What Happened to Paul Carter? VOL I. The very true story of love, passion & a Hitman. Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Wednesday 26th March 2014

We hadn’t managed to meet for that planned first date. An hour beforehand, he had messaged that something had come up and he would explain later. Awesome start. I had wasted money buying clothes for a casual lunch that didn’t even happen with a guy I didn’t even know.

He rang me in the early evening nearly a fortnight later. I was not impressed. I didn’t really care, and it was obvious by his behavior, he didn’t either. We both knew there is no excuse for no communication with mobiles phones and internet. End of story.

“Hi, I’m back. Can I make up for my inexcusable neglect by taking you to dinner? I’m sorry that I let you down, but I had to retrieve my son from the police station for drunk driving.”

Paul went to great lengths explaining how he had to literally bail him out. As a result there had been unprecedented family drama and a fight with his ex. She should be more strict. He had given both the boys brand new BMW ‘s and this is how they repay him. Teenagers could be a handful and John was lucky that his father had enough resources to get him back home and avoid further charges. Unfortunately he then had to fly to the USA to sort some business things out.

I understood and without this explanation, had proceeded to live my life. Regardless of whether it was the truth or not, I didn’t know this man to care enough. My main annoyance was that I had bothered to spend money on getting ready for a date that hadn’t eventuated.

But regardless of my indifference to this man, I’d had a rotten day with   solicitors. I was frustrated that the impending tunnel development was going to plow straight through my new shop. It was heartbreaking, watching what I had worked so hard to create, be systematically destroyed by an entity, just so in the end, they were obligated to pay me less.

I was happy for any distraction. “Sure. When were you thinking?”

“Awesome. I know it’s short notice but how about tonight?”

“That suits me to be honest. Same place as before? Pollys?”

“Perfect. See you at seven?”

I had walked to the bar. I loved it’s cheese and antipasto platters. The    cocktails were delicious as well. Ironically, after wasting so much money on improving myself, I had ditched all the new dress options and thrown on a daggy hot pink, over sized jumper paired with black jeans and plain stilettos. I wasn’t in a particularly good mood and couldn’t motivate myself to dress to impress. Nor did he deserve it. I was no longer interested. I just wanted a drink and distraction.

Remembering back, even feeling the way I do now, dying in the shop; no shower in four days, filthy hair pinned up and wearing the same blue jumper dress the whole time; even as this smelly, half shadow, Gollum version of myself, the memory of how I presented myself that day, still makes me cringe. God it was awful. What an ugly first impression. It wasn’t the exceptionally scruffy clothes, it was my hair.

Trying to dye my hair had been a disaster and had taken my blonde hair to a dull orange auburn. It was like straw in color and feel. But, at the time I didn’t care.

He was already there and stood up to greet me with a congenial kiss on the cheek. He leant forward in his chair all night and his knee brushed mine. His body language was the study of a man interested in getting to know me. A man happy with his choice. By nature, I moved away each time.

He asked leading questions, listened, probed politely and in return gave in depth answers openly and honestly back. We had a lot in common.

There were areas of our life that over lapped. My son, now 18, had Aspergers and Paul had worked in the disability area. He understood the demands. I didn’t mention I was Aspergers too.

“Wow, you did it tough by yourself.” He showed compassion and understanding with a full appreciation of the special needs and challenges of autism in particular. He even knew some of the charities and associations.

He was happy to disclose about his life.

“I understand the challenges, I have two adult boys just a bit older. I shared custody until recently. It’s always been extremely amicable between me and their mum. Now they are old enough they do as they please. They stay sometimes with me, sometimes with their mum. It depends on whether they want to be with their girlfriends. I admit, I let them sleep together but their mum doesn’t, so it sort of encourages them to visit.”

He laughed self depreciatingly again. I frowned and he noticed.

“I suppose it is sort of bad of me, but we have a more adult, mate like relationship now they are older. They have reached an age where they’re more of a hand full now, more than ever. Pushing boundaries, meeting girls, driving. I gave them new BMW’s at the start of the year so I knew that they had safe wheels, not some dangerous beaten up old thing. I wanted something reliable. You know what it’s like. I love my kids. I’d die if something happened to either of them. Hardest part of divorce was not seeing them every day. You know, I’m not actually prepared to rule out having more. I’d love to try for a daughter. I feel I have missed out by not having one. I think with the right partner it would be a blessing. You know, to be with someone you love and raise a little girl. Do it right, together for forever.”

At 47 that’s not in my top 3 desires, let alone top 100, I mused to myself. Although I realise some guys think it’s what we want to hear.

“Perhaps,” I replied, very non committedly.

“Both boys work with me. We are close. I used to hate it when they went to their mums, now they are young men so it’s natural they fly the coup. I try to think of things that will make them spend time with me and then I have to try and not spoil them too much.”

I inwardly groaned at the obvious disparity between our disposable incomes and the effect it had on raising our children. My son was definitely not spoilt. I wish I could have given him treats more often, but I literally didn’t have the money. I think we had a good life within our means. I listened to Paul continue, oblivious to my situation.

“Hopefully they will take over the business one day. Well, the property development side, anyway. That’s what I’m grooming John for. Andrew is a good kid, but he doesn’t have what it takes. Not yet. Maybe he will when he is older. Their mum hasn’t encouraged them academically to be honest. Let them be lazy. Because they are spoilt and know they are going to inherit so much. I think the knowledge has ruined them to be honest. It’s hard for me to watch. I had to work for everything I have, and I put myself through university twice. Education is important. It broadens you. Like travel. Grounds you I think.”

He had liked what I said in my profile about being kind and honest.

“It’s what I’m looking for. A love based on honesty that makes your soul pine when you’re apart. I want to meet someone who makes me want to be a better person.

Honesty. Katherine, it’s my corner stone belief. Without it, the world would be anarchy. There is just no need to lie or cheat. If you want to see other people, if you have lost interest, then just leave. Show integrity. Even in my business, I practice this. You know, you don’t have to be an asshole to be rich. Treat everyone openly and fairly. That’s actually how I have got to where I am now.

I remember, I knew a guy about 18 years ago. He worked as an account manager and then was promoted into sourcing finance for an expanding company. At that point he had been happily married with two kids. Everything going along smoothly and then he changed. Started misappropriating the company funds and buying flash cars. Began an affair with the ditzy hot secretary. Spent more time taking her away on trips and splashing money on her than at work or with his family. I heard they were partying hard; using recreational drugs. She thought he was rich. What an idiot. I warned him it would all unravel and it did. He justified the sudden affluence to an imaginary inheritance. He even got bank loans using that story. Can you imagine the pressure this guy must have been under with all those lies. No vagina is worth it. No wank factor of pretend wealth. All a farce. Oh my God, talk about stress. Obviously, he ended up being caught. But not before he had destroyed everyone he knew, including his family, by convincing them to put money into this company, which because of his thieving, also went under. The guy should be in jail. Begged me to help.

Honestly Katherine, what could I do?

He had shown his true colors. What a selfish idiot. He had to declare bankruptcy. Left his wife, who was actually pregnant with his third child at the time, and married the bimbo. Obvious that wasn’t going to last. But she had a house. Chasing a dream. Total disaster upon disaster. Idiot. Liar. Destroyed so many people. I learnt a lot from him. He still contacts me from time to time. Begs me to help him fix the situation. Hasn’t changed. Still all fake life with no money, no friends and a queue of people wishing him dead. Awful way to be remembered don’t you think? I want to be remembered for doing good. This guy and I are chalk and cheese.

Why lie? It just destroys everything. If you want to leave just leave.”

Music to my ears. Perhaps being autistic myself, I literally can’t lie. Maybe it’s just me, regardless, I have joked for years that I wish I could learn to lie. There should be a “lie” school. Learning to lie is a skill that I have literally craved for. It’s hard to defend yourself against it, if you can’t match it. I can only spot someone lying, when it doesn’t make sense. One of my biggest weaknesses and in relationships, it’s my biggest deal breaker. You need an honest foundation so you have an even playing field. Where everyone gets to make informed decisions based on truth and reality.

He told me all about his marriage, when he was 21. It lasted 12 solid years but they grew apart. They both knew it. His ex wife arranged a weekend away in a hotel, without the boys, and they discussed how, as much as they loved each other, they were no longer ‘in love.’ Better to part now while they were both still young enough to find love again. They had had a good run.

Paul admitted he had changed. “Katherine, I had been working for a Jewish entrepreneur, since I was 21. He was my mentor and I owe a lot of my success to him. He was an old guy and he sent me to Solomon Islands to check his properties out when the civil unrest started. I flew in, and it was suddenly an all out war. I barricaded myself in the hotel room, absolutely terrified for days. I mean people were being shot and gutted in the street in front of me. Never been so scared in my life. I saw things I want to forget. I was unprepared for the brutality. It’s not in my make up, that senseless    violence. There I was only 25, in the middle of a war, defenceless. I threw all my money down at the airport and got one of the last private planes out with some embassy people. Seeing that, changed me, from a carefree spirit to a closed, wary one. Maggie didn’t know how to help. I never got counselling, I was too arrogant and just struggled through. Seems stupid but it drove a wedge between us. She didn’t understand the change in me.

I just wanted the security of money. It became my focus.”

He had managed to build up a successful backpacking business, and then expand into other profitable ventures. The properties he had invested in had been solid performers. They’d done really well. They discussed the terms of separating. He would leave gradually bit by bit, so the kids weren’t shocked and he would set up another house.

They had assets, so it was not going to impact him to give her the house. She got $10,000 per month maintenance. I remember being horrified in a jealous way. I had never got a cent until Oliver was 13. Then it was $5 a month for a year. I used to joke to my friends that it wasn’t even a good loaf of bread. It went up to $13 for three months before it stopped. I couldn’t fathom $10,000.  How lucky were these boys? How lucky was she? She would have assets that would look after the whole family for the rest of her life.

I felt a bit of a loser as I confessed my son’s father walked out when I was 8 and a half months pregnant. He simply changed his mind. One second he seemed happy and we were going to get married. The next he was gently guiding me backwards out our front door, saying. “I’ve changed my mind, Katherine. I don’t want to be responsible for you and a baby. I want to hang out with my mates.”

We were 30. My life changed in the instant I had to turn and walk down the road to the pay phone and call my parents. Crushed. It finished my university degree. I struggled for the first year and then Oliver got sick. Enough! I wasn’t the priority. He was.

I had bought 3 small ex commission houses when he was born. It was a gamble, but ignorance is bliss and I just thought I was doing the right thing. I soldiered on and rode the economic wave of the late 1990’s. I worked hard but it set Oliver and I up so that although we never had a lot, we did have a roof over our heads, an income, and an appreciating asset base.

I was aware that I didn’t need to say much about anything. Paul understood me. He could finish my sentences which was disarming. He laughed when it happened. “Being with you is so comfortable. It’s like I know so much about you already. I think there’s something here Katherine.”

“Yes, too many expresso martinis.” I agreed, but as usual remained rational.

Apparently the opposite of my ex partner, Paul loved being a dad.

“I get that from my family, Katherine. My parents loved us unconditionally and ensured we came first. Ridiculously, they stayed together until my brother and I were in our 30‘s, and then Dad invited us around to calmly explain that they had drifted apart and were getting a divorce. They had stayed together all those years for us. It’s funny now. We were grown men and my parents were worried about how their divorce was going to affect us. Like really?”

He laughed at the silliness of their action. His warmth and love for them displayed in his smiling eyes. “Anyway they were, and still are, the poster faces for amicable divorce. Both of them have new partners. In fact they are all leaving together, on a two month European cruise in a few weeks. Crazy I tell you.

My mother remarried a few years later to a lovely guy named Jim. She is an uppity, conservative woman. I don’t see her very often, maybe once a week. Too much name dropping and silver ware, tweed skirts and pearls. I know I come from a privileged background but I hate the way my mum flaunts it.”

I nodded. “Ah huh.” The closest I got to that sort of wealth was at my senior school and it was extreme, but I wasn’t from that class so I only saw it from a distance.

“My mother belongs in Toorak that’s for sure. Born and bred. She’s of     Italian heritage, and worked hard on her chain of hairdressing salons. It was something she was extremely proud of. Her first salon was down in Toorak village. You know, the Trak.”

I nodded. I knew the area. My school was down the street.

He continued. “But she also loves the life that Dad gave her. He is from old English money and so naturally doesn’t show it. A quiet gentleman. I get most of my characteristics and my blue eyes, from him. He met Grace about 8 years ago and totally changed. Sold his huge house in South Yarra, on  Darling St, and moved in with her. God, that was a gorgeous house, backed on to the river. My brother and I have great memories growing up there. Anyway, his new place is still all dark wood and book cases lined with dusty tomes that no one reads, but he and Grace are easier to be around. He has become less rigid and she is a hoot. She got rid of his suits and now he wears cardigans. Always laughing, but he has become old suddenly. I see him at least a couple of times a week as he likes to banter about the stock exchange, what I’m up to and gossip about mutual business colleagues. He likes to stay abreast of what his old board members are getting up to at  Harvey Norman. I used to look up to him and fight to get his respect. Now I have his utmost respect and he just looks beaten, as if he is shrinking.”

“Um, I think that’s literally what happens as we get older.” I interrupted with a smirk.

“I don’t want to get old, Katherine. I have too many things I want to do still. I haven’t got to 200 yet. There are places to see. Fall in love. Maybe have another child. So many people to meet. Adventures and things to experience. Finish my latest projects. I literally just started actioning one today, and I want to see that completed. The list is endless. I can’t afford to get old. It’s for the weak.” He laughed.

I looked at him quizzically. “200?”

“One day I’ll tell you. Maybe when I achieve it. Meantime, I think, my Dad is now living vicariously through my business ventures, although he has  become risk adverse and we face off all the time over the projects I’m prepared to invest in. Katherine, I’m old school Italian. All my values come from my parents and my Nonna. They will do anything to help me succeed, and they demand I take life by the horns and make the most of everything I can. You know, die screaming, ‘that was a great ride.’ They have my back 100%. Seriously Katherine, they are genuinely loving, caring people and they expect I treat people the same way they do. So you can see why the divorce between Maggie and I was so civilized.”

Yep, that IS how it’s supposed to be. No wonder he was so rational about his own separation with Maggie.

“I could hardly be an ass to her and go home to see my parents. They would have crucified me. ‘That’s not how we raised you.’ My father always said, ‘Treat your woman like a Queen and you will be a King. After 5 pm is    family time. Leave work at work and love your wife whenever you are with her.’ My father is so respectful about all women including my mother. It’s beautiful to watch. I want that.”

So naturally, he and Maggie co-parented. “It was smoother that way, without defined times and weekends.” Paul had told me.

I was aware of how little support I had raising Oliver. I would have loved just one hundredth of what Paul’s ex had got. Quite simply it would have gone a long way to putting a smile on both Ollie’s and my faces.

“Being inflexible just doesn’t work for anyone really. You should just want to be there for the kids as much as possible. We both created them and they are pretty cool. I suppose it’s easier that I have two boys, I get to muck around with them. Not sure what I would have done with a daughter. Spent even more money on make up and dresses.”

He laughed, “I mean, it would be awesome to have a little girl, but time is running out. I’ll see.”

He seemed pretty obsessed with having a daughter one day. I noted it as a future intention that I didn’t share.

He coached Andrew’s football team every Saturday for years. Both boys would come and stay at his house in Malvern and up until recently they would all jet ski together and go out on his boat. Reluctantly, he had just sold both as they never helped look after them and he needed to teach them a lesson.

“Well the boat actually went, because it was 90 feet of luxury house on   water, that hardly ever gets used and the boys just wanted to party on it, now they are at that age. Plus, I’m the only one that can captain it and I need crew each time. A money pit on water those things.”

The conversation bantered back and forth. Mostly forth.

His boys had trust funds. Obviously, it’s a bi-product of dispersing money. He had insisted on sending them to Scotch college because it was a family tradition. He had gone there and so had his brother and his father. It’s good to keep that network of old boys together. They lived local to the school. He didn’t begrudge that neither decided to go to university. A well connected smart man will always be successful over an unpopular educated one. The boys have me, and my friends, so they will land on their feet regardless.”

I understood the old school network theory, but I’m not such a snob as to think “wealth maketh the man.” I’d rather a poorer, average, nice man than a rich arrogant one, any day.

I had gone to St Catherine’s which was sort of a sister school to Scotch. It was extremely privileged and exclusive. I was surprised we didn’t have any mutual acquaintances. I had gone on an academic scholarship. He was so bright he never studied. I used to pull all nighters to ensure my grades were acceptable to my parents.

He would sneak out at night and hang at the Jam Factory in Toorak, with the St Cath’s and MLC girls. I caught the train and got home to Wheelers Hill, an outer suburb, exhausted already, and then studied until I fell asleep. He got A’s in everything without effort and went on to get an engineering degree and then an MBA. He was in a position that he could be well educated, so he took it.

“I love learning, Katherine. I went to Japan and loved it so much, that I leant the language. I’m now fluent in Japanese and Russian. Powerful languages.”

This man was pretty impressive.

Chatting was pleasant. We covered so much personal history and our thoughts on multitudes of topics were exchanged, explored and expanded upon.

He had been single all this time since his divorce at 33, with intermittent dalliances, but nothing of any note.

“Katherine, it’s hard when you know that the person you’re dating has to be suitable for your children as well. It’s a tall order and if you get it wrong, you create a nightmare for everyone, for life.”

So for 15 years he had been looking. He really wanted to find the one. He loved marriage. The routine. The kids. Maybe he had made a mistake in  getting divorced. He thought he had found it once but in a cruel twist of fate it was taken away from him. His last girlfriend had died. They were only together 2 and a half years. He was totally fine about it, now.

“When I first met her, I had thought, that she was the one, and that being with her was going to drastically improve my life. You know what I mean: Love, happiness, health, wealth, leisure, travel and all that, but I realise now, that it wasn’t actually her that did it. It was coincidental circumstances and outside influences that made my life better at the time.

I’m not one to dwell on the sad or negative, it is a waste of energy and time. No, Katherine, trust me, I’ve got no baggage. The only thing I want to take from her death, is a new found appreciation of living. Her death actually opened me up to live a better life.

We cling to this notion that we have to remain miserable after someone’s death, out of respect for their memory. In truth, her ‘leaving’ allowed me to grow. It opened my eyes. I am able to take bigger risks, enjoy life more. You aren’t allowed to say it, but I am going to. My life is better now with her gone. She left all the good things behind for me to grow with, and all the bullshit got buried with her in Boston. In my mind, it’s like her death allowed me to fully embrace life, and I am. I’m not wasting this   opportunity.”

I felt my head physically pull back. A subtle recoil. To me, they were harsh words. Perhaps they are the truth, but no one ever says it out loud. Do they? I’ve never met anyone who has gone through what he has, so maybe this is true.

He continued telling me that it was a long time ago. Eight years and he had gone to counseling for a short time just to ensure he could deal with it. He learnt some things are just not meant to be. For quite a while he didn’t want to put his heart on the line again, but he realized it made living meaningless.

“Katherine, you have to take the positives out of life. I learned that I’m fiercely loyal. I love being in a relationship and I’m a stayer to the end. I think these are good things. Please don’t think I’ve been moping for all those years. Trust me, I’ve been looking. I want to find my Princess. I just haven’t found her yet.”

He stared at me. I could feel him ascertaining my reaction to all this. I tried my blank face.

Perhaps that puzzled him, and he changed topic. “I know I said I don’t smoke, but in truth, I’m giving up and this whole evening is just made for a cigarette out there in the courtyard. I don’t want to offend you and I’m so close to quitting, but if you don’t mind, I would love to sit outside for one puff of nicotine. Would you join me?”

I looked at him out of the side of my eye.

“Sure, I have to be honest myself then. I did put in the profile that I was only interested in a non smoker because I am trying to give up and I know meeting a smoker will not help. So yes, unfortunately I’d love to join you on that bench beside the sweet fountain, It is gorgeous here.” We laughed at the mutual fail.

We wandered out with our drinks and twenty minutes later came back in. It was a leisurely night.

“Katherine, we have been so honest about everything so far and it helps you understand where I come from I suppose. I’m really a stand up guy, just a bit bruised like most of us at this age, I suppose. That all happened years ago though, and it’s time for me to be happy. I’m just getting on with my life. Seeing the kids grow up, catching up with my family, friends and running a few companies. Keeping it real.”

The conversation returned to more general banter.

We bonded over property; my love of buying, renovating and flipping, which I explained, I had done since Ollie was born in ’95, until I was injured on my own work site. Skin grafts and time out, leading to a change in career; To the beauty salon I now owned, and which was being purchased by the government because it was in the way of a future tunnel development. We brushed across the surface of it all.

He had quite a large, property management and development company. I gathered part of which was overseas. It was obvious he was quite successful.

He showed me photos on his phone of two properties he had just bought while he was over there. One in LA which was modern, wall to wall glass and oozed new money. He had included the furniture and the corvette in the deal. The other was a brownstone in Boston. It seemed to be the basement of the building. Odd choice, but clearly he knew his business. Then there was a construction he had recently completed here in Melbourne. It too was   modern. Lots of open plan and good use of glass. It was edgy. He was proud of the work his company did. The last photo was from his website and it was an amazing courtyard with a decked swimming pool. I was impressed. He looked across at me, and pointed out the placement of the deck chairs and the bamboo balls, telling me that it was this attention to detail, that keeps his company a step above the rest.

“Those bamboo balls are what sold that house.” He laughed. “Paying      interior designers to come in and place the right furniture, until a property is sold, is worth its weight in gold. Katherine, I can’t believe more developers don’t do it here.”

In comparison I told him vague details about my little positively geared properties that I had bought for $25,000 and flipped for $60,000. The most I’d ever made on a deal was a quarter of a million. I was proud of the two times I’d managed that incredible achievement, but obviously I wasn’t in his league. I felt like a silly school girl in comparison.

He assured me it was hard work and it had taken him a while to get to the level of turnover he was now at. “Most of the times thing run smoothly, but there have been some purchases which are above the General Manager’s limit of approval for autonomous decision making. That’s why I had to   suddenly fly to America. Ensure we were heading in the right direction. Off loaded some, approved other purchases. I’m thinking of moving over there and partially retiring at the end of the year.

You know I only just flew back in from USA this afternoon. I had to get one of the boys to pick me up in his work ute. Well, it’s one of my fleet. I have a collection of cars.”

I gave him my warning look of please don’t talk about caaaaaaarrrrssszzzzz. Snore.

He took it the wrong way.

“Yes, I have quite a few cars: A Maserati, 2 Porches, a few BMWs, 2 Ferraris and of course, a Lamboguini, oh and the fleet of work cars. They used to be parked in the garage underneath my place in Malvern, but because I just sold it, now I have to store them all over the place in my friends’ warehouses. So like me, they are homeless until the penthouse in Camberwell is finished.”

Since he hadn’t taken my impending boredom look the right way, but had seen it as encouragement to continue name dropping cars. I now had to interject. “Ok, would you like to talk about sports now?”

He was confused. Clearly not the reaction he was expecting.

“Paul, I have below zero interest in cars or sports. I can feel my eyes glazing over. I don’t even currently own a car because mine died, and I don’t really need one at present.”

Again he missed the point. “What? What? Wait. You don’t have a car?  Katherine. Borrow one of mine. Look. I’ll drop the Maserati off tomorrow. I have enough choices and they are all just sitting there doing nothing. A lady like yourself can’t be walking around here. You need to be in a car. That’s ridiculous.”

“Oh my god! Seriously? Firstly. Do you drive that car to Cafe Sienna on Chapel St, and park out the front?”

“No, I park out the back.”

“Same, same.” I tried to soften my derision with a half smile. “And secondly, hell will freeze over before I get in and drive your Maserati. It’s seriously not my thing. I identify cars by the following classifications. Daddy car, station wagon, 4WD, and sporty. Then by color. I.e. Black sporty thing. Green station wagon thing. Don’t be a wanker, seriously. No, just NO. What sort of a crazy man offers a Maserati to a stranger to drive?”

“This sort of stranger. The one in front of you. Katherine, I plan on getting a McLaren this week anyway, so that’s another car just stored, doing nothing. I’m seriously giving you the Maz to drive.”

I must have looked horrified. I certainly wasn’t impressed. As a result of the uncertainty caused by my shop’s impending government acquisition, I wasn’t prepared to commit to move anywhere, nor buy a car, and here he was, reeling a list of them off, to the equivalent of the national debt. I was just aghast. Yay for him.

“I’m seriously thinking you are crazy.”

“Katherine, don’t look at me like that. Cars are a passion. A hobby that I can afford. Without someone sitting beside me though, they are rather empty.

You know, you amuse me. I find you fascinating. You present as this classy woman, yet you fly in the face of pretension. One second, sophisticate, next second, swearing like a sailor telling me about your power tools, then arguing about genetically modified seeds. It’s rare to find someone with the same passion as me, about everything, let alone the drive and mental ability. I can tell by the way you talk, we need to hang out more.

So let’s talk property. It’s your fire. Clearly cars are not. Property, that’s where you should be. I have an interior design co-ordinator position going. Like an office manager that oversees all my projects and ensures the staging and fit outs are stunning. I think you should give it some thought. Maybe just come and work for me. You would be perfect. The pay is amazing. $100,000. I have it advertised, so the timing is perfect. You never know, maybe you could end up replacing the general Manager in Boston, take over the US operation. Property. That’s what makes you tick. Clearly, it would make you happier than what you’re doing now. When you spoke on the phone, you certainly didn’t have the same passion for your beauty salon as you do for property.”

He’d finally managed to navigate out of the boring, pretentious waters and lead us back on to a pleasant and successful path. Property; my passion. I was happy to chat about this. “Yes, well, I can’t disagree. The sound of a nail gun makes me salivate. That, shoes, milo and the right house. As for working for anyone. It’s not my thing to be honest.”

“Seize the day. It would be awesome! Honestly, I’ll give you the job right now. You know your stuff better than my current GM in the US. At least think about the offer. Seriously, have you ever thought of living in America, maybe you could eventually take that job, over there. Come on. The shop is going, and that will give you a sizable payout. Your future is ripe for the picking.”

Had my date just turned into a job interview? “Sure, I’ll think about it.” I didn’t really mean it though. I heard the offer, contemplated it and rejected it in the time it took to answer him. I was just trying to be polite.

“To be honest Paul, my shop is being bought out by the government. It’s in the way of the East West tunnel project. The process of the compulsory   acquisition destroyed my business ages ago and I’m just killing time waiting for the payout. I’m not even allowed to buy until the process is over, so its frustrating. Hence my lack of commitment in purchasing a new car or    signing a new lease. I’m just treading water, biding time, and don’t get me wrong. I love, love my clients. I only have beautiful girls as clients. Beautiful on the inside where it counts.”

I admit that I got into the beauty industry by default, after I was injured at one of my own work sites, and the resulting concrete burns left me with some sexy skin grafts. Life’s battle scars. So no. “I’m not a beautician. I’m not anything. I learnt to do lash extensions while I was recuperating and bizarrely I turned out to be really good. Like really, really, obsessively good. I’ve been doing it for 8 years and only a year ago, consolidated two outlets into one.”

He wanted to know why I had down sized.

I didn’t want to discuss that yet, so I cut the conversation off, saying I was tired and that it was a topic for another time. In truth, the story was just too big to tackle that late in the evening.

He drove me home. The car was a white work ute thing. It was dirty and smelled of cigarettes. He apologized. “It’s not mine. Sorry. I told you, this is Tony’s work ute. It was the only way I could meet you. He had to pick me up from the airport and then I dropped him back at East Morang and circled back here to meet you. Good kid. He’d do anything for me. Bit stupid, but also really loyal.” He laughed. “Apparently an intensive smoker in the car though. Might have to have a word with him about cleaning it up a bit too.”

My place was around the corner and as he pulled up, I leant in to kiss him on the cheek and got out.

“Thank you for a lovely evening.” I was shutting the door.

“Katherine, wait. I want to see more of you. Dinner? A proper dinner. Next Wednesday? It the earliest I’m free I’m afraid, but, I would like to take you somewhere nice to make up for neglecting you. Especially as I now know you’re worth so much more. So be prepared to dress up.”

I hadn’t even answered affirmatively. He just presumed I would.

“Yes, I think that could be nice. Just tell me when and where.”

I was barely inside when my phone pinged. A message. “I would have come in had you asked.”

‘Cocky.’ I thought with a frown. ‘Of course you would, you have a penis.’

I know, but I didn’t ask.” I texted back.

To myself I thought. ‘Yes, but I would never have invited you in. Not quite sure yet, but you maybe a unicorn.’ There was certainly something. An old friend once said, “You know it in your waters.” I don’t know about that, I was certainly feeling it somewhere though. There was something about the man.

That was 6 months ago. So much has happened since then. I’m exhausted. From there to this nightmare. To whatever I am now part of………… I don’t even know. I know I have to relive our life. Our conversations. Who I met. Where. Put it all together, objectively. I know it must all be there. It would have been there all the time, I just didn’t notice, but I will understand, and from there make sense of it all. Then I can defend myself.

When it comes to what I do know. I’ve got nothing of very little.

Nothing except pain. My eye balls hurt. I am completely miserable. Where are the cold and flu tablets? The pain killers are at least stopping my toes from hurting. The drugs required to keep me at this dulled level of misery are at least numbing the shock factor of the other night. I cannot believe what has happened; That I’ve just had someone stare coldly into my eyes and tell me that I’m being hunted by someone who wants to put me through a tree shredder; That my beautiful Paul is gone.

Where are you? Why is this happening? How could you leave me like this? Why, why? Why would you or the universe do this? Oh, god! My friends will realise I’m hiding from reality in the shop soon.

Now back in the uncomfortable reality of the present, I needed to grab the waste bin and again throw up. I couldn’t believe I was so sick and dealing with everything else as well. It seemed extraordinarily cruel.

I used to sit in here for different reasons, with my clients and friends. We liked hanging in the back of the salon. It was like a cozy, mini home. It was warm, decadent and inviting.

I remember waiting for Paul, for the date that took forever to happen.

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