Little Cherine – The Original Short Story

Chapter 1

Although I find it easy to love people in general, it took me a long time before falling in love (at 20 years old) for the first time. As was my nature, I fell head over heels, to the point of totally selfless adoration. Made all the classic mistakes, put her on a pedestal where she could not live. She left me about a year later for the first guy who told her how worthless she was.

After the craziness of my pain became a sort of routine, I decided to find a new flat to live in, a place without memories to haunt me. I was living in Athens, had a well-paid job, with very relaxed hours. I found a nice flat on the ground floor, at the back of a block of flats. What made me take it though was the small private garden it has. I even have a small gate to my garden.

I spent the first months without seeing anyone, at work when needed and locked in my flat fighting my depression days and nights. I was now used to the total privacy I had, only the caretaker ever came to the back to water and work on my garden. Even though the Greeks are naturally gregarious and uninhibited about their curiosity, being a foreigner, he respected my privacy, talking to me only if I came out to greet him. Therefore it was quite a shock when I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye movement. Angry that someone was walking around in my garden I went to the window.

My anger dissipated immediately when I saw it was a little girl of about eight years old. She heard me open my window and with a start of fear turned and looked at me. Her dark eyes seemed enormous as she stared at me. She was obviously terrified.

I have, even as a teenager, loved children; the sound of their laughter, their squeals and shouts as they play, even their naughtiness, I find endearing. They are so natural, so full of life. So innocent. I immediately smiled and greeted her in Greek. She just stared. Finally she greeted me in broken Greek. I could see she was ready to run.

“Do you speak English?”
“Yes.” I could see the mask of terror relaxing and I knew she would suddenly run away.
“Do you like my garden?”
“You’re welcome to come whenever you want. Don’t worry, I won’t bite you,” I added with a grin.
A sudden grin, her face looking mischievous she pertly answered me. “I was told you would.”
“Oh, I only do that to grown-ups. Especially not to pretty little girls. What is your name?”
“Cherine. Everyone calls me Cher. Who are you?”
“The ugly monster from the magic garden.” I pulled a face at her. She giggled.
“I have to go now.” Little white legs flashed past as she ran away.
Without realising it, minutes had passed without that heavy feeling of sadness I now lived with. Instead of the feeling of emptiness that constantly reminded me that the best part of me was gone, I was held in a spell of enchantment. It was like a tiny magical fairy had been in my garden, all that was missing were the wings. Very dark auburn hair, almost black,
loosely hanging down her back. Huge dark eyes with a pert little nose (a few freckles), the loveliest smile I had seen in a long time. It was not just her slender face, her firm slim arms and legs, it was her personality, her joy of life that seemed to blaze out of her and warm my loneliness. I wondered who she was and whether I would ever see her again.

The next day my doorbell rang. When I opened the door I saw a woman of about my age with little Cherine at her side. Cherine was looking up at me with a sort of hesitant smile.

“Good afternoon. I am sorry to bother you. I have brought Cher to apologise to you for trespassing in your garden yesterday. She did not know it was a private garden, she thought it was for everyone staying in the building – and your gate was open.” She turned to the little girl, ”say you are sorry and that you won’t bother the gentleman again”.

Before she could say anything I interrupted, “Please, no apology is needed. If she did not know then she did not do anything wrong, so no apology is needed. Anyway, I have already told her she is welcome to come here to play whenever she wants.” I turned to Cherine. “You can even bring your friends to play if you want.” I turned to the mother again. “There are no beds of flowers to worry about and it is safer for her than playing on the street.”

“Are you sure. I don’t want her being a nuisance. She can be quite a handful at times, a real little imp.” She seemed to be examining me. “What you say is true. They don’t have many parks for children to play in over here,” as if in explanation she carried on, “where we come from, near London, every suburb has safe play areas for children, I was worried what she would do here.”

I felt obliged to ask them in. She told me about her husband who had been killed in an accident. About getting a job offer to work for a shipping company in Piraeus and her worry about little Cher. Having to travel to Piraeus made it a long day, but she did not want to stay there, not with a little child. She had employed a local elderly woman to look after her daughter but Cherine was a ‘totally uncontrollable’ eight year old. She wore the old lady out.

I said the right things and reiterated my offer to allow Cherine the use of the garden. I saw Cherine listening to us but her eyes were examining the room, especially the photos and sketches I had made of my lost love. She turned and looked at me with a large-eyed earnest stare. My mind however was more on the problem of what to do about the mother. I could
feel she was inspecting me, sizing me up. I was worried she might be looking for something more than I was willing to give. I still strongly felt no woman could be trusted ever again. I was not interested in a new relationship. I did not mind Cherine intruding on my space but I did not want the mother to.

I think the mother finally realised my lack of interest for she left very soon, to my great relief. As Cherine walked primly next to her mother, she turned and flashed me a grin and waved her fingers at me from behind her back. She seemed to have quite an impudent spirit that delighted me.

Chapter 2

It was one of those times that came and went every so often, when my boss felt I should be at the office. As my work depended mostly on inspiration and creativity, he usually left me alone, knowing I would often be up all night working. He could not however entirely shake off his upbringing, which expected an employee to be at the office if he is to be paid. I humoured him, knowing it only lasted for a few days at a time and it usually forced me to re-focus on what needed to be done.

I did not see any signs of Cherine for a few days. No toys or papers left on the grass, so I did not know if she had been. Not that I particularly cared. I had passed through Kolonaki Square one evening coming back from work, and saw ‘her’ sitting at a table on the pavement, as beautiful as I remembered, leaning against her new love. I saw that her eyes, very serious and looking a bit sad, followed me as I walked past.

All those wounds I’d thought were healing, as if a spotlight had suddenly exposed them again, showed me they were still raw and bleeding. God, how I still loved her, how I missed her! How angry it made me that I still did after her betrayal. She had known me for years, from when she was still a little girl, had grown up to be a beautiful young woman and had
found she loved me too. If she could betray me, what chance did I have of ever finding someone I could trust?

Her eyes haunted me for days. I knew her so well. Those eyes spoke to me, giving my heart hope. She was not happy with him. She had realised her mistake. She was miserable. Oh what a world of meaning I built into that sad melancholy. I seemed to live in a limbo, living only for the moment my doorbell or telephone would ring and hating myself for it, for
wanting her back, for being willing to throw myself at her feet again when I knew that she does not love me.

With all that I was doing to myself, there was no room in my life for a little girl. She began to visit again. I saw her in the garden, always alone, sometimes playing with a doll but mostly alone. She never tried to intrude but I noticed her glancing at me inside my flat, her eyes wistful. Her obvious loneliness seemed to me just a reflection of my own feelings. I tried pouring out these emotions in badly written poetry, even including the image of Cherine as symbol of my own alienation from the world. Perhaps this situation would have carried onwithout change if I had not become distracted one day by her fidgeting outside. She glanced at my window but could not really see me in the shadow. She was obviously uncomfortable and when I saw her crossing her legs I realised what the problem was. Sorry for my heartlessness I opened the door and asked if she wanted to use the bathroom. While she ran in I stood on the lawn.

Summer was coming and now I realised how hot it was outside.
As she came out again I asked her, “Would you like a cold drink?
“Yes please”

I got something from the fridge for both of us. As I handed her the bottle I saw her face was turning red and I knew her nose was going to peel. Her tiny tee-shirt was soaked. “I think you have had enough sun for today. Come sit with me while you have your cold drink.”

She followed me in and sat very primly on the couch. I smiled ruefully at her obvious nervousness. It seemed so unlike the little I felt I knew of her. I realised that by keeping my distance she did not know anymore where she stood with me. My heart went out to her. I do not believe an adult has the right to allow his problems to hurt a child in any way. I tried a bit of dishonest reverse psychology, teasing her, hoping it would draw her out again.

“I saw you were very busy these days so I did not want to interrupt you. It seemed to me you were having very serious conversations with your doll. What is her name?”
“She doesn’t have a name, she is just a doll!”
“Have you got other dolls?”
“Yes! Of course!” She sounded like she thought I was being silly.
“And you haven’t given names to any of them?”
“No silly. Dolls don’t have names. Dolls break and die, so they don’t have names.”

From the nub of my own pain I felt something well up within me. I had not thought! Of course, she must be hurting and missing her father. And now she had to spend her days without her mother, in a new and strange country. I was shamed at my previous boorishness. I thought my misery had justified my ignoring her when she showed she wanted me to come out and talk to her by glancing at my window. Contritely I tried to find something to draw her out.

“Tell me Cherine, what do you do all day, when you are not here in the magic garden?
“Oh things.” she rolled her eyes. “Maria cleans the house and then she sits at the tv and sleeps.” She giggled. “She snores.”
“Has she got hair on her chin?”
She laughed. “Yes, but she shaves them!”
“Lots of women shave.” I teased.
“My mummy shaves her legs and under her arms. But not her face!!”

We carried on for a while and I soon had her relaxed and teasing me back. For the first time for quite a while I was enjoying myself. I got some biscuits and as she popped one in her mouth she mumbled, ”You are not like they said you are.”
“What do you mean? What am I supposed to be like?” I grinned at her.
“When we moved in last week, that man who gave us the keys said I must never come to your garden. He told mummy you had a tra… a something bad happened to you and you want to be alone.”

I felt the glow die in me. I tried to keep it from my face. Before I could say anything though, she got up and went to a photo.

“Did she also die? Was it an accident?”

I was still smarting at the thought that gossip had found its way to where I lived. If the caretaker had told her mother, then everyone here knew. That explained the lack of prying and the looks they gave me. Greeks love tragedy, I sometimes think it is the only thing they respect. That was why I did not answer her but sat lost within myself. Suddenly I felt her
arms come around my neck. Sadly she whispered, “I also had a bad thing … my daddy died.”

I hugged her back and for once, the pain in my chest and the lump in my throat was not self-pity. The tears in my eyes were for this little girl.
“You still miss your daddy?”
“Yes. I don’t remember him so well anymore, I was very young when he died. But I miss him” She squeezed me. I almost smiled, ”very young” indeed, her father had died the previous year. At her age I supposed, a year was a long time.

She spent the rest of the time sitting next to me and was soon giggling again, so that when she left, the room was cheerier than it had ever seemed before.

Now whenever she came to the garden she would wave to me and I would open for her, making sure she got enough liquid in the heat and I’d put suntan cream on her face, while she in return brought some of her joy for life back into my heart. She was not a very ‘cuddly’ little girl. She was too full of life to sit still for long. But she was affectionate and always gave me a warm hug, sometimes quite a sticky hug as I spoilt her with Greek sweets, chocolates and so on.

Chapter 3

I guess I was lucky to have reached the age of working at a time when there were big changes. Until then, the only way for a young person to go up the corporate ladder was to wait for someone else to move up or die. Companies believed only experience and age counted. Then in the seventies and eighties the policies changed. Now youth was seen as an asset. The fresh attitudes and the daring of the young was seen as the new way for companies to grow faster than their competitors.

I had spent a large part of my childhood in London. Luckily I developed a strong interest in computer graphic art, a natural extension of my love for sketching and painting. By the time my formal education ended I had already begun to make a bit of a name for myself. One of my close friends, Nicko, showed some of my work to a friend of his father while in Greece.

Next thing I knew I had a ticket, all-expenses-paid trip. I met Mr Georgiades. We seemed to hit it off right away. Although middle-aged, his ideas were fresh and his dreams of creating a Greek multimedia company struck a cord in me. I loved the idea of being part of a new creation, seeing a dream brought into reality. Next thing I knew I was living and working in Athens.

Nicko coming from a wealthy family, steered me into choosing an apartment in Kolonaki, at that time an exclusive area. He introduced me to friends and took me to the best night clubs. I felt I was living in a fantasy world. Nicko’s family invited me on a regular basis. That was where I saw his sister, who had grown into a very pretty teenager since I had last seen her.

She was no longer the gawky girl who was all elbows and knees and we found we were still good friends. On weekends I was usually invited for lunch. Over a couple of years I came to feel I was part of the family and Dominique the sister I had never had. She confided in me about boys and those myriad problems teenagers have with friends and family. When she
was wrong, I told her. When it sounded as if she was right, I tried to advise; but whichever, I supported and encouraged her to dream and expand her mind.

I had been secretly learning some Greek, hoping to surprise everyone some day, and hoping it would make me feel a part of the life I loved now.

One hot Saturday the family and I went to the beach. I was amused by the fact that the Greeks actually count how many times they have been swimming. Dominique was trying and hoping to have a larger total than her friends. Unfortunately I do not enjoy swimming, nor do I like lying in the sun. I decided to sit in the shade and do some sketching – just for my own
gratification, not for my work.

As the family started off for the beach I heard Dominique say, in Greek, to her brother, “No, I am going to sit with Roberto. It must be very boring for him sitting there alone.” Nico answered that there was nothing stopping me from joining them and she angrily replied that he always expected me to do what he wanted, that Nico never tried to do something I wanted.

Suddenly, for no reason I could understand, I felt my heart racing. As she came and sat by me I looked into her eyes, large brown almond eyes, and knew that I was absolutely and completely in love. The rest of the day, the rest of the week and the next months were pure sweet torture. There were a lot of things against my love. She came from a well known wealthy family. I was an unknown, an employee. She, and her family, saw me as a friend.

She was too young. And the most important of all, her parents were already trying to introduce her to the sons of other wealthy or powerful friends, hoping to increase and cement their sphere of influence. For all that young Greek girls seem so modern, it still happens amongst the very wealthy.

It was a silly card game we played, more than eight months later, where she lost and had to give me a kiss. We stood behind the curtains by the glass door to the veranda and trembling slightly I reached for her face to give her a soft kiss that would not betray my feelings for her. The next thing I knew her lips parted and we were locked in a long breathless kiss. I could not bear to let her go. She stepped back with an embarrassed giggle and was gone back into the room, where the family started laughing and teasing us.

That night she phoned me, as she often did, but this time she sounded very serious and asked me to meet her at the Edelweiss café the next afternoon. I hardly slept that night. I can hardly say what happened the next afternoon. I was in a sort of daze, my heart was hammering and I felt as if I was not totally there. She took hold of my hand and told me she
realised I was in love with her. She said she really did love me and did not want me to get hurt. She found it very confusing, because she could not say that she was in love with me, but she loved me so much that she was not sure of what she really felt. Would I be patient and still be her friend.

I admired her courage in confronting what was obviously a problem for her. But I was in such a daze everything she said seemed to melt into each other. When I left, all I could really remember was the part where she said she was not in love with me.

Once I had spent the night thinking and re-thinking, I realised I could no longer keep going to her house. To stop without reason would only be another form of a declaration of my feelings or cause an upset to people who had only shown me warmth and hospitality. It seemed to me the only way to handle this was to return to London.

Four months passed. I missed Greece, I missed my friends there, the way of life. Most of all I ached to see my Dominique. However I knew it would be a catastrophe for me to return. I heard news about her from Nicko, about her new big love, about her decision to become an astronomer, and about how she missed me. I heard from my boss Mr Georgiades on a regular basis. I still got my work done but he kept up the pressure to get me back to Greece.

He kept saying my work from London lacked the sparkle and the fire he was used to. He insisted I must come back to Greece where I would re-discover my talent. How could I tell him that it was Greece, where my love was, that sapped me of my visions, my creativity. That all I could see was the face I loved. My tiny flat was overflowing with my sketches of her and useless pointless poetry. Why is it that it is so easy to write poetry about pain and impossible to write about happiness? As I said, four months had passed when I got a phone call very early one morning. It was Dominique.

“Roberto. I miss you. I have been thinking a lot and I realise I love you. I want you to please come back.“
“Are you saying you are in love with me?” I waited with baited breath.
“I’m not sure, but I know I love you and need you. You are my best friend. Please come back. I’ve been so miserable without you. We can go out together and I am sure I will find out that I do love you the way you want.”

Damn. Half a promise so that I could not say no, but she just had to be so honest. Why couldn’t she just say she was in love with me? Better half a chance than no chance, so on that lick of a promise I returned to Athens…and to the only year of real happiness and the most exquisite pain I had ever felt till then.

Strangely, her parents never said anything. On my return I was warmly welcomed back. Dominique was all dressed up, she grabbed my arm and said we were leaving. She had already told them we were going out. We drove to Vouliagmeni and parked by the beach. I thought it best we talk in private so that I know where I really stand with her.

She came into my arms and we kissed. I held her, my body on fire. But even stronger was the feeling, ‘This is it. This is what I want, this is who I belong with.’ I felt whole for the first time in my life. There was no way I could ever live without her.

My hands were shaking, my lips were shaking as I kissed her eyes, her nose, her lips. Gently, softly I kissed all around her lips, softly sucking and licking her upper lip, her full lower lip, the corners of her mouth. It was as if I was giving adoration to my god. I felt her tremble in my arms.

“Can we go to your home?”

I softly stroked her leg, bent down and let my lips burn their way on her soft warm skin until they met her panties. I breathed deeply.

“Dominique, the way I feel now, it may not be a good idea.”
“Roberto, please. I want to be alone with you. I belong with you.”

This was heaven. She did love me. She wanted me. Now, because of so much love, I found scruples I did not know I had.

“Dommi, are you a virgin?”
In a soft whisper, “Yes”

It hurt to say it. “My love, I do not know if I can stop myself from making love to you. But I want when we do, for it to be something special.”

She hugged me and looking into my eyes she said, “With you it will be special. But I agree, can we wait until after my birthday?”

“Yes, I can wait.”
“Good. Because I want to be with you. I want to lie in your arms, feel you next to me. I want to love you, but you mustn’t come into me. Can we go to your home now?”

We spent many evenings loving each other, many hours. We got to know each others’ bodies and what pleased the other. But we were both naïve to think we could under these conditions keep to my promise. Pretty much my fault and a little bit hers. It just seem to happen and I was suddenly in her. We spent months learning again how to thoroughly love each other
physically. Everything seemed perfect and whenever I was inside her I knew I was home. She said she felt the same.

I did not realise the importance of her constant doubts about my love. Whatever I saw as good or wonderful about her, she saw as not being real. She believed I only saw her as beautiful, as a wonderful and lovely person because I loved her. When we had been just friends my opinion of her had helped bolster her ego, give her self-confidence. Now nothing I said helped.

Then one day she did not want to go to my home. She wanted to talk. She told me about this guy who she often talked with, how she told him about us and how she treated me, now cold, now hot, until I did not know where I stood. How guilty she felt about it. That he did not reassure her, instead he told her how worthless she was. He demeaned and degraded her own opinion of herself, and when she reached the same low opinion of herself, he then made his move. Told her she deserved to be thrown in the rubbish, but he loved her and would make her come right. I do not know all the details, though I understood the psychology he had used on her. The result was she now loved him and our relationship was ended.

Could I have been wiser, handled the situation in some way that would have saved her from this man? Could I have saved our love? If she had loved me, maybe, I decided. But I now understood she had never loved me as a man. She had just chosen to be with me because she needed my love and friendship. Just the child in her needed me, not the woman. I was totally lost, hurt and bitter. How then could I still be dreaming and hoping she would return?

Chapter 4

I had taken Cherine and her mother out to visit the church at the top of Lykavittos, where they could see Athens below them and the Parthenon shrouded in smog. We now sat in Kolonaki Square having ice creams and watching the high society of Athens showing off their Gucci’s, fancy cars and so on. Cherine had been a very good girl, hardly ever interrupting as
her mother and I chatted. I tried to keep the conversation away from personal matters but I was not really concentrating on it; I had an ulterior motive for inviting them out. I was hoping Dominique would appear so that she could see me with an attractive woman. Every time she had seen me I had been alone and I did not want her to pity me.

Cherine was sitting facing me. She gave a sudden loud gasp and even beneath her suntan I could see her face pale. She made as if to say something to me, then took a quick look at her mother and kept her mouth shut. Some instinct kept me from turning round. I found something to start talking about, in what I could sense was an over animated manner, when Dominique walked by with Nico. They stopped and Nico came to me, with Dominique trailing behind him, looking very nervous. It was obvious she was not nervous about seeing me, for she darted looks around her and I realised she was afraid her new love might see her with me. I almost wished he would, but I also felt sorry for her.

I introduced them to mother and daughter, with Cherine in particular as my ‘special friend’. Cherine refused to shake hands with either of them, which got her mother upset. I immediately put my arm around Cherine and held her close to me. I knew Dominique loved kids, so I was surprised when she ignored her coldly. To cut it all short I asked Nico in Greek to meet me for supper later as I had to take the two ladies home. I must have hashed up the language a bit (I called them ‘Kyries’ which is used for married women), for he grinned and said okay.

Nico shocked me that night by bringing up the subject of my ex relationship with his sister.
“You know it was your fault that you lost Dominique?”
“My fault? What the hell are you talking about?!”
“You were too soft with her. You let her twist you around her little finger.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
He grinned. “You made the biggest mistake any man can make, with any woman, especially with a spoilt Greek girl”
“And that is?” My tone was quite resentful but he kept on grinning and ignored it.
“You showed that you loved her too much.” He paused, serious for a moment. “Why do you think my family did not object. We all saw it coming for a long time, I think before you even realised you loved her. We saw how much you loved her and how good you were for her.”
“I thought you wanted to marry her off to the son of some wealthy Greek family.”
“Ahh Robert” he grinned, “you really do not understand the Greeks. Of course we wanted her to marry well. It would strengthen our family and her children would benefit. But we also want her to be happy. If she had loved you, we would have been happy to see you get married.”
“What do you mean if she had loved me!? She did love me, not for long I know, but she did!”
“No my friend. She never loved you. You were just too dear a friend for her, she could not bear to lose you, that is why she tried to love you as a man.” He took a sip of his wine thoughtfully. ”Didn’t you notice today how cold she was to that little girl? She was jealous.
But not, you noticed of her mother?”
I sat silently thinking about it, hating the thoughts I was being forced to think.
“Robert, I wish she had loved you. You are a good man and you would have treated her well.” Again he gave that special child-like grin of his. “And that way we would have kept it in the family!”
I grinned also as I recollected what he was referring to. At school, when we were both new and strangers to the culture we had been thrown into, we became close friends. One day I had taken out my penknife, nicked myself and told him to do the same. We then swore we would always be blood brothers. Behind my grin and memories though, and my gratitude for his honesty, was a dark knot of pain that threatened to overwhelm me. I drank my glass to the bottom and re-filled it. Nico laughed sympathetically and put his hand on my arm.
“That’s right. Let’s both get totally sozzled. Cheers.”

I woke up already sweating from the heat, my mouth tasting as if I had been using it to vacuum the carpet and my left cheek was very itchy. I finally realised I had gone to sleep on the floor. With a moan I remembered the previous day and night, my conversation with Nico. Definitely not what I wanted to spend the day doing. I felt the pain and bitterness rising in me. It felt too strong for me to handle. I thought to myself, how do I stop this pain inside me. Maybe if I hurt myself on the outside I will not feel the pain inside so much. It made sense. I struggled to my feet. I stood for a moment undecided. Should I go to the kitchen?

No, I decided, the bathroom, a razor would be much sharper. I know I am a coward and I might not find the strength to cut myself with a knife. Then I thought, why not get in the bath. If I am lucky enough, I just might cut myself deeply and bleed all my blood out and the pain would all go with it. That way I would not make a mess of the flat for other people to have to clean up.

As I turned towards the bathroom I saw Cherine. She was standing almost up against the window pane with her arms hanging straight down, her face set, her eyes angry yet hurt. For a moment I thought it was Dominique; the Dominique of long ago. That was exactly how she used to stand if she felt she had been wronged. Without thinking I opened the door for her to come in. She just stood at the entrance.

“You lied to me!” Her voice was low and I could hear the hurt.
“Cherine, please, not now.”
Adamant she just repeated, “You lied to me. It’s not fair!”
I gave up. I guessed I would have to handle this first. Couldn’t very well do anything right now. I had an image of her coming into the bathroom and finding me in a pool of blood. I shook my head (and that hurt).
“Cherine, I got very drunk last night and I feel awful. I’m sure I also stink. Please come in and sit there while I have a quick shower. We can talk afterwards and you can tell me when I lied to you.” I grabbed some clothes from my bedroom and went for my shower.
When I came out she was still standing at the entrance. I tried a grin. “What, no cold drink?
You must be really angry with me”
“You lied to me and it’s not fair. If I was big like my mummy you would not have lied to me”
Oh boy, was she ever wrong. It is children I cannot lie to. I put on a mock stern look and said, “Cherine, I never lie to my friends and I don’t always tell the truth to those who are not my friends. Now, if you are my friend you’ll come in and sit down, have a cold drink, and we can talk like friends. Okay?”
As I expected, she looked confused for a moment then came in. After I had taken care of the amenities I turned to her. Her face and eyes were now more angry than hurt.
“You did lie to me!! You told me she had died, just like my daddy!”
“Did I?” I asked gently. She nodded without taking her eyes off me.
“Think Cherine. Use that pretty little head of yours. Did I actually tell you she died, or did you tell me?”
She looked down, serious and obviously trying to remember. It was weird, she did not move, she did not even swing her feet like she usually does. Oh god. How it reminded me of my little Dominique.
“But you did not say she had not died. That was a lie. My mummy told me that if I don’t tell the truth that can also be a lie.” I sighed and desperately wished I had made a cup of coffee.
“You know. You are right. But there were extenuating circumstances.”

She looked up. “Extenua… what is that?”
“It means I had a very good reason for not telling you.”
“Because I am not really your friend?”
“No. Because you are just about my very best friend. You want me to explain?” She nodded.
The eyes were curious now, no longer angry.
“When you told me she had died you also said something else. You told me ‘like my daddy did’ and you put your arms around me. You remember?” She nodded silently.
“I was hurting but I forgot about my pain. Why? Because you are such a special friend. I realised that you were also hurting and missing your daddy. All I could think of doing was helping you with your pain – I do not want you to ever hurt like that. I held you and wished there was something I could do to take away your pain. The moment for talking about her had gone, only you mattered to me. Afterwards, I just forgot to correct you. Those are my extenuating circumstances.”
“I like them.” I could have sworn from the look she gave me she was being cheeky and knew it. I could not help myself. I burst out laughing. I put my arms out to her, “Come here you little imp and give me a hug.”
After my hug and a few wet kisses she sat next to me, up against my side. Guilelessly (or so, as an adult, I like to think) she began to question me. I told her all about Dominique, and as I talked I saw the truth in what I was telling her.
“I first met Dominique when she was just a bit younger than you. She was the little sister of my best friend in school, that was Nico that you met yesterday. Nico, being a boy, did not play with her. Her parents were always busy. She was a lonely little girl with only her own company or the servants. You know, like your ‘hairy chin’.”
“Being so young myself I did not really play with her. I was just nice. I would talk now and then, or sit and listen to her. As we grew up we became closer. She became my friend, just like you are now.” I gave her a little squeeze and she snuggled closer happily. I smiled at her, sadly, but not with the pain I’d felt earlier, well, it was there but not so bad anymore.
“Cherine baby, I then messed up badly. I made the mistake of falling in love with her, thinking that she also loved me that way. But she did not. She just wanted a friend but now I wanted more, I wanted to marry her.”
“Will you want to marry me when I grow up?”
“Who knows. Maybe.” I teased. She looked back seriously.
“I would marry you. You are the best friend I ever had.” I thought that deserved a few more hugs and kisses, while my heart wept somewhere deeply within me for the future I know is not possible for me.
She suddenly sat up. “But if I am such a special friend why do you always call me Cherine? I told you my friends call me Cher.”
“That is because you are a very special friend. I don’t want to call you what all your normal friends call you. Don’t you like being called Cherine?”
“Oh it’s okay when you do.”

Chapter 5

That afternoon I called Dominique. I could not quite work out whether she was happy to hear from me; she was so reserved, it was obvious she was afraid I was going to try to win her back. I asked her to meet me in the park, behind the Kefalari church. She wanted to know why. All I could answer was we both needed to hear what I had to say. I also promised that after this, she would only see me if she ever wanted to. This made her even more cautious, more reserved, she was now convinced I wanted to plead for another chance for her love. Underneath it all though, she has a kind heart and could not find it in herself to refuse me. I ended by enigmatically telling her not to worry, I would have a chaperone with me to protect me, and I closed the phone.

That evening I called at Cherine’s flat.

“Good evening Marian. I need to ask you a little favour.”
“I am going up to Kefalari tomorrow. I would like to take Cherine with me. There is a lovely park there where she can play. I promise I won’t let her out of my sight.”
“I don’t think that is such a good idea.” Her chin sort of stuck out at me. I laughed.
“Oh it is. I need her as my chaperone. To stop me from making a fool of myself – or to help me make a fool of myself, I’m not quite sure yet.”
Puzzled she looked at me. “And I suppose you are not going to tell me what this is about?”
“Nope.” I grinned back.
“There is obviously something going on. Oh well, she seems to spend hours with you, all she can talk about is you. Are you sure you are not planning to elope with her?” she teased me back.
“Maybe later, we’ll have to see.”
“Alright. On one condition. No, two. First, you have her back here before I return from work.”
“And the second?”
“You promise to come for supper. I’ve got to have my chance to try and weasel out of you what nefarious scheme you needed my daughter for.”
“Okay, it’s a date. Not that you will succeed – but Cherine tells me you are a marvellous cook.”
“Only if you like roast beef and Yorkshire pudd.”
“Mmm. My mouth is watering already, not exactly what I can find here in Greece.”

And so it was that I closed the circle of that part of my story, that chapter of my life. The next morning Cherine was down bright and early, excited. She was all dressed up and raring to go. She wanted to know where we were going. What were we going to do. I asked her to sit down while I make a coffee and explain to her. She was instantly sober, sitting wide-eyed, sensing something important was about to happen.

“Remember what I told you about Dominique yesterday? Yes, well, I need your help to fix a big mistake I made.” I took my coffee and sat next to her. Females get so easily jealous, at whatever age they are, I knew I had to explain carefully. “Cherine, I lost a very precious friend. I was very lucky though. I made another special friend – you. You know, when you lose someone, even if you find someone new, you still miss the one you lost. Just like I know you will always miss your daddy, even if you have me as your friend now.” She did not even nod, she just stared at me out of those big eyes. I started to get a sinking feeling, I was not getting through to her.
“Cherine, you are my best friend. But I did hurt Dominique and I want to make things right again. You know, it is only because of you that I learnt it was not just her who hurt me, that I also, in a sense let her down and hurt her. I want to say sorry and make things right with her. If I don’t I will not feel good about myself and it would also show that I am not a very good friend to have, wouldn’t it? Friends should be able to say ‘sorry’, shouldn’t they?”
“How do you want me to help?”
“Oh my precious. I wish I knew. Just having you with me will help a lot.”
“So, you finished with that coffee yet? Are we going now?”
Dominique was waiting as she had promised. I was surprised as I was early. Guess we both had butterflies. I could see her frown as she saw Cherine. Then she laughed.
“Is this your chaperone? Is she here to protect you?” She laughed again. “I’m sorry, but Roberto, you are so funny sometimes.”
“Just to hear you laughing again was worth coming here for.”
“Oh Roberto please don’t…”
I interrupted her. “No, Dommi, don’t say anything. Sit quietly and listen. Let me finish what I have to say. Don’t worry, Cherine has promised to spank me if I say anything to upset you.”
“Don’t make me laugh please. Why are you like this? In this strange mood?”
“Not another word. Promise. You won’t be sorry.” I looked at her and she must have seen my heart in my eyes, but she nodded.
I could not face her while talking, her expressions or lack of them might have halted me, turned me into stone. I stared off into the trees. I felt the little hand of Cherine slip into mine.
“It is important that lovers also be good friends. It is not often though that good friends can become lovers. It can become very confusing for a friend when the other friend is as beautiful and loved as much as I love you. I could say you were like my little sister but the truth is, I do not think any sister would have been as close and dear to me as you were. I do not know what you did, or I did, for that love to slip over into a romantic love. Somehow my best friend became all my heart dreamt of.

I do not know what that period was like for you. I have a suspicion now that it could not have been a very good time. No, don’t speak. I wanted you to know I do understand. That is all. Oh Dominique, even if my love hurt you, I cannot be sorry I loved you. I had a short time of being in heaven, of knowing what it truly feels like to love someone so deeply. It will never happen again, but at least because of you I know what it feels like. Even the pain when I lost you, I treasure. The ache deep inside will never be truly gone. But there is another pain I cannot live with.” I turned towards her. “I want my friend back.”
“Oh Roberto…”
“You know how I discovered what I had lost?” She shook her head.
I turned and kissed the cheek of Cherine. “Cherine became my friend. The beauty, the purity of that friendship reminded me so much of those wonderful years of our friendship.”
“We can never be like we were then. Oh Roberto…it’s been spoilt…”
Little Cherine, darling little Cherine, decided to pipe up then. “It’s okay. You can be his friend now, because when I’m bigger I am going to marry him.” She had such a determined look to her face. And what a look on Dominique’s face. Then she laughed.
“Roberto, I think you are really in trouble.”

It would be a lovely ending to say we laughed and reminisced and found we were still friends as we had been. Unfortunately that is not how it works. Dominique was right. Friendship would have to be earned again, by both of us. At least we made a start that day. I think I will be confused for a long time by my unrequited love for my friend. Where will my feelings for the friend end and my yearning for my only love begin? How to keep them separate so that she only sees the love she needs.

A few good things did come out of our meeting though. Once she was able to start confiding in me again, she told me she realised her relationship with her new lover was not one of love and she ended it. I was glad for her and hoped she would find her own true love one day.

Oh, and the final joke. She confided in me that when she was little, she had also dreamt of marrying me someday. Now she teasingly calls Cherine my fiancée. What might become a problem again one day, is that Cherine takes her very seriously.

Por rocio

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