one day and gave me a long lecture about sex and babies. You can guess the sort of thing I mean." She looked up at me again, but this time I just nodded.
"Well, what it all boils down to is that I promised my mother that I would never have sexual intercourse with anyone, let alone Gordon, until I was twenty-one, and I had finished my education. Unless I had gotten married in the mean time, that is."
That struck a cord with me. It had been the night of Sue's twenty-first birthday party that she'd dragged me back to her flat and almost raped me. She had however, not completed her education at that time and was still a student at the university. I said nothing, and let her continue with her story.
"Mother made me promise that to her, on my father's grave. Literally she had me stand there in the cemetery with my hands on father's memorial stone and promise the both of them."
Susan looked up at me again, and stared into my eyes.
"I kept that promise, Peter! Gordon and I... well, I thought I was in love with him; we did just about everything short of the actual deed itself. Well, you must have worked that one out for yourself. I wasn't exactly unskilled in the art of making love when we met, was I?"
"Nope!" I interjected.
"Gordon and I came very close to doing it a few times, quite a lot of times over the following years actually. But I always managed to stop, somehow. I'd remind him of my promise and unfortunately I kept on promising him that he would be my first when the terms of that promise were fulfilled. I thought it was a safe promise to make. At the time I really thought that I loved him. But..."
She stopped speaking and the tears started running down her cheeks again. Looking down at the table again, she wiped the tears away.
"But then I met you at the university. I hadn't been interested in boys there; I was being true to Gordon. I avoided even speaking to most of the guys there, except for the professors. I thought I was being true to the love of my life.
"But then I was having problems with that German course, and professor Kolinsky suggested that I joined the group that you were tutoring. She told me that you had grown up in Germany, spoke the language fluently and the year before had been asked by a few friends to help them with their grammar and conversation. She'd approached you about doing the same thing that year as well and you'd agreed. So I came along to that first meeting."
"I knew it the moment I first saw you. I was even more sure, the first time you opened your mouth to speak. Some folks say that there's no such thing as love at first sight, but I know when our eyes met that day, you felt exactly the same way as I did. I knew that you were the one man for me and that I was the only girl you'd ever love as much as you do!"
Again Susan stopped speaking and looked into my eyes again.
"It's still there, Peter. I can see into your heart, when I look into your eyes."
"What my heart feels and what my mind tells me I must do are two entirely different things, Susan. You know that!"
"Regretfully I do, Peter. You're a proud and stubborn man. I think I'm going to go to my grave regretting that and the stupid thing that I did."
Her eyes dropped to looking down at the table again.
"I knew that I was in love with you and that I didn't really love Gordon at that first meeting. That night I wrote to him and told him it was all over between us. I couldn't pursue your love and still be emotionally attached to Gordon.
"He wouldn't accept it to start with. I can't blame him; we'd been together for almost ten years. But I realised it was just a school thing that we'd never got around to breaking off. I'd been going with Gordon because I'd always been with him. It had been comfortable and I hadn't had to look elsewhere. Then you came along and I realised what a big mistake I'd been making."
Once again her head lifted and just for an instant our eyes met again. That instant was enough for me to know that what she had said so far had been the truth. Then her eyes dropped to the table's surface again.
"Gordon wouldn't accept that it was over between us. He came up to the university and tried to persuade me to change my mind. He even got my mother to give me a hard time over dumping him. That was before we got together though, so I never told you about how I sat in my room and he cried his eyes out like a little baby. Honestly he almost convinced me that I should take him back, but I knew my heart was somewhere else, even though we hadn't said more than two words to each other at the time."
Susan took a sip of her brandy.
"In the end Gordon appeared to accept that it was over between us. Then you invited me to see that German film and all thought of Gordon went out of my mind. Remember you took a group of us to that funny little cinema?"
"Yes, they show a lot of continental films there. Most of the students find it helps them to get used to the speed the language is spoken at."
"Then we stopped in that pub to discuss the film and I sat next to you."
"Almost on my lap, if I remember rightly."
"Well, I had to make sure you knew I was as interested in you as you were in me."
"How did you work that one out? I treated everyone in the group the same."
"Wishful thinking, Pete. Didn't you notice that Helen got up and moved so I could sit next to you in the pub that night. They all knew that you were going to ask me out; we just didn't know when."
"That obvious, was it?"
"Yes, to everyone but you. Well, you invited me to dinner and... well, there's not much point in discussing that. Other than to say that they were the happiest two years of my life. You know that on my twenty-first birthday I broke my promise, don't you. I just couldn't wait any longer, Peter; I wanted you to know how much I loved you."
Susan looked into my eyes as she said those words, then dropped her eyes to the table once again.
"But when I went home that Christmas my mother must have been snooping in my bag and she found my birth control pills. I lied to her and told her that I was taking them to control my cycle; I made up some rubbish about not being regular and that it was giving me problems studying. She didn't believe me, of course. I didn't think she would; but it kind of saved us arguing over me breaking that promise.
"Anyway I believe that she told Gordon that you and I were having sex. And to cut a long story short he started calling me and giving me grief about the promise I made to him and how I'd broken that as well. He kept going on about how he still loved me and that I'd promised him that he'd be my first. Honestly, Peter, he was hanging a real guilt trip on me, about breaking my promises to every one: my mum, dad and to him."
"Then that day he was waiting for me outside the lecture hall. I have no idea how he knew I'd be in there. He made up some story about being in town doing a story for his newspaper. You knew he was a reporter for the local rag in our home town, didn't you?"
"No, I had no interest in the guy, Susan. But maybe I can recall your mother mentioning he was a writer one time. It didn't really register."
"Well, that's what he does. He's one of the reporters on the local rag. Gordon told me he'd been doing some research on a story in the university library and he wanted to buy me lunch. The thought never entered my head that he must have known you were out of town or I'd be eating with you.
"I couldn't see any harm in having a bite to eat with him, so I said yes; that was my first mistake. We went to the pub near the lecture hall - you know, the Irish one. What's it called - O'hannahan's or something? Anyway we ordered and sat talking. He didn't lay the guilt trip on me at first, just talked about when we were kids together and about my dad. I was so bloody stupid I couldn't see what he was leading up to. After we ate he ordered more drinks and we still kept on chatting."
"I'm going to be honest here; I don't remember how many drinks I actually had. Some of the crowd came in and sat with us for a while. They bought drinks as well so I kind of lost track a bit. You know what it's like in those Uni pubs - everyone drinking all the time."
"Look, I'm not accusing Gordon of doctoring my drinks or anything. But I can usually handle my beer better than that. By about six o'clock when I went to go home I was really unsteady on my feet. Gordon, more in a brotherly way than anything, told me he'd better walk me to my flat, I was that unsteady on my feet. I couldn't very well refuse; I could hardly stand up, but that was my second mistake.
"He drove me to the flat, helped me inside, sat me in the lounge and then went off to make me some coffee. I can remember him bringing me the coffee and I did notice that he didn't have one himself. That's important, if you are going to believe what I think happened later. That single coffee cup has bearing on all this."
Once again Susan took a quick look into my eyes. I wondered why she couldn't look at me all the time. Then I remembered the embarrassment I'd felt when I'd broken a window as a child. I hadn't been able to look my father in the face as he chastised me about it. It had been an accident, but it happened because I'd been stupid. I'd been playing football right by that window; what you might call a recipe for disaster or an accident that was guaranteed to happen. Susan must have realised that she'd walked into what happened that day with her eyes wide open and she was embarrassed to explain it all to me.
"Gordon sat on the sofa with me and then he started going on about broken promises again. I know I should have asked him to leave then. I should never have gone to lunch with him and I should never have allowed him to drive me back to the flat. My only excuse for the last one is that my judgement was impaired with the alcohol.
"He really laid the guilt trip on me then. Keeping on about how we'd come so close, so many times, but he'd always stopped, because I'd promised him he'd be my first when we got married. But looking back now with a clear head, it wasn't Gordon who brought things to a halt. It was me reminding him of that promise, I'd made."