Surrounded by darkness and silence, his mind wandered. The jokes people usually made about him, his personality, his mistakes, his arrogance, they never really got to him anymore. For years all the harsh comments, the sarcastic jokes people loved so much to throw in his face had just bounced right off of him.
It hadn`t always been like that. As a young boy, a teenager, he had spent a lot of time trying to be the perfect son. Stepping up to his responsibilities and helping out with his younger siblings after his mother passed away. Choosing a career in engineering to please his father, knowing deep down he would never truly be happy in that line of work. Feeling guilty the day he left university to become an airline stewardess, even though he was certain that it was the right choice for him. The beginning of a long journey towards becoming the entrepreneur, the respected, and sometimes hated businessman he was today.
Back then he was afraid of stepping on people’s toes. Constantly seeking accept from people, strangers as well as his friends and family.
Over the years that had changed. He had changed, and he knew exactly when.
The night Terry shot him.
Looking back, with the wisdom of a man who had lived, learned, won and failed many times, he had no problem admitting that his marriage to Terry had been rushed. A mistake. An act of impulse. A mix of “young love” and a wish to yet again please his family by becoming a respected family man, much like his father.
Though his marriage to Terry had scarred him deeply, both physically and psychologically, he had learned a lot from it. Learned a lot about himself. And even though it wasn`t something he often spoke about, he had no problem with it being a part of his past, and didn`t really care if people brought it up in a conversation every now and then, or even made the odd joke about the wife who shot him... like his life was a day time drama, a soap opera... his first failed marriage. The first of many failed relationships.
So why did it feel different tonight?
Terese had fallen asleep in his arms, like she always did after they had made love. It had been perfect. She was perfect! He lied perfectly still, not wanting to wake her up, but he couldn`t help reaching for her hand that rested on his chest, or slowly turning his head just to smell her hair. God, how he loved the smell of her hair.
He closed his eyes and smiled, thinking back to earlier this night, when her hair had tickled his ears, his chest, as it had fallen over her shoulders while she las lying on top op him, leaning in for another kiss while their bodies were connected, moving as one soul. Making love.
Normally, after a night like this, he would have fallen asleep minutes after her as soon as he heard her breath changed. That`s when he would finally relax too, knowing she was satisfied, happy and safe. But not tonight
People had stopped by, a small celebration organized by the “kids”. Their family. Not quite the quiet, romantic night they had planned for themselves, but still nice. Friends and neighbours, a full backyard. Snacks, drinks, music. A few presents, cards with thoughtful greetings, wishing them both a happy first anniversary, sweet heartfelt speeches. And jokes.
Jokes about him actually making it to his first anniversary.
“Good on ya, Terese! How did you manage to make him stay?”
“New record, hey Paul??!”
“Guess six is your lucky number, ey?”
He had heard it all before. Terese had looked at him, smiled, didn`t seem to be bothered by their jokes at all. But he was. For some reason, their old jokes had gotten to him tonight. He had laughed with them, raised his glass in a toast, smiled back at Terese, but for some reason, tonight the truth behind the light mood and their wit had actually hurt.
His mind wandered back to his second attempt at happiness, and his marriage to Gail. He had truly believed he had found a love that would last a lifetime, that he had been given another chance to become a husband, a father, a family man. That he would finally earn the respect and acknowledgement from his family he so desperately wanted, but once again, he had failed. When Terese decided earlier that she needed to get away for a few weeks and travelled to L.A to spend time with her daughters, it had planted a fear in him that felt oddly familiar to what he went thought when Gail left for New York just to get away from him. Even though they had tried, their relationship was never the same after that.
But Terese was different. She hadn`t left in anger. They had spoken on the phone every night while she was away, and she had greeted him at the airport when he picked he picked her up with a smile that made his heart skip a beat, and with a kiss that would last all night.
Paul thought about their time in Queensland. That morning he saw Christina for the first time in nearly 30 years, and how her eyes were filled with pain and hate, even after all these years. He remembered the guilt he felt, knowing he was the reason for it all. Another failed marriage, another failed attempt on being a father. After Christina he stopped believing in himself, and after several attempts on relationships with more women that he cared to remember, Lynn included, he finally thought he could turn his life around with Rebecca.
Another relationship that had been the centre of the sarcastic comments and jokes made by friends and neighbours between the toasts and the speeches tonight. Terese didn`t deserve that. He did maybe, but not Terese.
Still surrounded by darkness and silence, he pulled his wife a little closer, held her hand a little tighter. He closed his eyes, and held his breath for a few seconds, only to hear her heartbeat.
A sense of calm filled his heart as Terese lifted her head from his chest, and her lips planted a kiss as soft as a feathers touch on his neck, right under his ear. Not quite awake, not quite asleep either.
For some reason she had fallen in love with him. For some reason, she had chosen him, taken a chance on them. The thought of everything they had been through, the things they had overcome to get to where they were right now filled him with joy. Every mistake he had made, every failed relationship, every heartbreak had led him to Terese. Led him to the happiness he had spent a lifetime searching for.
Paul carefully placed his finger under her chin and slowly lifted Terese`s face to his, just so he could look at her when he kissed her lips. Terese opened her eyes as their lips met, and he could feel her smile when they kissed.
“Why aren`t you asleep yet?” she whispered between kisses.
Paul slowly moved his body even closer to hers, leaned on his elbows so he could look down on her as he deepened a kiss.
“Because we`re not done celebrating yet!” he said! “Happy first anniversary, my darling!”