A novella of possession. A story of obsession. A lesson in love.
If you would have asked me six months ago how many hours in the day, I would have said twenty four. After I met Julius Cedar, I'd say about thirty. With Julius at the helm, life was anything but ordinary. I guess the only way to describe Julius is to start at the beginning and that was six months ago on a dull, grey, cold winter morning when everyone wishes for a hot coffee and a warm place to drink it.
It looked like it was going to rain. Being ever prepared I took my coat and umbrella and headed for my bus with plenty of time to spare. I like to plan and always leave myself that small window for the unforeseen. The bus takes me to within a ten minute walk to work. Ten minutes to get wet if it rains.
The number eleven is quite full most mornings and I usually stand. So I was standing, hanging like a gorilla, and listening to a conversation to my right. The talker was adamant that a first class ticket to Rome could be had for the same price as cattle class to New York. The listener begged to disagree but the talker went on,
"But why wouldn't one travel first class if one can? It's the getting there, not the destination that defines the tourist."
I thought about my getting there and watched for my stop.
"After all," the talker said, travel in style and even poor service is more agreeable."
I smiled at the logic and pressed the button. The door opened, I stepped off, as I have done for the last ten years, the doors clattered shut, the bus shifted into gear and my day had begun. But this day the bus came to a halt right next to me, the doors burst open and a man, whom I recognised as the talker, threw himself out onto the path, waved the bus driver onward and proffered my umbrella to me with,
"Chivalry is a dying art and I for one will not let it fade without a fight." I laughed at that, the first of many quips that would make me smile and thanked him.
"Julius Cedar at your service Miss." He bowed low and swept his hand across his chest in a flurry of excess. Julius, I was to learn, was always a flurry of excess.
"Did you say Julius Caesar?" I giggled and took my umbrella.
"Ah, a common mistake. Similar, but not the same." He turned and showed me his back.
"Not a knife to be seen." I laughed as he turned around and smiled at me.
"Thank you," I said slipping my umbrella strap on my wrist. We stood there smiling at one another for what seemed like a couple of minutes.
"Well, I better get on," I said.
"May I be permitted to walk with you?" Julius, for I already felt we were friends,held my hand. A firm grip yet not threatening. I don't usually let strange men hold my hand on a Monday morning, but this seemed natural and right.
"Yes. You may." I answered and he once again bowed and in a forgotten gesture of familiarity kissed the back of my hand. We walked.
Julius had a way of sort of skipping along, not really walking,but more of enjoying the movement of putting one foot in front of the other. I studied this strange man from the corner of my eye. His clothes were of someone with impeccable taste. A suit that was understated yet reeked of expense. His shirt and tie chosen to match the day, and yet I felt they were picked with no more care than the colour of a toothbrush. And then there was the waistcoat. A harlequin extravaganza that on anyone else would have been a joke. Julius carried it off with panache. He tossed his hair with a flick of the wrist and adjusted his cuff links. I think I saw him glance once or twice in a window to judge his sartorial elegance as we walked with purpose. He followed my lead as we rounded several corners, our conversation all about me. In the ten minute walk I somehow divulged my name, who I worked for, where I had or hadn't been, whether I was married, single or something else. Of Julius I only had his name. We ended up standing in front of my building.
"Well, this is my stop." I pointed to the ornate frontage of the bank. "Thank you once again," I said and started up the steps to the side entrance.
"If I may ask your indulgence Miss Smith?"
If there was one moment that was my undoing in regard to Julius Cedar it would be that moment when I stopped and turned.
"I would suggest you really could do with a day off."
"Who wouldn't," I replied in a flippant tone. Julius lifted his eyebrow. That gesture of inquiry would be used to great effect on the unsuspecting. He looked up at me and somehow I felt I would disappoint him if I looked at my watch.
"And I'm sure you have never taken one, just for the sheer enjoyment of the day?" I felt affronted that he had me pegged so completely and that he was right. Was I so readable. I felt like lying, but that too would have been as transparent as my honesty.
"I get paid to work Mr Cedar." It was an unequivocal answer and said with a terseness in my voice.
"Ah." Julius put his hands in his pockets and struck a pose. That 'ah' was all he needed to say. I knew I wasn't indispensable. No one was, but his superior attitude cut me to the quick. I thought he was making fun of me. Making a joke of my dedication, my job, my ordinariness that was an anathema to his lifestyle. I too might have made assumptions about Julius Cedar. The way he dressed, the way he walked and his probing questions, but I didn't. Not with a clear conscience anyway. He looked up at me from the bottom step and smiled. One of his many disarming features, it melted my resolve to feel aggrieved and I laughed, albeit a little nervously.
"I could if I wanted to, you know." I threw the line out there. My petulance made him smirk.
"You don't believe me. Do you?" I said. Now I had a point to prove. I looked up at the staff door knowing what was waiting for me on the other side. My desk, my coffee cup, my not so important, work.
"Oh, I don't doubt your resolve Miss Smith. I just wonder what you would do with your stolen day?"
The gaul of the man to think I wouldn't have something to do. He had a way of twisting things and I felt I needed to justify, explain and prove a point. It was like arguing with my sister.
"I have things to do." I huffed. I had only just met the man and yet he was baiting me as if he had known me for years. I could have just walked away. I didn't owe him any great allegiance. It was only a cheap umbrella and yet I had the feeling that something might come of our meeting. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part. I didn't want to look desperate or stupid. My family took care of those particular feelings. Julius was one of those people that slipped under your skin so easily and before you knew it you were sucked into his vortex of influence. I fleeting imagined he would ask me to coffee, a walk, an art exhibition, something daring or spectacular and like a movie we would make our own fun.
"I'm sure you do have things to do Jane Smith." He said my name as if it was a joke. We can't all be Roman emperors, I thought. Julius looked at the clock on the bank's facade. I followed his gaze and knew it was decision time. He shuffled his feet and brought his hand up to his hair once again. It looked to me like he was going to grab me, run down the steps, hail a taxi and whisk me off. We would do things, go places and whisper secrets in dark booths or lie on our backs in the grass and discuss the meaning of life.
"Come on then." He held out his hand and my heart soared. We trotted down the street giggling and ducked into a cafe on the corner, found a table and sat down. It was exhilarating knowing I was taking a day off for no particular reason. I felt alive, giddy with the spontaneity of it all. When I woke up on that Monday I never dreamed I would be drinking coffee with a stranger and no prospect of going to work.
"I really should call," I whispered over the cruet set as the waitress brought my coffee.
"You won't even be missed." Julius slurped his cappuccino and stared at me over the rim. It was a truth that cut to the bone. Every bit of joy fell from me like confetti and collected at my feet. Julius looked at me as he finished his coffee. I told myself that nothing was going to spoil the day. One careless remark shouldn't bring the house down. I played up my excitement and sipped my coffee trying not to look like an expectant puppy.
"So..." I began, when he grabbed my left hand and examined my ring finger. His eyebrow shot up as he looked at virgin territory. I wanted to explain about my lack of love, my reticence to get involved with someone, my slow climb up the office ladder, but I thought it would all be too boring. Jane Smith wasn't that exciting. Julius sighed and looked over my shoulder as if thinking on the things people don't say rather that what they do. I let him keep holding my hand then he shook himself from his musings.
"Look, I'd love to stay, but I should really be somewhere in twenty minutes." He tapped is expensive looking watch and shrugged his shoulders. "Thanks for the coffee." He stood up and smiled at me. "I know where you work, I'll get in touch." He patted my hand and was gone. I looked at my cappuccino then turned and watched him walk out the door then stop to have one last look in the mirror on the wall.
What seemed like a daring experiment rapidly turned into a knot in my stomach at the deception. The guilt was a poison that coursed through my veins. If I hurried I would only be about half an hour late. I knew no one would notice. That piece of truth dug into my work ethic like a tic burrowing under my skin. I paid and waded through my misconceptions to the door. I retraced my steps back to the bank, cursing my stupidity to fall for a bit of smooth talking.
But somewhere in that place where true feelings reside, where even you are sometimes afraid to go, I knew I wanted to see Julius again. Not only wanted, but hoped. And I imagined he felt the same.