Broken Pasts
Author:C.M. Stunich

chapter 2

Stuart Moore was a well dressed, relatively handsome middle aged man with a nice car and perfectly fine manners.

He was one hundred percent, absolutely not my type. It's not like I was into cavemen or bad boys or anything of the sort. It's just, I liked some spice. I liked my guys to be complicated, interesting. And you have such great taste, Theresa, I said to myself as I adjusted the fabric of my dress and tried to convince myself that it wasn't too short. Stuart's eyes had traced the long lines of my thighs more times that I would've liked to admit. You chose Glen and Gary for death do you part. Give this guy a chance. So I followed Mr. Khaki Suit out of his BMW and into the restaurant. He didn't hold the door open for me which was a bad sign, but I assuaged my fears by saying that feminism went both ways. I can open my own door. But if he asked me to pay half the check, I was out of there. Call me old fashioned, but it's true.

“I hope Jamie didn't guilt trip you into this,” I said, trying to lighten the mood with a joke as the host led us through a bustling restaurant filled to capacity with noisy New Year's parties. Stuart didn't respond until we got to the table where he didn't pull out my chair for me. I pulled it out myself and sat down, smoothing my hands down the red fabric of my dress. It didn't fit quite as well as the day I'd first bought it, but I thought I looked nice with my black pumps and the silver eye of Horus gleaming on the golden plane of my chest. Rhea had bought the necklace for me with her own money on one of the trips she'd gone on with Glen. Since you couldn't be there, she'd told me, pooling the silver chain in my palm. It'll protect you. I let that warmth fill my smile as I looked over at Stuart's broad forehead and blue eyes. His curly, black hair was perfectly arranged atop his head and his mouth was quirked into his own smile, one that didn't quite reach his eyes.

“I don't know what you mean?” Stuart asked turning our date from blind to awkward. I shook my head and picked up my menu.

“Never mind,” I said as my eyes scoured the prices. He is definitely a split the check kind of guy, I thought as I picked out the cheapest thing there.

“Shall I order a bottle of wine?” he asked, taking off his jacket and revealing rather broad shoulders. Okay, okay, I told myself. This could work out. Mr. Moore has a good body under that boring suit.

“That would be great,” I said as he held out the wine list. “Oh, I'm not picky,” I told him, waving my hand dismissively. “Whatever works best for you is fine with me.”

“I don't drink,” Stuart said and I think I knew then and there that the night was going to go sour. Jamie had sent me out on New Year's Eve with a teetotaler for a date. I hid my cringe and took the list between two fingers. I scoured it for a moment and once again let price make my decision. If I was ever going to get out of my brother's rental house and into one of my own, sacrifices had to be made. I had a good sized down payment built up already, but there was no sense in wasting any of it on a date with a man I knew I wasn't going to like. “So, Ms. McMaster,” Stuart continued, clearing his throat. “Joel tells me you have a daughter?” I nodded and reached up to finger the necklace. The silver eye was my life raft whenever I was lost at sea. And by lost at sea, I mean sitting in the middle of a crowded five star restaurant with overpriced food and a man with a nice chest but no tact. “But that she's not your biological child?” I tried not to sigh.

“My first husband and I adopted her when she was an infant,” I said not bothering to go into details. Rhea had the same dark hair and olive complexion that I did. It was easy to pass her off as my biological daughter. Even she didn't know otherwise. One day, I would have to tell her, but for right now, things were perfect between us. Why throw her a curve ball?

“Because of your miscarriage?” he asked and I did grit my teeth at that. I was going to kill Jamie when I saw her. “I'm sorry,” he said suddenly, as if he'd finally realized what he'd just said and how completely and utterly inappropriate it was. “I haven't been on a date in awhile. I think I'm just nervous, how about you?” He tried to smile then and it was much more pleasant, definitely more genuine. I took a deep breath and tried to think of his comments as a sign of his curiosity rather than his disrespect.

“It's okay,” I said as I relaxed the muscles in my forehead and leaned my elbows on the table. “I've never been a big fan of first dates. With my second husband,” I paused, wondering how smart it was to talk to my date about my ex. I decided that Stuart and I most likely were headed nowhere and forged on with the determination to enjoy my night. “I spilled a cup of steaming coffee into his lap and gave him second degree burns on his thighs.” I smiled and Stuart chuckled. I had taken Gary to urgent care and spent a wonderful night just talking. Once upon a time, he'd been perfect. I reached down to my purse and snuck a glance at my phone. No missed calls. I nearly sighed with relief. Finally. If I could start out the New Year with anything, it would be a fresh start. No men, just me. And Rhea, of course.

I looked over the balustrade and down into the lower portion of the dining room. A chandelier hung over the white table cloths and glimmered like a promise. I made a New Year's resolution right then and there not to get involved with anyone else until I was fully comfortable with myself and the choices I'd made. Your life is not a mistake, just an experience.

Why is it that when you finally find your feet, life always finds a way to knock you back down again?

***

Stuart and I didn't leave the restaurant until well after midnight.

Despite our rough start, things were actually going fairly well. We'd shared dating horror stories like the best of girlfriends and after I'd gotten a couple of glasses of wine down, we'd actually started to flirt. I'd spent half the night with Stuart's warm hand caressing my thigh. Previous declarations aside, he was a handsome man and I was lonely. I told myself that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my asking him to come home with me. In all honesty, he'd given me the best holiday I'd had in years. I wasn't alone and I wasn't thinking about the past. On their own, either of those things was enough to make my day. Combined, they practically made my year.

“Hey Stuart,” I asked as we walked across the parking lot to his car. “Do you want to come over for a little while?” Stuart paused and looked down at me. His eyes caught on the line of golden cleavage above my red dress for just a moment before he met my gaze. “Just for tonight,” I added, hoping I wasn't giving him the wrong impression. I'd had fun, but I was no way ready to jump into another relationship. I wasn't sure when or even if that would ever happen again. “No strings attached.” I let my fingers touch the crisp fabric of his shirt and when he didn't protest, I let my hand slide under the edges of his khaki suit jacket. Stuart didn't say a thing, just let his own fingers slide up the side of my neck and tangle in the dark waves of my hair. He removed my clip and watched hungrily as ebony cascades tumbled down around my shoulders.

“I'd love to,” he told me as he ran his tongue across his lips and his blue eyes twinkled softly. Leaning down just a bit, he pressed a sensual kiss to my mouth. There weren't any fireworks or explosions of light and sound, but then, there never are, right? But the kiss was enough to get my body warm and my thighs moist. “Shall we?” he asked as he unlocked the car with his key fob and started around towards the driver's side. I had just the briefest of moments to think, 'He's still not going to open the door for me?' when Stuart looked up and his eyes widened in alarm. An arm went around my waist and tugged me against a firm chest. I smelt cologne and a spicy aftershave that had once made me swoon, but now were just reminders of good times gone wrong.

“Theresa, baby, why are you doing this to me?” I pulled away from the intruder and spun around to find Gary behind me, eyes red rimmed and mouth tight. He barely looked like himself. Even angry, Gary had always been able to hold onto some semblance of pride and at least the appearance of self-control. Now he looked disheveled and anxious. His hands were shaking and he was running his left hand through his hair, again and again and again.

“What are you doing here?” I asked without turning around to look at Stuart. I could only focus on Gary right now. He looked dangerous. The last time he had looked this way, I had feared for my life and I had left him. I was not going through this again. At least this time, there was a man at my back and a parking lot still partially full of people. He couldn't hurt me here even if he wanted to.

“I tried to be nice about it,” he told me as he turned away and rubbed his hand down his face. “I called you several times, left several messages. I even met you at the store like you wanted and you didn't hear me.” I shook my head.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, thoroughly confused.

“Goddamn it,” Gary said and he looked down at the pavement, eyes closed like he was trying to come to terms with something. “Our date, Theresa. Where do we always go for special occasions? You stood me up.” I just stared at him and he whirled to face me. “The Vertigo. I was at The Vertigo.” I looked up as Stuart came around the front of the car and closed the passenger side door. I didn't even get the chance to ask what he was doing. I was more concerned with Gary.

“We went there once,” I said, still not quite understanding what was happening. It's hard to realize you've made a mistake, married the wrong person. It's even harder to accept that they could be dangerous. That they could take that emotional pain and take it another step further. “We went there one time to celebrate our engagement, Gary.” An engine roared behind me and I turned around just in time to see Stuart pulling out of the parking space. His tires were barely six inches away from the toes of my high heels. “What the hell?” Gary grabbed my shoulder and spun me around, pushing me back until I was slamming against the side of a white van emblazoned with the name of the restaurant. He pointed at my face, hands shaking, jaw tight. This was the anger that I had seen before, that I had fled. I looked around for help.

“You stood me up and you came out with another man,” he said through gritted teeth. Nobody was coming this way. It was like we were hidden in plain sight, caught in the shadows behind the van and blocked from view by the bright lights that lit up the majority of the parking lot. I thought about screaming for help, but I didn't want to make a scene. Why didn't I bring the gun? I wondered as Gary released my shoulder. “You're a cheating, lying whore,” he told me as I started to move away. Gary punched the side of the van and finally caught the attention of a couple near the restaurant's entrance. They didn't come over to us, but they were looking. “But I forgive you,” he said, changing tactics suddenly. He reached up and took my face between his hands. “I forgive you, Theresa,” he told me. “I love you.”

“Gary,” I said as calmly and as firmly as I was able. This had to stop now. I was not going to play his games. “We are no longer together, remember?” He was already shaking his head and turning away. “You need help, Gary,” I told him. I didn't say all that I was thinking. I didn't tell him that I thought he was a complete fucking psycho that deserved to be locked up. Maybe later, over the safety of an e-mail or a text, but not now. Not with him three feet in front of me pacing like a caged animal. Gary's personality had always been … malleable. I'd seen him go from laughing to crying to stoic. But nothing like this, not even during the two fights that had made up my mind about him.

“I don't need help,” he said, almost pleaded. “I just need you. My life isn't complete without you.” He turned away and put his hands on his hips, took several, big breaths of the cool night air. I started to move away, sidling down the side of the van. “Until death do us part, Theresa,” he said calmly and when he turned to face me, his brown eyes were like black pits, swallowed by shadows and anger. “You made a promise to me.”

I turned around and started to run.