THIS PARTING IS WELL MADE
By Joan Stephens
Applying the finishing touches to her makeup, Catherine critically studied her reflection in the mirror, looking to see if any of the hair-fine scars were visible through the foundation and powder. At one time she would have primped and fussed just to please him, but all that had changed since the unexpected attack on her three months ago. Tonight she needed the extra boost of looking her best to bolster her flagging courage as she despised hurting anyone, but she couldn’t help wondering if he would be all that hurt by her decision. Spritzing a little spray of lavender behind each ear, she gracefully rose to her feet and strolled into the kitchen. She had a few minutes to spare for a light snack as he would be on time, never expecting her to be ready when he arrived.
At the first bold rap on her door, she took the final bite of her caesar salad and drained the glass of milk in her hand. Placing them in the sink, she ambled to the door, not really looking forward to this encounter. She opened the door. “Come on in, Tom.” The sartorially resplendent man sauntered into her apartment.
“Cathy, you look lovely as usual,” he smoothly complimented her. “And you’re already dressed.” He gazed at her in open admiration. He could picture the two of them entering a box in the Metropolitan Opera to the buzz of admirers and detractors alike. Moving past her, he settled confidently on one of her love seats after removing his overcoat and handing it to Cathy. Smugly he watched her drape it over the back of one of the dining room chairs. She wore his ring and tonight he was going to pin her down on a definite date for their wedding. Crossing one leg over the other, he leaned back into the overstuffed cushions. He smiled up at her, waiting for her to say something.
“Would you like a drink?” she asked, taking a step toward the kitchen.
“Martini, if you please.”
“Sorry, I don’t have any gin. I’ve got beer, wine, soft drinks, and coffee and tea. Which do you prefer?”
“I think I’ll take a beer.”
In a few minutes she came back to the living room with two beers. Handing one to him, she sank onto the small sofa opposite him. He raised his eyebrows in surprise. Usually she sat next to him. Suddenly, he had the oddest feeling that something was amiss, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
There was an uncomfortable silence for a while, and he began to fidget, wondering finally why she had asked him to come. He took a long pull of beer before putting it on the coffee table that occupied the space between the two small couches. Watching her keenly, he leaned back again.
Cathy sat staring at the untasted beer in her hand, summoning the courage to do what she must. Then, she heard Vincent’s voice telling her that she had the courage; the courage to change her life, and this was the first step in that change. Taking a deep breath, she said, “I’ve asked you here to tell you that I’m giving you back your ring.”
Astounded, he straightened up and leaned forward urgently, “Giving it back?! But why? Have I done something?” He looked back over the last few times they were together and could find no reason for her to break off their engagement.
Then she said the unthinkable. “I don’t love you, Tom.”
Stunned, he sat immobilized in the small couch. As he realized from the set look on her face that she had actually said she didn’t love him, he became angry. Hmpf, she wasn’t so different, after all, from any of those high-toned rich broads that he had dated before her: the ones who thought they were too good for him. Well, he’d show them. He refused to accept what she had said. He needed her; the pool of eligible, rich debutantes was decidedly smaller than it was last year. He decided to go on the offensive. “When did all this start? You loved me before your attack and after too.”
Sadly shaking her head, she took the ring off her finger and placed it on the coffee table in front of him. “No, Tom, I was only going through the motions. Your treatment of Eve that night was the final straw. For the past few months, I have felt that I was only a decoration for you to show off to your wealthy and influential friends and associates. I will not be anyone’s ornament,” she stated emphatically. “And I felt that my name and position were more important to you than me.”
“That’s not true,” he shot back. “I love you, Cathy.” Crossing over to her, he attempted to take her in his arms.
She evaded his arms and, rising, walked to the fireplace. Staring into its glowing center, she said, “I don’t think I can ever explain to you what I want and need, Tom, and have you understand what I mean. I want someone to love me for myself, not my name or money. I want someone to look below the pretty surface–yes, I know I’m considered beautiful–and see the real me with all my hangups and frailties, my insecurities, my . . . deep needs. You’ve never done that for me.” She thought of the one person who had seen the real her and had understood and then offered his friendship. She wanted to see him so badly but didn’t know how to get in touch with him.
“I’m not a psychiatrist, Cathy. I’m only a builder of buildings. How was I supposed to know that you needed all that without you telling me?” He shook his head; he was getting nowhere with her.
“It’s not your fault; I’ve only just lately realized these things about myself. The attack has changed me in ways I never expected. I’m sorry, Tom, but we could stay here talking until doomsday, and it wouldn’t change anything.” Smiling calmly at him, she said, “Go find some other Cathy; I’m not her anymore. I’m Catherine Chandler; I’ve grown up, and I didn’t like what I discovered about myself. I’ve decided to change all that.” She picked up the ring and pressed it into his hand. “Give this to some girl who will appreciate it and you.” Then she kissed him on the cheek and, picking up his coat, handed it to him as she led him over his protests to and out the door.
Leaning against the closed door, she let out a puff of relieved air. Poor Tom. He probably doesn’t even know what hit him, she thought. But it was better this way: get it over fast and furious. He would land on his feet; he always had and always would. She had no worries about him. She was proven right when she saw his picture in the society section of the paper the following Sunday with another beautiful debutante on his arm.
That unhappy task over, she turned her thoughts to her next project. A change of career was next on the agenda. She dreaded this decision more than breaking off the engagement as her father would be the one that she would hurt this time.
Wandering out onto the terrace, she stood by the parapet gazing at the lights of the city and the huge autumn moon hanging in the ebony sky. Vincent immediately came into her mind. She wondered how he was, if he was, even now, walking the park as he had told her he liked to do when it was dark, or if he ever thought of her. She missed him more than anyone she knew, even her father, and she fervently hoped that she would meet him again one day.