Jenna Matthew’s fell back against her chair unsteadily, her half empty coffee mug slipping from her fingers and onto her desk with a dull thud, spilling its contents onto the papers piled on her desk. Her head dizzy with shock, she could only stare in wonder at the headline before her in the daily paper, oblivious to the mess she had made.
Splashed all over the front page of the newspaper was a large photo of the man who, for the past 10 years she had successfully managed to wipe from her memory. The headline read, “Sex offender brought to justice”. The photo was a close up of a man in his forties; blonde hair kept slightly long, neatly clipped reddish brown beard, being escorted into the courthouse by his lawyer. In the background there was a group of protesters holding up placards condemning his crimes.
In a trance like state Jenna folded the paper so she didn’t have to see the sickening, jeering smile on his face. Her stomach felt sick. 10 years worth of suppressed memory suddenly pushed to the forefront of her mind, each individual sickening memory clamouring for attention. Jenna was overwhelmed and confused by turbulent emotions and didn’t hear the knock at her office door as her secretary popped her head around. Curious about the noise she had heard and concerned by the expression she saw on Jenna's face, the secretary approached the desk.
“My goodness Mrs Matthew’s, whatever is the matter? Are you ill?” Brought back into reality by the honest concern in Lisa Hamilton's voice Jenna wiped her hair back from her face only to discover her skin was covered with a fine sheen of perspiration.
“I think I must be, I…I don’t feel….” As Jenna made to stand Lisa rounded the desk and placed a supporting hand under Jenna’s arm but she pushed the woman away weakly, “I’m f-fine I just…. Think I’m going to be sick.” Jenna finished quickly and dashed into her private bathroom, not stopping to lock the door as she leaned over the toilet bowl just in time.
“You poor thing, you look terrible.” As Jenna finished retching and stood up, Lisa once again was supporting her by the arm. “You just sit back down here and relax. I’ll go and get Mr Matthew’s straight away.” As the woman made to move away Jenna grabbed frantically at her sleeve with surprising strength.
“No! No. Please don’t bother him. He’s tied up working on a very important contract,” She quickly explained at the other woman’s perplexed look, “I think it would be best if I went home so I’m not in the way. It… feels like a…a migraine coming on.” Jenna finished vaguely as she gathered her car keys and walked slowly towards the door of her office.
“Well if you’re sure…” The secretary finished uncertainly but received no reply as Jenna left without a backward glance, her stunned mind already elsewhere.
* * * * * * * *
The drive to the town house was achieved automatically. Jenna didn’t see the opulence of the ‘beach cottages’ that filled the foreshore where she lived. The beautifully manicured green lawns, rows of tall palms, shiny expensive cars and pampered perfectly manicured wives walking their dogs. It was only as she pulled into her own palm lined drive that she looked around her, really seeing her house for the first time, and she didn’t like what she saw. Her feeling of un-belonging grew as Jenna entered the house via the garage door.
Standing in the kitchen she looked around her with critical eyes. The sterile stainless steel counters, pots and pans hanging from their racks on the ceiling. The hospital white walls continued on from the kitchen and into the rest of the house, the decorators’ show-piece in which she lived. After their wedding Blair had suggested that she redecorate it to her liking, but at the time Jenna had not cared what her surroundings looked like. At first he had brought it up from time to time but three years on it was the same, and Blair no longer made mention of it.
Four long years. That was how long her empty farce of a marriage had continued. Jenna felt like she was Sleeping Beauty awakening after all these years to discover that time had moved on without her. Somewhere along the line it had been easier to quit paying attention to what was going on around her. In fact standing there now in her kitchen there was not much so could remember about the past six years. The lost years proceeding her marriage were still flooding in almost suffocating every other recollection. The memoirs of her marriage were a blur, black and white and indistinguishable from one another. Her mind was that of two different women meeting. The adolescent melding with the woman. It had happened suddenly, like a door opening, and she couldn’t go back. The woman she had been when she’d exited the house that morning was gone; in fact she had never really existed. She had been a fill in, an empty puppet standing in while the the real Jenna had been absent.
Upstairs in her bedroom Jenna opened the Jarrah slat Venetians to let in the afternoon sun. Standing in front of her dressing table, looking into the mirror she began to remove her clothes, admiring the figure she saw before her. Long layered silky russet hair hanging well down past her shoulders, curling a little at the ends protectively around her pert breasts. Green cat like eyes, skin as pale as porcelain, oval face, high cheek bones, a light sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose, slim arms, delicate wrists and ankles, gently curving abdomen and slim hips.
Even her own traitorous body had grown older without her notice. Time had played a cruel trick on her. While she had been in a trance like state going through life she had aged. She had entered her safe little state of amnesia as a gangly teenager, and had awoken from it as this sophisticated looking woman. She was beautiful but she still felt robbed. Where were the years of youthful folly that teenagers were meant to experience? It had been a rite of passage when she had been at school.
But instead everything had changed her last year at school. The blackness came, but whereas before, after her…accident…she couldn’t see past the cloud that had settled over her mind, now she could just sweep it aside like a heavy curtain. After Jenna was identified, her parents had been called. There had been several months of rehabilitation, but she could never remember them, or her former life, her former self. Jenna’s grades had started to drop and to avoid failing altogether she had taken up an offer of a business trainee-ship. She had left childhood behind and moved straight into the workforce, and soon after like a true adult she had gotten married as well.
But now it was all over. The sham, the charade. The props of a four-year play that had finally had its last curtain call surrounded her. And she was free. There was no reason for her to hide here any more. And Jenna was still young, only 23 years old. There was plenty of time to start her life over. Start fresh and do it right this time. Many of the girls she had gone to school with would have only recently completed University and their lives would just be beginning. Jenna felt she could also start her life on the right track now. Suddenly she wanted so many things she given up on wishing for. A baby, a family, a husband who loved her, a home, not like this empty grey and white shell she stood in. A real home with laughter, happiness, sunshine and yes, even tears. None of that had taken place here, she thought. No joy, no love. Just four years of numbness and avoidance.
After a hot shower Jenna re-entered her bedroom to find that the room was darker now as beyond the blinds the day moved into twilight. Hours must have passed since she had arrived home and even now Jenna had no idea of time. Her thoughts were taken up with rediscovering herself.
Sitting at her dresser in only a silk slip Jenna slowly brushed her hair, transfixed by her reflection, hypnotised by the hues and colours brought out in her hair by the last rays of the setting sun. She likened it to spun gold. It had not been in this condition when she last recalled really looking at herself. It had been frizzy and hard to manage as most red hair is in the teenage years, and Jenna realised she was connecting the dots, allowing her mind to really see herself for the first time since she was about 15 years old. She stood up and closed the blinds, making a cocoon to increase the feeling of privacy for her personal rediscovery. The shower had made her feel better. Now that the initial shock of regaining her memory had passed Jenna was thinking more clearly but there was more to it than that. Seeing the paper, her amnesia breaking, that headline had lifted what felt like a physical weight off her shoulders. She felt different. She felt free for the first time in her life. Even though she could now recall all the terrible things that had happened to her, Jenna was no longer a victim, no longer ‘that poor girl with amnesia’. She had emerged from her ‘sleep’ a woman. Her life stretched before her and she could do whatever she wanted. Thanks to her years of hard work, she even had the money to do it.
Jenna stiffened when she heard the familiar growl of her husbands’ powerful car as it pulled up the drive. The engine stopped and there was the distant sound of the car door opening and closing. Suddenly Jenna felt a heightened sense of urgency. In her mind she made herself a firm resolve. It had taken time, too much time, but she was awake now and she knew what she wanted. She felt she knew what was best for herself and it was not represented in anything that surrounded her. There was the sound of a door being closed downstairs and lights were being turned on, their warm glow reaching up the stairs like a searchlight.
“Jenna, are you here?” Heavy footsteps sounded on the black tiled staircase and then his shadowy form filled the doorway to her bedroom. Walking across the room he switched lamps on illuminating her position and her reflection in the mirror. The artificial light managed to highlight different hues to that of the sun and Jenna continued to stare at her reflection.
“What’s wrong? Ms Hamilton said you left work early today, that you were ill. I tried to call but the phone rang out. Ms Hamilton said you might be…? Why don’t you say anything?” His deep voice penetrated into her reverie. Jenna turned her head slightly to look at him. His lithe body was leaning back casually against the wall belying the concern of his words, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his tailored trousers. There was a suppressed air of anger emitting from him, but she had no insight into what might be the cause. The grey of his designer suit matched the colour of his stormy eyes. His black hair was slightly ruffled from the wind but his curls were short and neat as always. His skin was tanned but his face looked strained as he made a visual assessment of her condition. “What’s wrong Jenna?”
It was hard to look at him now. Now that she was in touch with her emotions again. She felt her heart constrict in her chest. As her green eyes clashed with his grey, she realised they were two strangers who had shared a house for four years. She knew him no better than she knew herself at this very point in time. His gaze broke from hers briefly to explore what little she had on and what it left uncovered. When his eyes returned to her face she saw heat flicker in them. Jenna shivered, her nipples tightening to hardened points under his scrutiny. His look threw her already confused emotions into utter turmoil and she felt she could not meet his gaze again. Now that she was so aware it was dangerous for her to stay here. She knew he could be persuasive, ‘After all I married him didn’t I?’ she thought.
She had to be strong; had to hold firm to the promise she had unconsciously made to herself the minute she had read the paper. All the promises she had made and wishes from her heart. Promises she had to keep to a lost teenage girl.
As Jenna looked at Blair everything from the day filled her mind. The desolation of the fast few years, the self enforced loneliness, the sacrifice of her teenage years. Again she thought of her list of dreams, ‘I want a family, I want a baby, I want a life’. Finally Jenna found the courage to look him straight in the eyes again and speak of her feelings, though her voice was flat.
“I want a divorce.”
"I hear you're making quite a name for yourself in marketing." Jenna was startled out of her reverie by the deep male voice coming from close behind her. The elevator had been full and as usual she was not paying attention to her surroundings on her upward journey. Jenna turned her head slightly and had to look up to see the stormy grey eyes of the man standing slightly back and to the left of her. He was tall, tanned, with black neatly groomed hair cut close to his head, forestalling the curls. She supposed most girls might consider him handsome. His features were strong and he reminded her a bit of the models you saw in magazines. The ads that were supposed to make you buy a certain sort of underpants for your boyfriend.
"You are Jenna Freeman are you not?" He enquired with one eyebrow raised as he saw her puzzled expression.
"Yes. Yes I am. And you're Blair Matthew's." The boss, which was why she was puzzled. Of all the people to talk to in this tiny elevator, he was conversing with her, the Administrative Assistants' assistant cum whipping girl in marketing. Why on earth would Blair Matthew's want to talk to her?
"Bill Carmody has been bouncing some ideas off me in James' absence, that's all." Jenna felt compelled to down play anything he might have heard.
Blair Matthew's chose that moment to start a thorough perusal of her person, seemingly oblivious to the curious gaze of the other passengers in the elevator. From her russet hair piled artfully on top of her head to her wide puzzled green eyes, full mouth, delicate chin that she raised a little defiantly at his steady gaze, to her plain white blouse and high waisted grey pencil skirt that accentuated her slim legs and narrow hips.
Shocked by his blatant assessment of her physical form Jenna's lips parted and she emitted a small breathless gasp. He smiled, slowly, and Jenna felt a flutter of fear in her stomach.
"Yes, I've heard some of those ideas. You are hiding quite a wealth of talent from us. I intend to cash in on it." While Jenna was still startled by his behaviour and words the elevator stopped and the doors whooshed open at her floor. She left the elevator slowly looking back at him warily several times.
"I hope you mean that in a nice way." She ventured before the doors started to close and she saw Blair wink cheekily at her as they did.
Jenna was nineteen years old with no life to speak of except work so she tucked into whatever was put in front of her with gusto, just as she had from the moment she had been hired. Anything to keep her busy. Although not running into him again in person Jenna received praise from Blair Matthew's on several more occasions, via email, and a couple of promotions, that were presented to her more formally by courier on expensive cream papers that bore the company logo and required her signature to accept the offer. Five months after she had met him in the elevator he sent an email inviting her to dinner. An offer that she politely refused.
"Do you have something against dinning with a boss who wants to thank one of his employees for all her diligent and often brilliant work?" Blair Matthews appeared unexpectedly in the doorway of her office to inquire personally about her refusal. He wore dark grey trousers and a crisp white shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows implying he had been hard at work until he had found it necessary to deign to come down to the lower levels of the building to speak with her.
"No Mr Matthew's I don't but I really do not see the point. I know you're pleased with me, that's why I have all of this." She made a sweeping gesture with one arm indicating the office, albeit small, with a view and the title that had come with her last promotion. "I don't need to be taken out to dinner. I'm sorry to be so blunt." Jenna met his steady gaze with her own.
"Don't apologise for being truthful. It's hard to find employees who aren't 'yes' men these days." His flushed face belied the nonchalant tone he used. He was angry. "But never the less I am the boss and I wont take no for an answer."
"I'm sorry. I love my job, I do. But I'm not interested." She lowered her eyes in a submissive gesture despite the rejection her words brought, "Not in you."
He gave a startling bark of laughter at her words drawing her eyes back to his face only to find that he was moving towards her desk rather quickly. Bracing his hands at the front of the desk he leaned towards her, making Jenna lean back in her seat to keep a distance between them, a movement that did not go unnoticed by Blair.
"I believe I asked you to dinner, not to bed. I don't know what ideas you've got in that silly little head of yours, or who put them there, but rest assured I have women to keep me company at home. The girls I leave to do the office work," he paused to let that barb sink in, watching as her pale cheekbones flush red with embarrassment, and then stood up straight preparing his exit, "I'm not requesting you to join me for dinner. Due to my tight schedule today I am unable to see you for your supervision meeting in at the time that was booked. Therefore I would like to reschedule the meeting for 7pm this evening. A dinner meeting. I'll meet you here at six thirty and we shall travel to the restaurant together." He left before she could respond or say anything else embarrassing. Jenna reached across her desk for her small bottle of cool water and took a sip. She even picked up some of the papers off her desk and fanned herself with her free hand while she continued drink her water thoughtfully.
Blair Matthews bothered her, and she didn't like it. She was naturally skilled in turning away amorous admirers with a simple disinterested look, but Blair Matthews was not like the other men. He seemed immune to her rebuffs. She sighed to herself, resigned. 'So, dinner.' She thought with a crooked humourless smile. Jenna was quite frugal with her salary but she felt relieved that since her last promotion she had splurged a little on some new work attire. As a result she would be dressed quite professionally for dinner in grey high waisted pants that had an almost whimsical flare at the hip that gave her slender frame the impression of a tiny waist instead of looking straight up and down with the figure of a boy. Her white long sleeved blouse, that she wore tucked in, was made from silky fabric that molded to her upper body while being otherwise completely and utterly modest.
The trip to the restaurant was cloaked in silence, with Jenna mostly feeling like she was being bullied and this made her wary. She didn't know why, but there was an uneasy feeling inside of her that told her she really did not like to be made helpless.
When they were seated and had ordered Blair seemed to want to put her at ease by making casual chitchat that mostly revolved around the office and their work.
"So..." His voice dwindled off self-consciously as the waitress removed their empty entree dishes. Resting his elbows on the table in front of him, he made a steeple out of his hands, tapping his index fingers together lightly. "Tell me something about yourself." He finished somewhat lamely.
"Is there something in particular you wish to know?" She knew straight away what it was by the way he shifted around in his seat. It was the same thing everyone wanted to know.
"Well I've read your personnel file...Of course I have...I'm the boss" He justified self consciously, as if she had voiced protest, then cleared his throat before carrying on. "Tell me about the...Uh...amnesia...thing..."
"What's to tell?" She shrugged nonchalantly. "I don't remember anything about it?"
"You must know something. How did it happen? Surely you didn't just wake up one morning and discover you'd forgotten everything!" He pressed on.
"Yes," she raised an eyebrow, "How could I wake up and know I'd forgotten everything, if I couldn't remember that I had..."
"Look," he replied just as dryly, "I'm curious, but every question I want to put to you sounds cliched..."
"Yes...everyone's always curious about the amnesia." She sighed heavily. 'They're never interested in me' she thought before continuing on. "When I was 16 years old, I had an...accident." Two dark eyebrows shot up.
"An accident? What sort of accident."
"I don't know, I can't remember. The police report says I lost control of a vehicle and hit a tree..."
"You don't sound very upset about it. It sounds like it must've been very traumatic." Blair crossed his arms in front of him, leaning forward intently.
"It possibly was! But I don't remember a bit of it. When I think about the accident itself, I feel nothing. It was more upsetting to wake up in the hospital, hurt, broken and not a clue who I was." Jenna could feel herself breaking out in a sweat just thinking about that time. "Actually even that wasn't particularly upsetting, because I didn't know that I couldn't remember. It was only when they started parading people in front of me 'these are you parents' and 'don't you remember your friends?' that I started getting upset." She smiled crookedly at his astonished expression.
"So when you woke you could remember how to walk and talk?"
"But you didn't know who your parents were?"
"I don't remember a thing before that day when I was 16, waking up from the accident. I don't know what I liked, what I wanted to do with my life...In the end I just covered my eyes and picked an advertisement in the unemployment section. And here I am." She smiled but it didn't reach her eyes.
"Your parents must have known some of your activities that they could fill in the gaps for you surely." His tone was slightly incredulous.
"Oh they know something," she answered quickly, unable to withhold the slight bitterness of her tone, "But they weren't telling what they knew. I think they were quite embarrassed by the attention brought on by the whole affair. I don't believe they wanted me to remember. They wanted to forget too...." Blair was thoughtful for several minutes, and Jenna took a sip of her wine.
"So you were 16 years old?" She nodded the affirmative to his query. "You weren't..."
"Old enough to drive," She finished for him. "No...no I definitely was not old enough to be driving."
"Do you think that's what they're not telling you?"
"But I know that for myself. The police questioned me fully about it. No...no. I think," she paused before continuing on slowly, holding his gaze to gauge his reaction to her deliberately provocative words. "I think I must have been...a very bad girl."