Confident of a Date
by Maxine Mayer 10/2/99
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I met her today - Stella Kowalski, Ray's ex-wife.
That's what Ray calls her. The Stella.
As if she were a species all her own.
Which I suppose she is, to Ray.
For Ray's attention, his thoughts, his feelings.
Of course, at first I didn't see Stella Kowalski that way at all.
No. No, at first I was so confident of his love that I saw meeting his ex-wife only as an opportunity to understand Ray, get to know him better. A chance to know the competition in order to further exorcise her from his heart. An opportunity to help him heal, and to protect him….
Oh, yes. I was confident. That after all the hooplah was over, after we uncovered the motives behind the attempt on Orsini's life and found that potential assassin, then, after we discovered the second potential assassin, that Ray Kowalski and I would be together again, as we've been for weeks now.
Confident that we'd go on another "date" after the case we were working on was solved.
Go to dinner together, unwind, talk a little.
Then return to Ray's apartment to make love.
As we've been doing for weeks now. After every day of work. And all weekend, every weekend. Going out together, going home together. Making love with each other.
Confident of another "date" after work this time, too.
How could I have been so wrong?
Ray is still in love with her - with his ex-wife, Stella.
Not with me. With her.
I admit it, I was wrong. I believed. Otherwise I would never have begun our affair, allowed myself to touch him, hold him, be with him so intimately. I would never have permitted our sexual liaison at all, if I hadn't believed he was in love with me. I think that, even before I was certain, I had faith….
Even though Ray was not aware that he was in love with me. Despite the fact that he has never said the words "I love you" to me with any serious intent behind them. Let alone uttered the words, "I'm in love with you, Fraser"….
In his actions, his restraint, his smiles, his touches, his lips on mine, on my body…. His body in my hands.
I believed in his body in my hands.
Believed I held his heart in my hands, as well.
I was confident throughout our experience with his Stella today.
Confident that afterwards we'd leave together, eat together, go home together. Make love.
I was confident of a "date" with Ray after work ….
I was wrong.
I've been walking for hours now, Diefenbaker at my side, all over Chicago. The places we've been, Ray and I. In the parks, down by the docks, around and around the warehouse district. Near the downtown streets where the movie theaters are, and the shops, the malls.
Everywhere we were together.
Everywhere he is not, now.
Because I know where Ray is now. He is with his ex-wife, Stella. At her apartment. Dancing with her. Kissing her. Loving her. And making love with her.
It is the only part of the city of Chicago where I did not walk tonight - Stella's part of town.
I do not wish to see Ray's car parked near Stella's apartment building.
Do not wish to see that final evidence of my wrongness.
Evidence of my foolish confidence.
Of my worst mistake.
I know now that I will never hear the words from Ray's lips.
The words I long to hear.
The words that will free my own heart. Free me to speak how I feel about him, to him.
The words "I love you, Fraser," spoken with intent….
I do not blame Ray Kowalski for his betrayal. That was not with intent. He could not help himself. He loves Stella and love permits of no discretion. No caring for another person's feelings. Love requires action. Inspires foolhardiness. Exposes truth.
No, I do not blame Ray for my mistake.
I believed he loved me as I did him. Totally. Forsaking all others. Clinging only to me.
My mistake. Not his.
He never lied to me, never said the words to me.
I do not blame him.
But I wonder how I will endure working with him now.
Now that he's struck a deathblow to my dreams, wounded me beyond my capacity to recover.
Dealt me a deathblow. Unwittingly. But a deathblow, nonetheless.
It is only a matter of time, now….
I will leave. Or he will.
I will never recover. He will.
One thing is certain, above all others:
Ray Kowalski is not in love with me. He is still in love with his ex-wife - The Stella.
Not with me - The Mountie.
I will never touch him intimately again.
There is a saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
Ray did not mean to fool me. I did that all on my own.
But the end result is the same.
I will never touch him intimately again.
I fear the moment when Ray Kowalski discovers this truth.
"Fraser? Ya in there, Frase?"
I am astonished to hear Ray's voice, his knock on the door of my room at the Consulate. It is seven in the morning.
I open the door and stare at him. He has not changed his clothing. "Good morning, Ray."
"G'morning, Frase. Ya ready for breakfast?" he asks in a normal tone of voice, with no hint that he notices the irony in his question.
I spit out, "A breakfast date, Ray?" before I can stop myself.
He chuckles. "Yeah, guess so. Not so dumb after all, huh, Frase?"
He grins, that boyish, sheepish, devilish grin I love.
I am close to tears so I turn from him as I reply. "Certainly not. We have breakfast dates all the time. I'm sorry I kept you waiting. I'll be ready in a minute."
"I'll wait in the car."
Ray leaves, as is his wont, when I begin to change from my longjohns into my uniform. Our token concession to propriety. I am grateful for the deception which I've always felt was petty and unnecessary. Men change clothing in front of one another all the time. Why should Ray and I behave as if it were somehow more personal for us? I know the answer, of course. Because it is more personal for us…. Was. Was more personal. No longer.
I breathe a sigh of relief that he's gone, if only for a moment. I cannot bear to look at him and see his smile. The pain is terrible. I swallow hard.
I think, I can do this, I can do this.
But I am not at all sure I can.
When Ray realizes…. I am afraid. Very afraid.
"Yer awful quiet this mornin', Frase," Ray comments when I don't speak for a long time after I get into his car.
"I'm simply… tired, Ray," I lie. Oh yes, I've learned to lie. Not prevaricate. Not equivocate. Outright lie. Such wonderful things I have learned in the years I've been living in Chicago.
Not much longer. Not much longer, I assure myself. Reassure myself.
Perhaps snow will cleanse the dirt from my soul….
"Yeah, last few days been pretty exhaustin' fer me, too," Ray remarks, taking his eyes from the road to glance my way. I keep my eyes on the cars in front of us but I feel my lips narrow into a straight line. "But it's all over now. Stella's free a dat slimeball Orsini so I don' gotta worry about her no more."
"You will always worry about Stella, Ray. You love her." I force the truth out. It is best to speak it clearly, not keep it in. It is easier to live with the truth once it's out in the open.
"Yeah, sure. Sure, I love her," Ray tells me. Something about his tone puzzles me and I look over at him, despite my intention not to concern myself any longer with how he is, how he feels, what he's really thinking. Despite my intention to distance myself from him. Utterly. Totally.
"I do understand, Ray. You don't need to pretend otherwise with me. Not that you have. Pretended. You've been quite honest. Scrupulously honest. Chivalrous -"
"What da hell ya talkin' about, Fraser?" Ray interrupts angrily. "I ain' pretendin' nothin'. I been in love with Stella since we was kids. Nothin' about that's changed. No matter what I do. Who I sleep wid. Even you. Chrissakes, a man's gotta live, ya know. I ain' no monk -"
"I know, Ray. I understand -" I'm trying to calm him although I do not know what has set him off.
"I never said no differen' about Stella an' me. Yeah, yer right. Scrupalusly honest, chivalrous - dat's me!" he mutters angrily.
"Yes, Ray. That's true. Any assumptions I've made have been… uncalled for. And entirely my own -"
Ray stops the car in front of the diner where we usually eat breakfast and turns to me. He puts his hand on my arm to let me know he doesn't want me to open my door yet. "Assumptions? Like what?"
"Nothing, Ray. I was just… talking -"
"What assumptions, Fraser?"
"About me and Stella? Assumptions about me and Stella?"
"No, Ray - nothing like that -"
"Then what?" When I don't reply he repeats, "Then what? Assumptions 'bout who? Me and who?" After a moment I turn my head and look into his eyes. Let the truth show in my eyes. I've become tired, so quickly tired, of playing the fool. His eyes widen. "'bout me and you? Us, Fraser? Us?"
"I know better, now, Ray," I say, my voice unrecognizable in my own ears. Hard. Bitter. Hollow and awful. Awful. "Believe me, it won't happen again. Nothing will happen again."
"Yes, Ray?" I ask in what I know is my most innocent tone. A tone that makes Ray furious. I cannot help myself. I believe I want him to be furious. To become angry enough to lash out at me. So that I can end it all now. I cannot wait to end it all.
"Ya thought I was in love with ya? Ya thought that?"
"Yes, Ray, I did. I realize now, that I was mistaken. My fault entirely, of course. Not yours. You never led me to believe you were, it was all just a… silly assumption on my part. Don't concern yourself about it."
"Ya thought I was in love with ya?" Ray repeats stupidly, as if he cannot believe I am such an idiot. "That's why -" He chokes up, stops talking for a moment. "That's why ya went ta bed with me, anyway, that night -"
"Yes, Ray." I smile stiffly. "As you would say, that is how dumb I am. I'm sorry. I've learned my lesson now. It won't happen again."
"What won' happen again, Fraser?" Ray asks suspiciously.
"Why, any of it! Foolish assumptions, lovemaking, or should I call it, sex. Any of it. You needn't concern yourself. You and Stella - you're a true couple, a real… duet, as you call it. I will do nothing to interfere, or embarrass you -"
"- or queer my pitch? Is that what yer sayin', Frase?"
"Yes," I tell him stoicly. "That is exactly what I'm saying, Ray. You certainly have a gift for finding the correct idiom to describe any situation."
"Oh, yeah, I'm terrific wid words," he says sarcastically. "A walkin' Thesaur-, Thesaurius."
"Thesaurus," I correct automatically.
"Yeah, Thesaurus. Right."
I don't know how long we sit there in the car before Dief whines. Asking for his breakfast. I am not hungry. I'm fairly certain that Ray is not hungry either. Nevertheless, I open my door and get out of the car so Dief can do his business. I expect Ray to notice and realize that Dief wants breakfast, and Ray does notice. He gives me one look and then he's on the move, out of the car, slamming the door, into the diner, at a table, tossing a menu across to my side of the booth, inspecting the offerings on his menu.
I follow him into the diner and join him in the booth he has selected. Dief is welcome at this small family restaurant, which is why we frequent it. The food - even breakfast - and the coffee are appallingly bad.
I remove my Stetson and place it by my side. I take a sip of the water already provided. I look around for the waitress. In a word, I do whatever I can to avoid looking at Ray.
But I cannot avoid seeing him. He has his head buried in his hands, his elbows on the table. His long hair is standing out on top in dishevelled spikes. He did not wash and groom it this morning. No, of course not. He must have come directly from Stella's apartment to the Consulate. To me.
My stomach turns at the thought. From her bed to me….
I inhale, shiver inadvertently. Ray looks up at me. His eyes meet mine and I see the questions and the pain in them.
I thought I was done with it all - hardening my heart, holding my feelings in check, guarding my tongue from expressing what I think and feel. But I realize that I'll soon find myself doing all three again. I hate the feeling. Hate it with a passion that enrages me beyond reason. I want to strike out at this man who first tricked me into opening my heart, and is now forcing me to close it again. I - I feel such rage. I wish to strike him. Kill him, perhaps. Yes, kill him.
I love him. I wish to kill him.
I am unhinged, no matter what my psychological profile shows. My thoughts and feelings are not acceptable.
But my behavior is.
Because I do nothing to harm Ray. Show by no action how I feel or what I am thinking.
So - how is it that Ray knows, anyway?
It seems Ray hasn't recovered from the revelation that I believed he was in love with me.
"Ya really thought that, Fraser? That I'm in love wid ya?" he asks.
"Please, Ray -"
"So, what's differen' today? Huh? Why doncha believe it no more?"
I am shocked by his question. "I think it is fairly obvious with whom you are in love, Ray. Even to a… blockhead like me."
"Stella, of course. Or 'The Stella,' as you call her," I reply impatiently, holding back bitterness from my tone with every ounce of my will. I smile. "I understand completely, Ray. As you say, a man's got to live. I don't blame you for taking sexual gratification where you find it. Actually, sharing physical pleasure with a good friend is not an unusual course of action for men of our… persuasion. It happens all the time, in the military, I've been given to understand. It means nothing -" I pause, realizing that I am babbling. "I'm sorry if I seem to be… belaboring the point, Ray. Obviously, I was… surprised to find that our…liaison was nothing more than, than… what it was. But that's entirely my fault, my misunderstanding. Nothing you've done."
"Ya only slept wid me because ya thought I was in love wid ya - that's it, ain' it, Fraser?" I don't reply so Ray nods and mutters, almost to himself, "Yeah, that's it. Christ." He exhales sharply.
"Don't concern yourself, Ray -"
"I guess dat means *you're* in love wid me." A statement, not a question.
"I'm sorry, Ray -"
"Sorry? Yer sorry?" Ray's incredulity is in his voice, all over his face.
"Of course? Sorry fer what? Dat ya made a mistake about how I feel? Or let me know how you feel? Or dat ya slept wid me at all?"
I reply evenly, "All of the above."
"Yes, really. But it won't happen again, any of it."
Ray's eyes narrow. "Nah, 'course it won' - no mistakes fer The Mountie, right? No mistakes allowed?"
"That is correct. Or rather, I try to learn from my mistakes, so I don't make them more than once."
"Nope, wouldn' want The Perfect Mountie makin' mistakes, then repeatin' 'em, would we?"
"I would not. I cannot speak for you, Ray."
He grimaces. A nerve in his cheek twitches. "I ain' hungry, Fraser. Ya wanna eat or ya wanna come wid me down ta the station? Up ta you."
I grab my Stetson and slide out of the booth. "I'll be happy to assist you with your cases, Ray."
"So, we're still partners?"
I can't help myself, I let the cat out of the bag. "For the time being, yes."
He stands and stares at me. "What's dat supposed ta mean?"
I tough it out. "Exactly what it says, Ray. We are partners for the time being. I don't think that will be very long, under the circumstances."
"What circumstances?" he asks, his tone showing genuine bewilderment.
"I don't believe you'll wish to be partners with me after you and Stella move back together. I'm sure you wouldn't want her to know how you've… spent your time these last few weeks."
"After me and Stella move back together?" Ray appears to be perpetually a beat behind. I am glad. If I can wound him only thusly - by making him feel slow and stupid - I'll take what I can get. I cannot strike him. I cannot kill him. Making him seem less than quick on the uptake is a small victory in the face of my disastrous loss, but it's something….
Ray is silent in the car as he drives us to the precinct. He doesn't speak to me about anything personal during the course of our work. We manage to solve a crime - the theft of some jewelry from a small shop in a seedy part of town - and apprehend the thief, a former employee of the establishment. It is a good - if unexciting - day's work and Lieutenant Welsh congratulates Ray and me after the perpetrator is booked.
Uncharacteristically, I don't go back to Ray's desk with him when he drops off the paperwork. I don't ask him out on a "dinner date" tonight. I've learned my lesson. I don't even wish to spend any more time in his company. I want to bury myself beneath the blankets on my cot and sleep for a thousand years. Oh, if only that were possible!
I hear the distinctive sound of Ray's car as Dief and I walk towards the Consulate. I turn and stop. He pulls over and rolls down the window on the passenger side.
"Get in, Frase, I'll give ya a lift."
"No, thank you. I'd rather walk tonight."
"A bite to eat, then?" he asks.
"No, thank you kindly. I'm not hungry, Ray."
"Well, a drink, then? Back at my place? I got a surprise fer ya."
"I've had enough surprises for one week, Ray," I say bitterly.
"Nah, ya'll like dis one." He grins. "Bought some a dat bark tea yer always goin' on about. Called Ottawa - da Consulate up der - an' got da name of a local shop where they sell it. A big package of it arrived by carrier pigeon yesterday. Ya gotta show me how to make it right, though. I ain' too familer wid tea dat don' come in a bag."
"No, thank you, Ray. I'm not thirsty, either."
"Okay, den, how 'bout ya jus' come over so we can talk."
I stare at him, incredulous, and shake my head. "Talk? About what, Ray?" I look off into the distance, than straight into his eyes again. "Besides, I'd have thought you'd be spending the evening with Stella. Taking her to dinner. Making whatever her favorite drink is, for your wife."
"Ex-wife. Ex-wife, Fraser. Stella is my ex-wife."
"Right you are, Ray. That fact doesn't materially change my concerns."
"Ya got concerns? Well, maybe we should talk about 'em, then. Yer concerns."
"I misspoke. I have no concerns. And we have no dinner plans. If you wish, you may pick me up at the Consulate in the morning. Not for a… breakfast date, though. Just in time to go to work."
"'cuz we're still partners?"
"That is correct, Ray. As long as you'll have me."
"Ah - a long time, then."
"As you wish. Now, if you don't mind, I'll be getting home."
"Sure, Fraser. Whatever. Home. Yeah. The Consulate, that's home ta ya now, right? Not my place anymore, huh?"
"As you say. Goodnight. Come, Dief."
"G'night, Fraser. Tomorrow - eight?"
I nod. Start to move again. Before I can take a step, though, Ray guns his engine and is gone. Faster than I can walk, faster than any speed he's achieved in a car chase after a criminal. Faster than a speeding bullet, Ray is gone.
I have succeeded in forcing him away. Which was my intention. Why, then, do I feel so miserably bereft?
Although there is plenty of food in the small Consulate kitchen I do not consider making myself a meal. I have little appetite. I content myself with chewing a piece of pemmican and drinking a cup of cold tea that remains in the pot from someone's dinner - or lunch. I scarcely notice the bitter taste.
I undress quickly and change into my longjohns. I bury myself under the covers, despite the actual temperature which is fairly high, even for this time of year - Spring.
It is not yet dark but I have no window in my office/bedroom so there's no light when the lamp is off and the door is closed.
Closed, locked, and bolted.
I know how Ray can be. Persistent. Incredibly persistent. Obsessive. And inventive.
He has opened my door before, when it was only locked. Therefore, I bolted it before I lay down.
I berate myself. Clearly, I am still suffering from a delusion. The idiotic delusion that Ray loves me, loves me enough to break into my room and try to make love to me….
I must not allow that delusion to rule my life, not any longer.
I was mistaken. Over-confident. Absurdly so. I suffered from hubris and now I am paying the price.
After a long time I realize that no one will try to break into my room and make love to me tonight. Not Ray, not anyone. I am quite quite alone.
I let myself relax a bit, still laying uncharacteristically on my side in my bed. I unclench my fists which have been gripping the coverlet. Let my mind drift, hoping to fall asleep, which would be some relief from the pain I'm feeling.
And the images come, of Ray. His face, his body, his mouth, his hands, his eyes. His wonderful voice and enchanting laugh. The feel of his mouth on mine. The taste of his flesh, the softness of his hair and the smoothness of his skin.
And the sounds he makes, the sounds…. When I touch him down there, touch his cock. When I circle his opening with my tongue, press in, kiss him, taste him, bitter and sweet. The sounds he makes….
His tongue. His devil-grin when he sticks his tongue out at me and I laugh, happy. Sticks his tongue out at me, winks, then swabs my face with his tongue, and all the way down my neck, my chest, all the way down. And pulls the hair at my groin with his teeth. And captures my cock with his mouth, his tongue….
The sounds he makes when he sees my tears….
When he loves away my tears with kisses….
How? How? How could I have been so mistaken? How?
"A piece of yer soul, Fraser…. Like the dreamcatcher, Frase…. That's pleasure…. An' I'm gonna keep getting' more pieces, right?"
I swallow and realize that my tears are not being kissed away. That they will never again be kissed away by my beloved's mouth.
I shake my head, rub my fist around on my belly, pressing hard to push away the pain.
I vowed that I would never again touch Ray Kowalski in an intimate manner.
I didn't think what I was promising.
Didn't realize that I was promising that Ray Kowalski would never again touch me….
"Fraser? Ya okay in der?" Ray's voice wakens me, along with his knock on my door. I glance at my watch. It is later than I usually waken. Later, even, than it would be were I to get up only in time to meet Ray for work.
"Yes, I'm fine," I call out, then move out from under the covers until I'm sitting, slumped over, at the edge of my cot, totally not fine.
"Ya betta hurry, Fraser, or I'll be late. Welsh'll have a cow."
"I'll be ready in a moment," I reply, marveling that my voice expresses nothing of my feelings. What seems like centuries of training and practice in deception is paying off admirably, I think.
Marvelous! I've become a coward, a liar, a consummate actor. What other behavioral wonders await me, for as long as I remain in Sodom - or is it Gemorah? Thus do I characterize Chicago, now.
Sodom, Gemorah, city of sin, city of pain, city of anguish.
Oh, I will leave. Soon. Very soon.
Whether Ray will have me or not, I will leave.
And never look back….
That truth bears in on me relentlessly, as I make my toilette and dress for the day.
"Ya okay, Fraser? Yer lookin' a little pale, there." Ray's concern is palpable. Touching. I feel like throwing up.
"I'm fine. Simply a bit hungry. I didn't eat much for supper last night."
"Well, after we check in at the station we can go get breakfast, if ya want." His approach is diffident, anxious. Nervous.
"Yes, perhaps that would be best. A 'breakfast date,' after all, Ray," I reply sarcastically. "I should have listened to you last night when you suggested we do breakfast. My mistake."
"I didn' suggest that, not last night. Not fer today," he tells me.
"Right you are. You didn't. Again, my mistake."
"Ya gonna keep sayin' dat, Fraser? 'cuz if ya say it once more, I'll pop ya one."
"Sorry -" I just stop myself from repeating the offending phrase.
"So, we'll get breakfast, okay?"
"Ah, back ta dat, are we? Yes, Ray, no, Ray, three bags full, Ray?"
"I don't understand what you mean. I was merely agreeing to your excellent suggestion that we consume a meal after you check in at the precinct. A suggestion made with my welfare and health in mind. How have I offended you?"
"Ya know, I oughta just shut up an' drive, Fraser, 'cuz you in yer Perfectly Clueless Mountie mood is worse 'en Stella in her Put Upon Princess mood."
"I'm surprised to hear you speak that way about the woman you care so deeply for, Ray."
"Yeah, shame shame on me, talkin' about The Stella like she was a human bein' or somethin' - ain' it da truth?"
"I don't follow, Ray. Isn't what the truth?"
"Like, like I really know about human bein's, me. First I take up with a Princess, Queen of All She Surveys. Then I pitch my tent with The Perfect Mountie, whose shit don' stink! What would I know about human bein's, hangin' like I been all my life, with Perfection! 'nuf to give a guy a complex, if he didn' have one already."
"I will disregard your remarks, Ray, because I am certain you are aware that your wife is not perfect, and neither am I."
"Ex-wife, Fraser, ex-wife. Try fer a little accuracy, here. Yer ruinin' yer image."
"Your ex-wife, then," I concede. "Is not perfect. Nor am I."
"Don' stop me, does it?" Ray mutters enigmatically.
"Doesn't stop you from what?" I ask, puzzled.
"From lovin' ya," he mumbles, just as we pull into the station. He's out of the car immediately. I sit for a while, pondering his remark.
Only by listening in my mind to the music I heard outside Stella Kowalski's apartment, and remembering how she and Ray looked when they danced together, do I manage to push down the hope that rises in my heart.
And the love.
Oh, God! I cannot, I cannot! I cannot hope again!
I breathe deeply, expel the air. And again.
I repeat like a mantra, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me," until I've regained control. I step out of the car and let Dief out. His whine is soft but speaks volumes.
"No. Not again. I won't trust him again. He spent the last two nights with his wife, not me. You will not convince me to trust that man again."
Dief stares at me, then turns and lopes after Ray into the station. I start to follow then stop myself. No need. Ray will be out in a few minutes. After all, he has a "breakfast date," hasn't he? "Dumb" though that might be, he has promised to eat another meal with me. He'll keep his promise.
He always does.
We settle into a booth, order and receive our meals, including water and - over my objections - corned beef hash for Dief. The waitress leaves us alone in the back of this small diner. I begin to eat.
Then I notice that Ray is not eating. He is staring at me.
"Yes?" I ask, putting down my fork. "Is there something you wish to say?"
"Yeah, there is."
"When ya goin'?" Ray asks bluntly.
"I beg your pardon?"
"When ya goin'? 'cuz ya ain' no use to me like this. Ya might as well go now."
"Ray!" I am stunned. Suddenly, the thought of never seeing Ray again on whatever terms is more than I can bear.
"No, Frase, don' pull that 'Ray' crap. Ya got a bee in yer bonnet, ya think I'm fixin' to move back in with Stella. Ya think I been messin' aroun' wid yer head. Or yer bod. Or both. Yer mad as hell at me - ya can' even manage to be polite no more. So - when ya goin'?"
I take a deep breath. "I - I don't know, Ray."
"So, where ya goin'?"
"I don't know that, either, I'm afraid."
"Back north, ta snowland, right?"
"Most likely." I pause. "I haven't got a 'bee in my bonnet,' Ray. I'm simply terribly… disappointed. You can understand that, can't you?"
"Why, 'cuz ya think I'm back wid Stella?"
"Well, you are. You are back with Stella. I don't imagine she would share you with anyone. I certainly don't intend to."
"Share me?" Ray laughs. "I musta wandered into the wrong movie house, 'cuz this has gotta be the wrong flick."
I stiffen. "This might be amusing to you, Ray, but it is certainly serious to me. I wish you wouldn't joke about it."
"Oh, I ain' jokin' - just kinda confused."
"Ya been followin' me, or somethin'?"
"Of course I haven't, Ray."
"So, so how ya know I been with Stella the last coupla nights?"
"You haven't been with me -"
"That's right. I ain' been wid you. But how ya know I been with Stella?" Ray repeats. "If ya ain' been tailin' me."
"I assumed -"
"Yep, jus' like I figured." He shakes his head at me and looks out the window. He speaks to someone - not me - whom he sees but I do not. "Jus' like I figured. First, Mr. Perfect here pushes me away, then he jumps ta a conclusion, then he stews over it, makin' himself miserable, then he blames me becuz he's miserable. An' the next thing I know, Mr. Perfect is on a fast plane ta Canada, all by his lonesome. An' it's all my fault. Yep, jus' like I figured."
"I believe your behavior while we were bodyguarding Orsini and trying to get to the bottom of that situation spoke for itself, Ray. Not to say that you spoke for yourself. You made it quite clear that you are still in love with your ex-wife. Quite clear that you would do anything you could to get back together with her. There was little required in the way of 'jumping to conclusions' on my part, if any. Simply, logical deductions from given premises."
"That's rich! Oh, that's rich!" He hunches over the table, shoving his plate to one side. "Well, Mr. Perfect, how's this for 'given premises'? I did not spend last night with Stella. I did not spend da night before with Stella. And I ain' in love with Stella no more. I love her, but I ain' in love wid her no more! How's dat for premises, huh?"
"If you say so, Ray -"
"I say so! So, wid dat fer a 'given premise', where da yer deductions take ya now, Fraser?"
I sit back in the booth. My cheeks are hot - I know they are flushed. I am in such pain as I cannot recall ever experiencing before.
Why is Ray doing this, trying to make me forget the evidence of my own eyes and ears? Why is he lying to me about where he spent the last two nights?
Perhaps he doesn't love me, but does he care so little for me that he'd deliberately hurt me in such a way, simply to keep me close, for companionship and sex?
"Why what, Frase?"
"Why are you doing this? You told me, not so long ago, that you could find a hundred people to have sex with, that you didn't need me for that. So why are you holding on to me this way, with these lies -"
"I ain' lying."
"You are. If not about the facts, about your feelings." I am certain of this and I know that conviction is in my voice.
Ray runs his fingers through his hair. He stirs in his seat, as if he doesn't know what to do with his body. He looks at me, then away, then at me again. He doesn't speak.
"I thought you wouldn't have an answer to that."
"Frase -" He lifts one hand, then drops it. "Frase - ya don' understan'."
"No, I truly do not. I trusted you. I knew what you were - a consummate undercover agent, someone whose talent and skill at deception fit them for work few can tackle successfully. Someone whose emotions are so strong that they can convince anyone of anything by turning themselves inside out and revealing a feeling - any feeling they choose - to another person. Yet I trusted you because I knew you were a good person, a fine officer, a man with a heart."
"Please, let me say this, Ray. I believed you cared for me. Perhaps I was naïve, perhaps I was foolish. But I didn't think you would turn your skills on me. But I was wrong. Yes, I am angry with you. Very much so. More than angry. But I've found you out, now. So, why don't you simply give it up, Ray? Admit defeat. Acknowledge that your 'cover' is 'blown,' cut your losses, and leave it alone?" I pause for a moment, then add, "Let me go, Ray. Don't play with me. I cannot be certain of my control, if you continue this charade. I don't want to hurt you."
"It's the words, ain' it? The words. 'I love you. I'm in love with you.' Them words. I don' say 'em ta ya, so ya can' hear 'em. Yer as deaf as yer wolf."
"You are not the sort of man who hides his feelings, Ray. If you were in love with me, you would say the words. I have no doubt about that. You wouldn't be able to stop yourself from saying the words."
"Yeah, I would. I could stop myself, if I had a reason."
"Do you have a reason, Ray?" When he doesn't reply, I continue, "Because if you have anything to say, but think you have a reason not to say it, I believe it would be in your best interest to consider carefully what that reason is. And whether it is worth the price of your silence."
"It's me," Ray blurts out, "that's my reason. Me. What I promised ta me, when I was a kid."
"What you promised to yourself? What was that?" I ask.
"I promised I'd always be true ta her - ta Stella - that I'd never love anyone else, never make her sad, or unhappy, never leave her. Always love her. Dat she'd be my world, for as long as I lived."
"The marriage vows…." I murmur.
"No, not then, before. Way before, when we was kids. I promised back den, when I was a kid. That if Stella let me love her, I'd never stop lovin' her. I kept dat promise. It's the only good thing I ever did in my life, Fraser - keepin' that promise." There are tears in Ray's eyes. There are tears in mine.
I say slowly, "You've kept your promise, Ray. It is Stella who has not kept hers."
"Let go of it, Ray. You've done enough. It's gone."
"How do you feel now, Ray?" I ask. For the first time in so long that I cannot remember when - two days ago, a thousand years ago - I ask rather than assume.
"Dat yer gonna leave, I know it. Like Stella. Even if I tell ya -"
"Tell me what, Ray?"
"Even if I tell ya how I feel, ya'll leave." His eyes are huge as he stares at me. Then he looks away.
I touch his hand, which is fisted up into a tight ball on the table. He jumps and looks at me again. "Ray, that isn't true."
"No. Trust me. As I have trusted you. Tell me -"
"An' you'll tell me?" he asks, a small smile turning up one corner of his mouth.
"Right. Then I will tell you."
"I'm in love wid you, Fraser," Ray says, jumping in without a pause. So very like himself that I feel as if I am seeing double. "I didn' wanna believe it. I mean, look at it. I knew you'd seen it. I could feel it when ya touched me that first night. Ya went all free and easy and… alive in my arms, like somebody'd cut the ropes that were tyin' ya up. Jus' like that -" he snaps his fingers "- an' you were free! So I knew, too. That it was more than just carin' fer ya, likin' ya, thinkin' you were easy on the eyes. That it was more. That I felt more. I knew I was in love wid ya because you knew it…."
"I thought you didn't realize how you felt. But it was enough for me that I knew. That was sufficient to set me free -"
"But see, ya were wrong. It wasn' enough that you knew. 'cuz look what happened."
"I shoulda said the words, the minute I felt it, Frase. I'm sorry. I didn' mean to hurt ya."
"I know you didn't, Ray," I say quietly, gently.
"Ya believe me now, right, dontcha, Frase?" Ray asks anxiously. "'cuz it's the truth. I ain' that much of a heel an' I ain' that great at undercover work, neither, that I could play you fer a fool, Frase."
"Well, actually, you are that great at undercover work, but I do believe you. Now."
"So - so, whaddaya wanna do?"
"Do?" I ask.
"I mean, after work, tonight?"
"I want to spend the evening with you."
"On a date, like?" Ray asks cautiously.
"Yes. On a date."
"That's cool. That'd work." Ray's energy is up again, and he is happy.
He is made happy with so little. I give so little. He gives… everything.
"There is one thing more, Ray."
"Yeah, what?" he asks suspiciously.
"I - I would like to say the words."
"The words? What words?" He has already forgotten that he, too, wished to hear them.
"I want to tell you how I feel about you. As you would say, fair's fair. You told me how you feel. I want to tell you how I feel."
"It's okay, Frase. Ya don' need ta say anything -"
"You don't wish to hear how I feel?"
"I know ya think a lot a me. That ya like me a lot. Else ya wouldn' stick wid me. That's enough. Ya don' need ta… verbalize it. I get the message -"
"You are afraid of what I'll say!" I assert, astounded.
"Well. Well, yeah."
I frown, shake my head. "Ray. Ray. Ray. Ray."
"Dat's my name!" he replies with faked humor.
"You need not be afraid."
"Dat's easy for you to say," he retorts.
"Very easy. All I wish to tell you is that I love you. With all my heart. With all my soul. With my body and my mind. You are my partner, my friend, my lover. All things - you are all things to me. I love you. I am in love with you. I will not leave you."
Ray stares at me for a full minute. "Dat hard to say?"
"No, not at all. It is the truth."
"Ya left somethin' out."
"Have I? Oh, dear!" I grin. "What have I forgotten?"
"Ya didn' say whether ya think I'm pretty or not."
"Oh. Oh, that. Well, yes, I suppose so. I suppose you are. In a rough, biker sort of way. Not so smooth as some. But I'm sure, with a bit of grooming, you'd clean up well. You're attractive enough, in your way." I say this thoughtfully, with a straight face. I watch Ray's smile begin at his mouth and move right up his face into his eyes.
"Yer a bastard, Ben Fraser, ya know dat?"
"We can't all be perfect, Ray. Be content with your gifts. Use them well. Rewards will follow."
"I am gonna kick ya in da head when I get ya home, Frase."
"I am looking forward to it, Ray. Thank you kindly."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ F i n i s ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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