‘I have to protect myself.’
She looked away.
‘Lisa, please believe me… I do know what you’re trying to say. Trust doesn’t come in a rush, it grows slowly with time… and that’s the same for everyone, not just you and me.’
She flinched at that. ‘There is no you and me, Tino. There never can be. We’re no good for each other. Surely you must know that. You need someone strong.’
‘How do you know what I need?’
‘I heard you cry out in the night, Tino. I may not know much about you, but that night proved to me that you’re not the product of an ordinary childhood.’
‘An ordinary childhood?’ he repeated her words softly. ‘Whatever that might be.’
‘I don’t pretend to know what happened to you, Tino. I only know what I see in front of me now, and what I heard that night when you cried out in terror like a little boy who was very frightened.’
He looked at her searchingly. ‘No one has ever told me I do that before.’
‘Maybe you’ve never done it before.’
‘Maybe I’ve never felt safe enough to do it before.’ He stopped. He’d gone too far and automatically pulled back. ‘Truce?’ Now it was his turn to feel awkward.
‘Truce,’ Lisa agreed softly, ‘Don’t worry,’ she whispered, as if that was all he had on his mind, ‘I won’t tell anyone.’
‘I never thought that you would.’
He reached out, and then stopped himself, clenching his hands to prevent himself from weakening. After another period of silence had elapsed and the tension between them had subsided, he tried again. ‘You say we’re no good for each other? I think you’re wrong.’
‘You would think that, but then you always believe you’re right.’
He was relieved to see that as she made the comment it almost brought a smile to her lips.
Neither of them moved for a while, but then she surprised him, coming to sit down as he had hoped she would on the sofa at his side. For a moment he thought she had opened her heart to the possibility that there was another way than to live without love, but he was soon disillusioned. She had only come close to him to drive her point home…
Clenching both her fists, she pressed them into her chest so hard her knuckles turned white. ‘There’s nothing in here, Tino.’
He couldn’t bear to see the look on her face. ‘No!’ Was that voice his? Without thinking, he dragged her to him.
‘Please, Tino, let me go… I have nothing inside me… I’ve got nothing to give you.’
‘No, Lisa, you’re wrong. I can see inside you, and you’re beautiful.’
And when she searched his face, and he saw the doubt fighting with her need to believe him, he shook his head and smiled tenderly at her. ‘Don’t you see, Lisa? We’re the saving of each other…’ And then he held her as if he would never let her go until she finally relaxed, and began to shudder uncontrollably in his arms.
‘Do you really think so?’
Her voice was tiny like a child’s and it made him want to cry for the first time he could remember… for both of them. ‘I know it.’
Still sensing her doubt, he cupped her chin and brought her to face him again. ‘I know it’s true, because I love you, Lisa. I love you so much you’ve got no idea.’ He kissed her then, and it was a beginning… It was as if they had never kissed before; it was a revelation to them both, like coming home.
LISA was still warm from the bath. How could he have forgotten how wonderful she felt in his arms when the need rose in them both like a white-hot flame?
‘It was good, wasn’t it?’ she whispered when he finally stopped kissing her.
‘Is good,’ Tino corrected, still holding her, staring into her eyes. ‘Better than good.’
How could she hold back her feelings when she didn’t want to? How could she hold firm when her body, her heart, her mind, her soul called out to him, and when she only felt complete when she was with him? ‘I love you, Tino.’
‘Are you asking me, or telling me?’