“Don’t do this,” said Jack, his grey eyes steady on hers and for a millisecond Cassie nearly took it back. Her ultimatum.
The one that hung in the air like a spark over gunpowder. Just a whisper – okay, I won’t – would have blown it out. All she had to do was take a single step, put her arms around his waist and lay her head against his heart to hear the slow steady beat that had measured her happiness for five years…
She thought of other whispers, the soul-dark ones that said ‘if he really loved you’. She thought of the long-buried need of a little girl aching to be a princess just once. Important enough, just once. And she said, meaning it, “If you don’t marry me, I’m leaving.”
Even though she knew that part of the reason she loved him was because of his stubborn reluctance to live by anyone’s values but his own. But her values mattered too.
“We’re happy, aren’t we?”
Their discussion had become circular so Cassie didn’t answer, simply dragged her suitcase out of the back of the wardrobe, brushed some dust off it and started to pack.
The dust bothered her. When had she got so complacent?
Jack sat on their bed and watched her, dark eyes both troubled and stubborn. “Cass, emotional blackmail won’t solve this,” he said.
“I promise you, this isn’t emotional blackmail.” Numbly, she chose a few clothes to tide her over. “Irreconcilable differences – no one’s fault.”
He raked a hand through his brown hair. “Marriage won’t keep us together if one of us wants to leave.”
Cassie knew that better than anybody. Her mother was in the middle of yet another divorce. And now her daughter was about to land on her doorstep.
“Marriage is a commitment to try harder,” she replied, knowing his loyalty was already beyond question. But it wasn’t marriage she wanted really; it was the cock-eyed optimism; the suspension of disbelief, the act of faith in a cynical world.
“Show me the statistics that back that up.”
“You know I can’t,” she said through a tight throat. As always Jack argued from logic; she argued from emotion. Cassie finished packing and put on her winter coat over jeans and woollen jumper. Outside a southerly squall smacked rain against the pane.
“I don’t get it. Why has this come to a head now?”
“We’re about to buy a house together.” But it wasn’t that. She’d attended a hen celebration last night and got teary-eyed and sentimental, even though Cassie knew the nuptials she’d been toasting would be lucky to last a year. This morning, she’d woken up with a hangover and a snarl and it had all gone downhill from there.
Except…she was tired of the sidelong glances of pity that echoed her belief that marriage meant something. Being anti-matrimony was Jack’s conviction – not hers and everyone knew it. “I’m tired of being an apologist for your cause,” she added. “And yes, I know how many marriages fail, I know the quality of the relationship has no connection with how big your wedding was, or how sincere everyone is on the day, or how many bloody presents you’re given. I know all that but I don’t feel it, and every time I go to someone else’s engagement, hen night or wedding it hurts.”
Resigned, Cassie picked up her luggage.
“Okay,” he said in a resigned tone, “we’ll get married.”
She was so surprised she dropped the suitcase. Slowly, Cassie turned around. Jack was looking at her like the enemy.
Her euphoria dissipated before it had time to build. “As long as it’s in a registry office, no party, no fuss,” he added.
Oh for God’s sake. “And maybe we shouldn’t tell anyone,” she said sarcastically.
“Even better,” he agreed. “After all, it’s our contract, not anyone else’s.”
She hated it when he split hairs like that. And she wanted public acknowledgement of his love. Wanted her friends and family watching Jack adore her. The mental picture that conjured was so ridiculous that Cassie started to laugh. Okay, maybe she could relinquish that particular fantasy but the wedding he described was a sad, furtive affair not a celebration.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “that’s not good enough. But thanks, anyway.”
The reaction to their fight was setting in, the numb anger giving way to a nauseous panic. What the hell was she doing? Her fingers slipped on the handle of the suitcase.
“Cassie, come here,” he said in a low voice.
Somehow she found herself bawling into his shoulder. “The trouble is, that I can’t see any middle ground,” she hiccuped between sobs, “If we get married, we compromise your beliefs and if we don’t get married we compromise mine. Someone always has to lose.”
She pushed up to a sitting position and dug in her jeans for a hanky. “I know there’s a solution but we’re so entrenched in our positions I don’t know what it is anymore – or how to fix it. But it has to be fixed, Jack. Somehow.”
“I know,” he said. “But in all of this, I’ve never had any doubts that you’re the One. Have you?”
“No,” Cassie swiped her eyes dry then blew her nose. “Never.”
“Then let’s stop making this marriage thing so important. It’s a side issue, let’s treat it as one. Take away a winner and a loser and have some fun with it.”
She looked at him doubtfully. “Fun?”
“I have an idea.”
Her eyes widened as he reached in his pocket and dug out a fifty-cent piece. “You’re deciding our marital status on the toss of a coin?”
“No. Jack handed it to her. “You are.”
The metal was cold in her hand, warming through as she stared at him. “That’s the craziest thing I ever heard.”
“But what a story,” he said, “to tell our grandchildren.”
“Heads,” she said and flung the coin high. Through the bedroom window the sun caught the silver as it spun, over and over. Beyond it, they smiled at each other and Cassie thought how wonderful life could be sometimes.
And how simple.
Published in The Australian Women’s Weekly August 2007