A Brush with a Shadow
A story about trying to find love in a confusing world
Holly sat down quietly in the emergency room triage area, awaiting for her name to be called out. She arrived just after 10 pm and was in pain, more than she let on. Her bottom lip was swollen and hung sadly as the scarlet cut displayed the mark of vulnerability. Holly looked around the room, there were not many people waiting and there were just a few seats occupied. Everyone was looking down at something – a phone, a magazine or filling out paperwork for administration purposes. Holly looked down at her pale hands, they had stopped shaking. Her breathing became shallow, so she took a deep breath in to give her lungs more space and let out an inaudible sigh.
Two years ago, Holly met a woman at her work place named Fay. Fay had travelled extensively, she was outgoing and extroverted. She had a magnetic quality which made people feel heard and seen. Everyone liked Fay and she seemed to like everyone. When Fay first met Holly, they began getting acquainted whilst in the kitchenette, making themselves tea during the day. They soon learnt no one else made as many cups of tea as they did, and often giggled to find each other there at different times of the day but very frequently. As months went on, their friendship progressed to having lunch at work regularly to having a couple of nights out a week to sample the different cuisines that their town had to offer. Holly felt more confident with a friend like Fay who didn’t hold back on her opinions and was honest. Fay enjoyed getting to know Holly, she was intelligent and held an innocent curiosity about the world; she made Fay feel young.
One day when Holly was scanning some documents at the photocopier, Fay crept up behind her and right next her ear yelled “Boo!” then chuckled. Holly’s shoulders and head jumped from the abrupt noise.
“FAY!” Holly exclaimed in a voice of annoyance.
It only took Holly a few seconds to give her friend a playful push on her arm and went back to scanning with a grin on her face.
After another chuckle, Fay announced, “Holly! I have found the perfect guy for you! He isn’t really my type but I think you two would really hit it off.”
Holly looked at Fay skeptically. The men department for Holly was far from ideal and after a while it just wore her down. Holly never had rejected anyone; she always gave her relationships 100% before heartbreak was at her doorstep. They came either in the form of the jerk having an affair or break ups with comments like “...things change Holly” which she experienced when one guy admitted this to her.
Holly rolled her eyes and shook off the past hurt and confusion she felt from previous attempts at love.
“Hmm, thanks Fay, but really, I’m good. The last time I got set up, the guy sent me a text the next day saying he was moving to another city. Then I saw him the week after at a café with a woman who had a dress on that barely covered...anything!” Holly folded her arms and looked straight at Fay defiantly.
“Come on!” Fay encouraged. “Don’t let one lame night or man put you off a potential good match. Plus, it’s me! I would never set you up with someone not deserving of your utmost brilliance,” Fay confirmed.
Holly pondered Fay's counter argument and she did trust Fay. What she didn’t trust were men -they tended to lie and cheat; they had disappointed her so much. Holly let out a sigh and unfolded her arms, letting them flop at her sides. She really did want to meet a decent guy who actually wanted the best for her. In Holly’s mind she had never given up on good men – she knew they were out there, she just had really bad luck, so far.
“Well, OK Fay,” she said looking directly into Fay’s green charming eyes. “I trust you, but no guarantees OK?”
“Yes, of course! All I want is for you to meet him, the rest is your destiny.” Fay clapped her hands excitedly and fast near her chest and gleefully walked away as she said, “I’ll arrange the date and tell you the details!”
When the night finally arrived for Holly to meet -she now learnt his name was Jordan -she was nervous. She checked herself in the mirror several times, adjusting a hair strand, applying more lipstick, taking some off and making sure her black, floral chiffon dress was sitting right. She wore a pair of beige heels and held a glittery clutch bag. Her long auburn hair cascaded down to her shoulder blades and brought out her fair complexion. She had to thank Fay for tonight, as much as she hated the idea of meeting anyone unsavory, she loved dressing up and meeting a new man, potentially the right man.
As she made her way to the restaurant, butterflies in her stomach fluttered and darted in all directions. Her hands fidgeted with her dangling earrings until she was aware of the nervous habit and tried to compose herself.
Once she reached the restaurant named The Finery, she halted for a minute to clear her mind. She kind of wished she was a smoker at this moment even though she had never tried smoking. She figured this would have been the perfect moment to have one –the act of taking some deep breaths to calm the nerves without looking like a weirdo. However, no matter how much time passed, she would have never felt completely ready so she made her way through the door, hoping that Fay was right and this man was a good match.
As Holly sat in the waiting area, she heard her name, “Holly Green?” The sound of a young man’s voice floated in the room and Holly looked up. She felt a sense of comfort from this velvety voice and stood up to indicate she was Holly. The man had a smooth coffee bean complexion and half of the tight curls on his head had turned grey. He, however, walked like a younger man and his eyes were bright as he walked toward Holly and asked her to come with him. They walked past the reception area and along a corridor. They turned left into a room where the sign read ‘Dr Eaves.’
“Have a seat,” the man politely suggested.
Holly sat down on the chair and shivered slightly. The doctor got up and pulled a blanket off the wall shelf and placed it around Holly’s shoulders.
“Thank you,” Holly muttered.
Dr Eaves sat at his desk with a computer facing him and swiveled on his chair to face Holly.
“Holly, my name is Dr Eaves as you may have read on your way in, but everyone calls me Michael. I see your lip is injured and it looks like your shoulder is giving you some grief.
“Uh, yes,” Holly was surprised how fast he made his assessment and how accurate.
Holly’s left shoulder was giving her grief. She held her arm across her stomach and held it there because of the excruciating pain.
“I’m going to get a nurse to give you something for the pain before we go any further. Do you have any allergies?” Michael asked.
Holly shook her head. Michael walked out of the room and after a while brought a nurse who was holding a tray with medical supplies and a syringe which Holly assumed was the medicine for the pain.
“Hi!” The nurse greeted Holly like a lit up Christmas tree. “I’m Bridget!” she said jovially.
Holly nodded her head in acknowledgement toward the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young nurse.
After explaining the drug and injecting Holly in the arm, Bridget placed a dressing and delivered Holly a bright smile. "All done!" Bridget left the room and let Michael and Holly continue the consultation.
“So, what happened?” asked Michael.
Holly sat in silence and found the words stuck in her throat. Michael made no movement and left the lingering silence to continue until Holly said something.
“Um,” Holly decided she would break the silence even though what had happened frightened her and still did. Even the thought of saying it was making her feel nauseous.
“I met this guy and it was our first time staying together at his place. He wanted to have sex, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that with him so I protested and he got angry.” Holly spoke softly and her voice was hoarse.
Holly closed her eyes for a few seconds and she shook her head as if to shake off the visions she experienced recently. They kept on repeating and brought her back to the bedroom where she was in his bed, feeling afraid and guarded.
Earlier that day, Holly had been excited to visit Jordan. The dates were enjoyable and Jordan respected her. He was charming and she gushed all her feelings about him to Fay every time they had lunch together. Fay beamed and felt so delighted that her instinct was right about them. Guy talk was probably their number one topic - Jordan’s name and his little dimple on his right cheek always made their way into their conversations.
Holly packed an overnight bag to stay at Jordan’s apartment and figured things would heat up. She happily chose a lacy black thong and floral push up bra to put on after showering at his place. She took her bags to his place and excitedly went up to see him in his apartment. She had been there once before, meeting him there before going out to see a movie. She remembered how tidy he was and everything she lay eyes on was ordered neatly; she was so amazed, she told Fay about it.
“Oh my God, I’ve never been with a guy who actually cares about his things and his environment. I mean, he’s neater than I am!”
Fay nodded approvingly. “Well, that’s a real man for you, he’s learnt that men can be clean and take pride in their surroundings, unlike typical men who act like slobs!” Fay said knowingly.
Holly grinned and chuckled. Holly’s history with men informed her men just didn’t care about being organized as much as women. The fact that she had met a man more orderly than anyone she knew was refreshing.
“He always smells so good too,” Holly remarked. “Gosh, sometimes I feel like he is way above my standards of men. Maybe that has been my problem, my standards have always been too low.”
As Holly stood at Jordan’s door, her gut was churning and she needed to use the bathroom quickly. Damn nerves, thought Holly. She was always a bit nervous around Jordan who had so much confidence and knew exactly what he wanted from what she gathered from their conversations.
Jordan opened the door after Holly knocked and smiled his white, pearly teeth. He leaned over and pecked her on the cheek before leaning in closely to take her overnight bag from her. Holly smiled and looked away shyly. She followed Jordan into the apartment, put her handbag down and quickly excused herself to use the bathroom.
As Holly prayed she wouldn’t take more than five minutes in the bathroom, she looked around the bathroom to distract herself from time ticking on. It was the cleanest bathroom she had ever visited apart from the ones she visited in hotels. As her session with the sterile bathroom came to a close, she made sure everything was left exactly as she had found it. She didn’t want one drop of water on the polished tiles to avoid tainting the perfect bathroom. The floral diffuser on the window ledge masked any foul odor, Holly was relieved.
When she went out into the living room, there was a platter of nibbles and white wine sitting on the coffee table next to the couch. Jordan was already sitting down, her overnight bag was out of sight and her handbag was placed on a corner chaise of the room.
“Here, have a seat,” invited Jordan. He sat on a suede black couch that could seat four people comfortably. “Thought we could have some nibbles before dinner,” Jordan explained.
Holly sat down next to him. Jordan gave her a slight smile, grabbed a cracker and dipped it into -what looked like relish- before putting it into his mouth and made loud, crunching noises. He leaned toward the table to open and pour the wine into two glasses.
Holly sat still. She wasn’t really quite sure what to talk about. They didn’t share that much in common as far as she was aware. Her books and movie preferences were ones he had never heard of. The ones Jordan mentioned were popular but ones she didn’t really have any interest in. Holly looked around the living area and thanked Jordan for putting her bags away.
“No problem," Jordan said. “Here,” handing her the wine glass. “Here’s to a great evening,” said Jordan.
Holly smiled and sunk back into the soft cushion behind her, happy to have a wine to make her relax a little more. Alcohol with Jordan was always better than no alcohol, Holly pondered. She found herself to relax much more and conversations were easier to have.
Many times, Jordan did most of the talking as Holly couldn’t really think of anything to say that was interesting enough. Jordan liked to talk about his work, sports and cars. He rarely talked about his family or past relationships, the two things Holly were curious about. Holly asked a few times about his parents or siblings but he either waved it off with a shrug or diverted the conversation to something else, so Holly stopped asking.
As the evening went on, Holly noticed that Jordan was becoming more tense. He was less chatty and went about preparing the evening meal with an intense focus which made it hard for Holly to engage with him. Holly did her best to be helpful, to prepare the dinner of chicken steaks and salad. As Holly chopped the peppers and onions, Jordan banged the pan down onto the stove and opened the packaging of the chicken as if it was his life’s mission. Holly looked at him worriedly.
“Everything OK?” Holly asked walking toward him and standing close to his body.
“Yes,” Jordan seethed.
Holly nodded and moved slightly away, noticing his face was tense and hardened.
“You seem... tense,” Holly offered as a way to get to the matter of things.
Jordan gave out a loud sigh. He turned off the stove, turned toward Holly with his arms crossed and asked “Who is Mark?” in an accusatory voice.
“Mark?” Holly asked confused.
“Yea, Mark, I saw your last phone message was to Mark saying you were not free tonight because you are seeing a friend.”
Holly’s stomach dropped. He looked at my phone? Holly understood now that Jordan probably put her bags away as well as peeking inside her handbag. Holly stood still and silent. Then her breath became stuck in her throat. She was finding it hard to breathe so she took a sip of wine to moisten her parched airways.
“He’s my brother,” Holly explained into the thick silence. Her voice was weak and trembled slightly.
Jordan hung his head back facing the ceiling and smiled victoriously, as if he had been struck by grace.
He chuckled as he scratched his cheek while staring at the salad bowl on the kitchen table, a moment frozen in time, in Holly's mind.
Holly was relieved to see the tension was cleared from the room so suddenly. OK, she thought, Jordan is back.
She knew Jordan had done something bad, checking her phone secretly seemed outright crazy. Yet, to see Jordan smile like that made Holly feel guilty for even thinking something bad about him. He came toward Holly and hugged her and softly put his fingers through her auburn waves.
“Your brother? You never mentioned a brother. " Jordan said in a somewhat mocking tone.
“Actually, I have two sisters and a brother.”
Jordan raised his eyebrows, surprised. Jordan hadn’t really seemed interested in her personal life. The only time she shared personal details was regarding Fay as they both knew her. Otherwise, he had never asked about her family.
As dinner took place, the same mood of conversation took place just like their previous dates. Jordan chatted a lot about himself and Holly gave him the attention he seemed to enjoy.
As the night drew nearer, Holly didn’t really feel like staying over. However, with her bag already there, she made an effort to be casual and turn down the dial of being attractive. Jordan said he was going to shower as he usually did every evening. He invited her to join him.
Holly felt sick, but she couldn’t bring herself to directly reject him and depart. Not when he stood there with that playful twinkle in his eye and that dimple in his cheek. If it wasn’t for the whole weird phone situation, she may have said yes. But there was no way she could move past that so quickly.
“Actually,” Holly said while scratching the back of her neck, “I’m good. I don’t really like showering after eating, it makes me feel sick.” Holly said half convincingly. It was true she never showered after eating but that was because one of her friends years ago went to India and came back with many Ayurvedic tips; like not bathing or showering after a meal. This one really stuck when her friend told her, plus, Holly did feel rather ill.
“OK, suit yourself.” Jordan said as he headed to his en-suite bathroom where the shower was while Holly sat at the dining table with two empty plates and half glasses of wine. She decided to clean up out of courtesy and to distract herself, more than anything else. As Holly finished wiping the table and the kitchen counter, Jordan walked out in a towel around his waist.
“Hey,” Jordan said to Holly casually.
Holly flushed and used every part of her will to only look at Jordan’s face.
“You want to come to bed?” Jordan asked.
Holly nodded without thinking. She had no intention of changing into the lacy lingerie she had brought along. Holly used the bathroom again and changed into a t-shirt and lounge pants, walked toward the empty side of the bed and sat against a pillow. Jordan lay on his side next to her with a perplexed look on his face.
Jordan reached out and stroked Holly’s thigh which was hidden under the blanket she covered herself with. As his hand went up and moved toward her center, Holly put her hand on top of his and said, “No, I don’t want to,” emphatically.
Jordan started to frown and Holly began to tense up.
“You come here to my house, you bring your overnight bag and sexy lingerie and you sit there dressed like a boy and you expect me to take it?” Jordan fumed.
Holly felt threatened and started to become afraid of the man before her. Jordan was not the man he had let on in the dates – or maybe he was – she felt she was blind and the lights had come on. There was always something a bit off with their interactions and the conversations were sometimes stifled, especially when no alcohol was involved.
Holly started to retract and moved away from the bed.
“Oh no you don’t!” Jordan expressed calmly yet menacingly. “Get the fuck back here!”
Holly turned toward the door and felt his hand on her head, taking a fistful of hair. He brought her head toward his chest and with force pushed her aggressively so that her left shoulder knocked into the doorway.
“AAAH!” Holly screamed and she kneeled down cradling her shoulder while she moaned.
“Shut the fuck up!” Jordan yelled.
Jordan marched to Holly, held her head back so he could look right into her face and punched her mouth as hard as he could.
Holly felt helpless and the searing pain pulsated across her lips and radiated across her chin and jaw. She nearly wet herself, but she wasn’t going to let this man take all her dignity.
Holly, with as much strength as she could gather, fled from the apartment. As Holly looked back to see where he was, Jordan sat on his bed breathless and cradling his head. There was no more rage and this confused her. She didn’t know whether to feel sorry for him or to be angry. As she ran, she didn’t have any of her things but she decided she would first go to the hospital as her shoulder was piercing with pain.
Holly’s shoulder was mending and her face was back to her heart shaped frame and creamy complexion. She sat at her dining table with a cup of jasmine tea poured from a teapot her mother gifted her. Fay sat across from her. This was the first time Fay had seen her since the incident. It took two weeks for Holly to reach out to Fay. Since seeing Michael, she went through several stages of the grief cycle, according to her counselor, and she decided at her last counseling session that Fay should learn about her story.
After Holly told Fay about most of the details, Fay sat in silence looking at the tea’s reflection. The story was heavy and emotionally stirring. Holly gave her the time she needed to process without interrupting, something she may have learned from Michael and her counselor. Holly actually welcomed the silence as she found great peace in the quiet; some sounds were very distracting and irritating, which was the reason she hadn't returned to work yet.
Fay cleared her throat and took a sip of tea. “I wondered why Jordan saw me last week. He didn’t say a word, he just left your bags at my desk and walked away. As soon as he did, I called and messaged you, but you never answered...understandably,” Fay's voice trailed off and she stared at the teapot for a while.
The two objectionable bags sat by the door of Holly’s entrance. Fay brought them in with her, not knowing what the story behind the bags was. If she knew, she would have been more sensitive about it.
As Fay took her attention away from the patterned teapot, she looked down and fidgeted with her rings on her manicured hands asking “Will you ever forgive me?” in a tone that was shy yet hopeful. Fay’s timid nature at the table was a stark contrast to her normal exuberance. This stirred a sense of responsibility for Holly to ease Fay’s guilt. Holly knew Fay would feel a lot of guilt after telling her the details. Though, Holly never blamed Fay for what happened, she simply told Fay because she was her trusted friend.
“Fay, you never hurt me. You never wanted to hurt me. There were things about Jordan that I probably should have seen as warning signs but I just ignored them,” Holly said shrugging her uninjured shoulder.
Holly reached out and Fay slowly gave her a clenching fist, spread her fingers and relaxed her hand, which was held by Holly.
“One thing I have learnt from this is that I am never going on a blind date ever again.” Holly said cynically.
Fay chuckled embarrassingly and looked down, tears started to fall on the table.
Fay took back her hand to cradle her head. Her body shook as the tea cups vibrated, creating small ripples.
Holly remained in her seat and observed her friend cry. She watched her tears fall just as Holly’s mother watched her tears fall when she went to see her, the day after going to the hospital.
Her mother looked at Holly’s face through the entrance of her house and had a look only a mother could express. She wore a look of sadness, a look of dutifulness and a look of vigilance. An expression of all maternal and loving looks blended into one.
She embraced her daughter with only an embrace a mother could give. Her embrace told Holly I’ve got you, I’m not letting you go, and it told her if you fall, I’ll go with you.
Holly cried with her mother, a deep cry she had never accessed before and had never needed to until she met her shadow - what she now called Jordan. Yet, out of all that grief, pain and agony, Holly was learning something about herself and many people who were part of her experience. As she stayed with her mother for a week and had visits from her siblings.
Looking back on the past, her shadow could have done much worse she reflected. He could have caused much more damage and even left her for dead. Something about him on the bed sitting so helplessly couldn’t make her hate him. Holly may never know what her shadow was going through when he exploded that night, and Holly hoped that he would seek help for his problem.
There was one particular man who she praised regularly in her heart – Michael, who she viewed as a hidden saint. He asked her tenderly about the details, he touched her with care as she had her lip sewn up. He made sure her pain was managed. He gave her his full attention and listened, just what Holly did to her shadow because that was what she needed - someone to really listen. The last thing Michael said to her was, “Your body may be messed up but one thing that never breaks is your spirit, it may feel lost but you’ll find it again. Keep moving Holly and you’ll get through this," as he looked at her with his warm, caring eyes. Michael organized the counselor for her which keeps helping her to find the spirit she had lost in the shadow.
When Fay’s visit came to an end, Holly sat alone at her dining table. She looked around her home and her eyes rested on her teapot. Holly's mother gave it to her the week before, so she could be comforted when her mother wasn't around. Holly stroked the patterns of the teapot as if it was alive and she gave it her full attention and unwavering love.