From the Prism to the Heart - part 4
By: Susan McNeill

<Isn't this just perfect. Some beautiful woman who sews and lives in a Victorian gingerbread house. Just great. I can see petunias and blue birds. Wonderful.> Karen followed his pacing as the comparisons between this mystery woman and herself continued. Kermit's eyes betrayed the mystic way this 'Claire' remained in his heart. <Claire.> His voice was almost a whisper when he'd said it. <Claire. Why couldn't it be Helga....or Prudence....something less poetic. Oh well, she couldn't be that perfect or she wouldn't have hurt him this way. Bitch.>

After Kermit had walked off his initial tension, he continued. Karen braced herself as he began to speak. "It happened slowly. She had this routine. Everything about her was routine. Appointments in the morning. Down the street for coffee at three every afternoon. A movie on Friday nights. Church on Sunday." His hands were buried inside his pockets nervously fiddling with his change and whatever else ex-mercenaries kept in their pockets. "I found myself arranging to change shifts with my partner so that I could walk down the street behind her."

"So, you followed her around her neighborhood?" The thought of Kermit as the shy suitor was nearly comical.

"Until the day she stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, turned around and said, 'You'll eventually have to speak to me if you want to get this going, ya' know.' After that, it was like I'd known her forever. She told me about being on her own since her parents had died. She talked about her business, said she didn't make dresses, she made memories. She liked Gregory Peck and reading and listening to old scratchy jazz records."

The heat was rising with the sun and remembrances. Karen slid her jacket off her shoulders and folded it beside her. "What did she think about having coffee with a mercenary?"

"Ah," he stopped pacing and donned the trademark twisted grin, "I elected to become the man she saw across the street. Griffin Banner of Banner Security. Since that was the name on our fake business it was the easiest thing to be. Fake I had left the service and was now selling residential burglar alarms. I liked to read. I could stand Gregory Peck and if she wouldn't mind a little opera, I could put up with scratchy jazz records."

"In other words, you lied." The word 'lie' seemed to slap him in the face. The grin flattened back into a thin line. <Nice going. Make it worse, Karen.>

"Yes, I lied to her."

Weariness began to settle over him. Karen patted the hard cushion of concrete -- half in apology and half in invitation. <She must have found out and dumped him. Damn her. Princess Claire couldn't take it.> In the same thought, Karen wondered if she could take it.

"After we dispatched our target," Kermit paused at his tactful choice of verbs, "I kept up the life I'd created. Told my partner and the Company to go to hell and made Griffin Banner a real man. The business became real and little by little I became part of Claire's world. It was easy. Business was good and I had a life that belonged to me." He loosened his tie and swallowed deeply. "Maybe it was her life itself that I fell in love with first. I was so ripped at that point in my life. Living with death rends your soul. I needed to be stitched back together. I was thirty-three and felt ninety. The longer I stayed with her, the easier it was to live. I got greedy for it. Greedy for every ordinary, average, decent minute that we were together. I didn't have to watch my back or have someone else's in my sights. Claire was kind and gentle and easy to be with. She didn't want anything from me except love. That was it."

"You loved her very much, didn't you? She must have been very special." This was costing him. She could see the blood nearly seeping from his chest.

"I did. And she was."

"You still do, don't you?"

"That doesn't matter."

<Yes, it does matter, damnit! You loving someone else matters plenty.> Whoever this Claire was, she still had pieces of Kermit, pieces Karen was beginning to want for herself. <What did she do to you?> Whatever chisel she'd driven into this man had left permanent cracks.

Karen held out her hand. "Come on, lets walk for a while."

The hands linked again. This time, he held on tighter than before.

"Where is she now, Kermit?" Karen didn't look at his face as they walked. Seeing the longing for another woman was beginning to be too much to take.

"She's dead."

The words hung in the noonday heat, heavy and sad.

To Be Continued....

Part 5-->