A few triggers in this one. Please take care of yourselves…
After lunch, Cal and Gillian made their way to the back porch. The afternoon sun was warm, even though the air was crisp.
"I love Fall. So many lovely colors and the air is so clear." Gillian wrapped her arms around herself, closed her eyes, and breathed in.
"Oh, yeah. Smell of dying leaves and the signal that cold is coming. I can see why you love it." Cal spurted out sarcastically.
"I don't see it that way." Gillian opened her eyes and stared at the colors on the big oak tree in Cal's back yard. "Fall was always the best time of year for me."
Cal studied her carefully. Her shoulders tightened and her mask shot up. 'Interesting.' "Why is that love?" Cal was anxious to see what she would say.
Gillian looked at him deciding, once again, whether or not she would give the honest answer. She decided to go for it. He had been responding better than she had expected to everything she had shared so far. "School started, I got to pull out my winter clothes…" She turned in her chair and looked right at him. "School was my escape; all day away from my house. It was the place where I could get positive attention. I was always a good student." She shivered. "I don't think my teachers ever realized how much I needed that positive interaction with them."
Cal remained quiet. He was learning to be patient and wait. It seemed to be working so far. She was sharing more and more with him.
Gillian looked down at her hands and pulled down the long sleeves of Cal's sweatshirt to cover and warm them. "Colder weather meant more clothes. More clothes meant more protection."
Cal thought for a second. "That makes sense."
Gillian looked up at him and gave a little half smile, that didn't reach her eyes. "Yeah…"
They both remained quiet until Cal noticed Gillian shivering. "Let's head in. It's getting a bit chilly out here for my liking."
They made their way in through the back door. Gillian headed toward the kitchen. "Do you want some tea?"
"I would love some. It was a bit chillier than I expected out there." Cal sat at the island and watched as Gillian made her way around his kitchen gathering what she needed to make them both a cup of hot tea. He loved that she was so at home here. It made his stomach feel funny to see how well she fit into his environment.
After they finished their tea, Cal went up to take a shower. Gillian went into the family room and pulled out one of Cal's old family photo albums. She loved looking at the pictures of Emily when she was younger. The girl always looked happy. Gillian had done an exercise in therapy once where she brought in photos of herself when she was younger. The therapist had helped her see the unhappiness on her face. That was where she first learned about smiles and how sometimes they didn't reach your eyes. If she was honest with herself, wanting to understand that better was why she had read Cal's books all those years ago. He never said anything about her being a natural. Probably because she wasn't, in the sense that it wasn't facial cues that she was always steeled against. She paid more attention to body language and the sound of someone's voice.
Gillian was so engrossed in the photo album; she didn't hear Cal come into the room. He took the opportunity to study her. She was looking at old pictures of Emily. The look on her face wasn't sad, yet it wasn't happy. It looked like longing to him. She was probably thinking about the childhood she wasn't afforded. Cal had to remind himself not to allow anger to take him over. That would shut her down.
"Penny for your thoughts?" He walked toward her as she looked up.
"Hey." Gillian smiled at him. Not a full out, happy smile, but it was a genuine one.
Cal looked at the album. It was filled with pictures of a younger, very happy Emily. Now that he thought about it, that was the album Gillian always looked at when she pulled one off the shelf. Emily was around 10 when that album was put together. 'The same age Gillian was when her abuse started. Well, that explains that.'
"She was always such a happy kid."
"Yes. She looks happy in all these pictures." Gillian stared wistfully at the photographs as she flipped the page.
"That was about the age you were when it started, yeah?" Cal sat on the coffee table and rested his elbows on his knees. He bet if he could see pictures of Gillian at that age, she wouldn't have the same happy look his Emily did.
Gillian looked up at him with a start. She wanted to deny it, but she couldn't now. He knew about it. She closed the album and got up to put it away.
"You can keep looking love."
"No. It's okay." She turned back toward him. He was still sitting on the table and he nodded his head at her indicating he wanted her to sit back down with him. She went back and curled her self into the recliner.
"Pictures of you at that same age don't boast big smiles like that, do they?" Cal said as he watched her lower her head.
Without looking up at him, she gave her head a shake. "No, they don't. A therapist I worked with when I was still in college had me bring in photos of myself from that time and pointed out to me how unhappy I looked; even in the pictures where I was smiling."
"Is that why you read my books?" Cal was starting to see a few things clearly all of the sudden.
Gillian looked up at him and nodded.
Cal thought for a few seconds and then it hit him. "You weren't a natural with the facial expressions. You were leap years ahead of me with body language, and I will never have your talent for voice recognition…"
Gillian stared at him while he put the pieces together. "No. Facial expressions weren't easy for me. Body language was a piece of cake. Hearing the inflections in people's voices was second nature. Analyzing the spoken word came very easily for me."
Cal gave her a questioning look. But didn't ask anything.
"I didn't see my father coming most of the time. He liked sneak attacks; it took me years to get my startle response under control." She shook her head as she said that last part. She looked back up at Cal. "Sometimes I saw it coming by the way he walked toward me or the way he held his body. That's why reading the body language came so easily."
Cal waited for her to go on, when she didn't he asked. "Voice recognition?"
Gillian took a deep breath. "My father liked to come into my room when he thought I was asleep. I couldn't see him, because it was dark and because I kept my eyes tightly shut. I would hear him coming down the hall. He always talked to himself, and I could tell how bad it would be by the tone of his voice." Gillian shuddered at the memory. Cal reached his hands out flat. She stared at them and looked up at him. His eyes were full of concern. She looked down at his hands and then took hold of them with hers. "If his voice had an angry sound, I knew what to expect. If his voice was quiet and subdued, I knew what to expect." Gillian felt a few tears escape. She hadn't planned on sharing so much.
"I'm so sorry love." He leaned forward and pulled her into a tight hug. They sat like that for a few minutes.
Gillian pulled away and wiped her tears. "Thank you."
Cal took her hands in his again. "I'm here for you Gill. I'll always be here for you. You know that right?"
She leaned in to hug him again nodding her head.