Yours, Mine And The Truth by Clair Gibson

The mug filled with steaming hot green tea stung my hands as I sat on the couch watching the morning news. I’d taken a few days off work to sort myself out, not that I told my husband, David. To him I lied. I said I had appointments over in Edinburgh so I wasn’t driving into work with him as I had done every day of the last six years. Truth was I was 
Yours, Mine And The Truth
Yours, Mine And The Truth by Clair Gibson

off to Birmingham tomorrow morning and I wouldn’t be around for a while. He was flitting between rooms moaning about not being able to find his tie, then his watch. I tried to block it out and concentrate but my head screamed, “This afternoon I’m leaving this house forever. Never coming back. Never looking over my shoulder, and running away from you, my husband and the pain in my arse for the last ten years of my life.”

It’s true I’m leaving as soon as he goes to work. I’ve to give my brothers a call and they’re bringing their van round, acting as my muscle for the day. I can get everything out that’s mine and get it round to my new flat in one go.

It’s not that I don’t love him, I do, well I did but I’m not in love with him. David is a great guy, perfect for me when we met but we’ve drifted apart. Now every single thing annoys me and I want to scratch his eyes out. I want different things like excitement. I’ve had some and I want more.

“See you late Jayne, love you,” he yells before pulling the front door closed.

I don’t reply he doesn’t deserve anymore of my time.





His head bobs up and down as he runs under the living room window and across to the car. This house is above road level so it’s ideal for watching until he reverses the car. I tip toed to the edge of the blinds and leaned a little closer to the window. He turns out of our street and onto the road leading up to the main road. Now I should be safe enough. A few minutes pass by and my nerves have me hopping from one foot to the other. I need to get on with packing, but eventually there he is at the top of the hill. He signals, turns the car and drives away.

Seconds later my phone rings, I grab it and sigh of relief passes my lips. “Hey Dad.”

“Has he left?”

“Yes.”

“Give us half an hour and we’ll be round.”

“Are you coming as well? I thought you didn’t approve.” I looked down at the floor uncomfortable at admitting to Dad I knew what he thought of the situation. God forbid he finds out I had affairs. That would be the end of our strained relationship.

“I figured you could use the extra pair of hands.”

“Thanks.”

“Ah well, little one, I may not agree with what you’re doing but you're still my daughter. I’d rather you were happy.” Dad hung the phone up before I could say thanks.

I took my empty cup into the kitchen and flicked the kettle back on. It burbled and made noises I took to mean, it would soon pack in. In the cupboard where we kept all the plastic tubs I retrieved a big brown envelope. David wouldn’t look in the cupboard, I knew that. He always used to ask me to get him a box. Hated bending down and reaching into the back of the cupboard, now he would need to. Inside the envelope, I pulled out a few sheets of paper that over the last few days I’d been jotting down items I was taking. My finger ran down the list until I reached the kitchen bit and crossed out the word kettle. It sounded terrible. He could keep it. I’d buy a new one. While I waited, I grabbed boxes from of the storage cupboard and emptied the contents of the kitchen cupboards.





Four hours, sweat, tears and numerous cups of tea for my brothers, we’d packed everything on my list. Now it was outside in their box truck. Dad sighed every time he went into a different room and asked, several times, “Are you sure?”

I was and I am. It’s over and Dad’s disapproving stares, noises and choice comments to my brothers will not change my mind. They left me to check the rooms for anything I’d left behind. Thing was, I’d almost emptied the house and as I walked from room to room, disgust, sorrow and anxiety ran through my veins. I hadn’t left him much. Clothes, a bed, the spare one, not the nice dark wooden one I loved, and he hated. One of the two seat couches, chair, TV table, the TV itself, and assorted games consoles. There was less in the kitchen, just the essentials and the noisy kettle. It wasn’t vindictiveness. I left him more than he came into the relationship with. Plus I bought most of it. Yes, he paid the mortgage, but I provided the style.

In all honesty leaving him with anything was more than he deserved. He should have fought for me harder. That makes me sound selfish and I guess I am. I want something different. I thought he did too, but he doesn’t. His priorities have shifted, and he’s happy to settle. I don’t want kids. I don’t hate them but I would choose not to be around them. That’s why I hate this house and I can’t wait to be in my own. But it’s not just that, he doesn’t see me. The real me. Stopped paying attention many months ago.

At the beginning we were great. Our only issue was the sex. He is proportioned on the large size and despite the common myth being the bigger the better, it’s not. We got used to each other and after a while it wasn’t an issue but I craved normality. David wasn’t the first guy I slept with, nor was he the best. The first time I cheated on him I had the most outrageous dangerous sex in a lift. It was wonderful and opened my eyes to what I was missing.





“Ready?” Dad asked from the doorway.

“Yes.” I closed the door behind me, locked it and posted the keys through the letter box. The clunk as they hit the floor signalled the end, and I walked out of the patio closing the gate behind me.





********





Lindsay





Illness and I weren’t a good match at all. A few days laid low with cold or flu then fine, but this was well into the second week of house confinement with shingles. Daytime TV was no longer satisfying my needs, and I’d taken interest in what went on in lives happening outside my own windows.

Take this morning, Brian left as usual at eight and without checking I was awake. He sticks his head inside the bedroom door, just as far as he has to. I swear he thinks he will catch this just by looking at me. Since the diagnosis he’s slept in the spare room, made all his own meals and insisted on using the same two towels after a shower. I’m surprised I haven’t had to use different utensils to cook my meals or do the washing separate. Extreme is an understatement.

I saw him walk to the car as I rose from bed and opened the curtains. He chatted to David our neighbour from work then they climbed into separate cars and drove out of the street. The neighbour in between our homes followed half an hour later but unlike the cars, he drove a motorbike at least twice the legal noise limit. Him I didn’t see leave the street, I heard him while I was in the kitchen organising breakfast.

I munched my way through a bowl of granola and yoghurt and continued to glance out of the window from behind the safety of ceiling to floor length voile curtains.

“It's day eleven of my enforced quarantine and what will we get up to day?” I ask the silence of my home. “Just as I thought. Nowt.” With a chuckle, I ate another spoonful and fixed my blank expression on the not so entertaining daytime TV.





This was my day at the moment, eat, sleep, and do nothing. The rash was healing, and I’d got over the worst. The first few days were terrible, and I stayed in bed. Over time the situation improved, I felt myself again but until the rash disappeared I had to stay at home. That was the toughest thing. I watched movies, read half dozen books but had driven myself loopy. My mates were all at work, so was Brian. Adele, my best friend called every day. Brian didn’t. I needed a human connection. When he was home we barely spoke, but it had been like that for the past few months.

I met Brian at a summer party with my work colleagues. He was in a different team managed by David’s wife, Jayne. In a quirk of fate, David was a manager in my area, although not mine, and played cupid, introducing me to Brian. It wasn’t love at first sight, but he wore me down with his humour and charm. At first I didn’t think I was ready to jump into a relationship since I’d just left one. After two months of dating, he’d moved in. That was almost two years ago. I’d love to say they were two blissful years, they weren’t, but I thought we were happy and going places. Before the shingles, I’d tried to raise the subject of kids. I wasn’t getting any younger and most of my friends either had them already or were pregnant. I felt left out, but he didn’t want to talk. Then I fell sick, and he left my bed. That hurt!

“Oh, what’s that?” I said as a large truck passed the window. Trucks passed at all times of the day, small ones with refrigeration boxes on the back, taking produce to the small local shop at the end of the road. I jumped up and peered through the edge of the curtain. Nosy but this was my excitement, such as it was. Two guys, one young, one older climbed out of the van and disappeared around the side, then the van backed up further at an angle. It was obvious someone was moving home and in a hurry. No way, the van could park like that for long because it blocked the shops access, and the owner didn’t have a pleasant nature. Right enough I heard yelling not too long after I stopped watching and the truck repositioned.





As I had done over the last couple of weeks I fell asleep watching daytime TV but today shouting woke me. Whatever was going on sounded nasty. I jumped up and caught the tail end of an argument between the driver of a recycling lorry and the driver of the blocked moving van. The van wanted out. Karma since he’d blocked people in for the last few hours. It was handbags as my dad used to say. Two men squaring off against each other with menacing faces plus a verbal altercation but without the real nerve to take it further. An older man came out, shouted two swear words and the van driver disappeared. Seconds later, it drove out of the street followed by a black hatchback. The older man in the driver seat.

I turned to walk back to the couch but a woman standing by a parked car caught my gaze. It was Jayne. “I’m sure Brian said you were in Birmingham this week!”





2.





David





The alarm clock blared in my ear. Spider like fingers crept along the edge of the small oak bedside table, located the clock and launched it against the wall at the opposite side of the room. Today would be as bad as yesterday.

After dragging myself out of bed I turned the kitchen light on and filled the kettle. The remnants of last night’s dinner lay in half opened containers on the worktop. Her letter lay underneath. I opened doors searching for a clean mug until I found the cupboard where my snake of a wife placed all the earthenware she left me with. Two plates, bowls and half a dozen mugs.

Upstairs I sat in the one chair I had left, flicked the TV on and drank the black coffee. She didn’t even leave the fridge!





I’ve heard men talk before. Friends, colleagues and they all say “I didn’t see it coming.” I never believed them but now I do. This I didn’t see at all. We were happy, I thought, until I walked in last night and stood on her door keys. She left an envelope taped to the top of the TV to make sure I’d see it.

The words jumped off the page, twisting my soul, destroying my heart. I couldn’t understand half of what she was saying. “I love you but I’m not in love with you!” What does that even mean? One thing was for sure she’d cleaned out our home and left me with my clothes and next to nothing else. After finding my home gutted I expected the bank account to be the same. I called them and cancelled her cards. To my surprise it was untouched, but she’d cancelled all the direct debits for her phone, gym membership and other standing orders that day. None of it made any sense.

I’d had the day from hell. Back to back meetings, arguments, disagreements on everything and far too much company politics for my liking. All I wanted was a beer and to lounge on the couch with a half decent film. Jayne was in Edinburgh on a Pensions training course. She’d left that morning, I thought. Now I know different.

I tried to call her mobile, but kept hearing the same computerised recorded voice say “the number you are trying to reach is out of service.” She definitely didn’t want me contacting her, but then that made sense after cleaning me out.





With the coffee finished I wandered back to the kitchen. She’d left me some tins, condiments and bread. That was it. Annoyed was an understatement. Just last week we’d filled the freezer since we were working different shifts for the next few weeks and meals would be grabbed rather than enjoyed. Now she had it all. I couldn’t process the deceit from the woman I loved, who I’d spent all of my adult life with. We wanted to have kids, grow old together but to find out it was all a lie, well I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I grabbed the bread and made toast. “This isn’t over!” I screamed into the air.





A few hours later, armed with the letter and photographs of the house and kitchen cupboards I made my way to the office of my lawyer. I’d called him after getting the day off. He didn’t handle this kind of stuff but others in his practice did and he’d introduce me.

“David,” he said walking into the mini corridor they called a waiting room. His outstretched hand offered a warm handshake. “There’s been a catch. Come with me.”

I liked Dean. He was a man’s, man. Not one of these smarmy young lawyers with the good looks, floppy hair and pricy suits. We met at university and became friends of a sort. Not someone I’d head to the pub with but I trusted his judgement and he was the man to steer me in the right direction now. “What kind of catch?”

“Jayne has a contract with one of the other partners so we can’t handle you as a client.”

“That two faced sneaky...”

Dean raised his eyebrows before I could continue and grinned. “Now now, this is just round one. She thinks she’s got you out of your comfort zone but I’ve found a lawyer that can handle your separation or divorce. Someone who comes with my recommendation.”

He was heading towards the front door of their offices. We were almost out on the street. “Who?” I asked uncertain with this turn of events.

“Dean Brody Senior. His office is upstairs. He handled my divorce and he might be older than most lawyers but Dad’s seen it all. Every dirty trick that anyone has tried, he has a list of them all and how to make it right.”

He held out his hand again, and I shook it again. “I can’t thank you enough for setting this up and thanks for the honesty.”

“You’re welcome mate. Listen to Dad. He handled my brothers divorce, and that got nastier than it needed to be because my brothers stupid.” He patted my shoulder and opened the door.





Upstairs the offices were as I expected from an older lawyer. Wall to wall wooden bookcases stacked high with journals and law books. A battered red chesterfield couch sat off centre in the office with a dark stained heavy oak coffee table in front of it. Mr Brody’s secretary showed me into the office and five minutes later carried in a tray with coffee and biscuits.

“Help yourself. He won’t be a minute.”

I nodded and made myself a coffee with milk.





Ten minutes passed by as I sat there drinking my coffee and absorbing everything Dean said. She had retained a lawyer already which showed she meant business and was expecting a fight. A bold decision to use the company she knew I favoured, but he was right and I understood the phrase “everything’s fair in love and war.”

Mr Brody burst into his office and strode across to the couch. “David, please to meet you. Dean said you’re having a little trouble.”

He shook my hand and immediately I knew Dean was right. This was the lawyer for me. “You could say that.”

“Tell me about it.” He sat in the high backed chesterfield chair opposite the couch and poured himself a coffee. He offered me more, but I shook my head.

“Well, I came home last night and my wife had emptied our home. Moved out and left me a letter.”

“Did you bring it?”

“Yes.” I reached into my folder and handed the letter over. “Excuse the stain I had a takeaway last night and some of the oil seeped into it.”

Mr Brody smiled. “I’m glad you kept it. Most guys would have ripped it up. Can you take photos of what she left when you get back?”

“Already done,” I replied with an air of already thought about that. I fished about in my jacket pocket for my phone. Unlocked it and accessed the photo stream.

He thumbed through the photos. Nodding but giving little away with his eyes. After a few moments he handed the phone back. “Can you print them off and get me copies.”

“Yes, sure.”

“She left little. Did she buy it all?”

“No. We bought it all together through our joint account and credit card. She wanted a new style and insisted on a new bed, new furniture throughout, then took it all with her. That’s the original bed we had. I kept it in the spare room but I prefer it.”

“TV and games consoles belong to you?”

“Yeah, but she’s took most of the DVD’s, books and vinyl which I find strange since she hated reading and watching movies. Just about emptied all the food and left me bugger all.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “It’s damn right vindictive.”

“I need you to make a list of everything that’s gone. Unless you gave it to her as a present its common property. If you haven’t agreed to divide it amicably then she will owe you restitution for your half.”

“Why would you do that but? I don’t understand?”

“Her letter says she’s not trying to hurt you, blah blah blah but as I always say, actions speak louder than words.”

I nodded in complete agreement.

“More details will come out but emptying the home speaks of some anger, or a need to have positions around her that make her new home familiar. It’s almost as if she uplifted the home, just without you.” His eyes bore right into mine. “Please don’t take this the wrong way but did you cheat on her.”

“No. Never.” I emphasised the point with my hands. Angry that he even asked. “I love Jayne. I have since I met her and I’ve been 100 percent faithful ever since that night.”

“Her anger comes from somewhere.” He lifted the coffee cup and slurped the last ounces. “I hear she’s retained a lawyer already.”

Again I nodded.

“Right well, I’ll make contact and see what she wants from you. Meanwhile, I suggest you break all ties. Remove her name from any joint bills, phones, etc.”

“Can I remove her from the bank account?”

“Yes, but dependent on the balance she might have claim to half of it so make sure the bank document it.”

“She can have her half of the overdraft with my pleasure.” That was the first time I saw Mr Brody smile. “What about the house? The mortgage is just in my name.”

“Oh,” he said caressing his chin. “That’s unusual.”

“She was out of the country visiting her Aunt in Australia when the sale went through. She couldn’t get back to sign the forms. The sale went ahead in my name and when she returned the bank insisted she signed a repossession form. The one that said she’d move out if that ever happened.”

“That’s standard practice but, well, it’s up to you to keep paying but she may want a proportion of the value.” He refilled his coffee cup and placed it on the table while he dropped two lumps of sugar into it. “All of this is supposition until she makes contact and tells us what she wants. Then we can fight her on the individual points. Until then my advice is to make the list, but do it slow. Things will come back to you. Take a few days and get yourself the basics you’re missing. The fridge and so on. There’s a place, my secretary can give you the address which has electrical goods at marked down prices. They specialise in packages for single men, young families and all at a reasonable price, and new. It will keep you going until we can get some of your furniture back or at least get restitution for what she’s taken.”

I nodded then a thought crept into my mind. “We work together. In the same company, not the same area. Any advice?”

He puffed out his cheeks and let out a stream of air. “That’s a tough one. Stay professional. Don’t cause problems or confront her. She may try to provoke you especially if she has cut all communication ties.” He shifted in the chair, his trousers squeaking against the shiny, worn red leather. “Do your best and be prepared to walk away.”

“Okay.”

“If things get hairy, take a few days or weeks off. I won’t say look for a new job but it’s inevitable if this turns nasty. One of you may have to move, for your own sanity.”

“I hear you.” I stood. The meeting was over. “I’ll get working on that list and hand it in to your secretary.”

“Good, although I suspect we’ll be talking in the next day or two. Be prepared to be served anytime.”

Brows furrowed I gazed at him not understanding his point.

“Served with divorce papers. She’s gone too far for this not to be her end game.”





********





Brian





Women with time on their hands are a nightmare. Lindsay was full of details about the streets goings on but she fixated on Jayne. I’d told her she was in Birmingham this week and that’s how I was working late. She damn near called me a liar. Too my face. I wasn’t lying. Jayne told me she was off to our Birmingham central office to help with an audit. What she didn’t tell me was when she was leaving. I assumed it was the next day.

This morning I gave Jayne a call and learned the truth. She had left David and was now on the way to our other offices while the dust settled. She’d told some she was in Edinburgh, others London, anything to throw them off the truth. I went along with her need for secrecy and lied to Lindsay. It didn’t matter. I was lying to her more and more these days and about everything. Her illness came along at the right time. I needed space to think and figure out if I could live this life or did I need a similar exit strategy?





Itchy feet again I reasoned. I’d been like it all my life, sometimes through necessity. As a rebellious teenager I mixed with local criminals getting high and it got me into trouble. So I moved around to stop from getting caught and left a trail of destruction behind me. A nomadic lifestyle left me with few possessions of my own, but as long as I had my fix and later on enough to drink I was okay. Over time, both became a problem. I would never be cured, but I’d been clean of drugs for five years.

Lindsay was the first woman I settled with. Not the first relationship, but the first woman I’d lived with. It never bothered me it was her home, not ours. My mates and colleagues ribbed me about it but it was none of their business. It was the right step, she had a place. I didn’t. We never spoke of getting somewhere different together, come to think about it we didn’t make many decisions together.





That night relentless in her questioning I sat and felt like my dad. Him and my mum loved each other but were in a thirty year rut I didn’t want. He always sat in one chair and her, the other. Conversations sometimes forced but maybe that was just the sense of timeless understanding. I wanted fireworks.

“Give me peace for a while will you?” I moaned as I tried to eat my meal. I grabbed the remote, turned the channel over to something I wanted to watch and raised the volume. If she wouldn’t quieten, I would drown her out.





An hour later she went to bed, and I felt free and able to think. I lay in bed that night and thought back to the awards ceremony my team attended for some foolhardy excuse to have a night out. We stood no chance of winning but it was a few days away from work and a free night in a hotel complete with food and drink. That’s the first time my eyes wandered, and I caught the flirting of a woman as drunk as I was. It wasn’t something I searched for but the one night stand spiced up that evening. Since then I made love to Lindsay a handful of times.





The first six months of the relationship were great, but then as we got to know each other life settled. The dates dried up not long after I moved in. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe it was her. I know one thing. The night after I cheated I stood in the door frame of the bedroom we shared and glanced at her form lying there. I felt nothing. Not a thing. “What is wrong with me?” I mumbled, but the answer was nothing. I wasn’t physically interested anymore.

See, I’m no stud, but not bad looking. I’m half decent in bed although the series of one night stands after that first night proved I’m better than I thought I was. Women called me for a follow up date but I always declined.





Now a few months later I’m stuck. My finances are not stable enough to afford a place of my own unless I found a bed sit. So here I was into the spare room using every excuse I could to stay away from her bed.





3.





Jayne





I walked into the office after ten days in Birmingham nervous but excited for the future. While I was away the processor served David, and we’d had a counter suit from his lawyer which I was expecting. I changed my personal number, email address and my works phone and gave the details to the absolute minimum of people. I trusted Brian with the new information but no one else in my team. No one else needed it. Now I had to get through this next week and put part two of my plan into action.





The first couple of days passed quick and without incident. Everyone carried on around me oblivious to anything and that’s how I wanted it to stay. Then I got a call from human resources and had to meet them which they wanted to do in the main coffee area. Now the cat was well and truly out of the bag. I was leaving the company and my husband.

It was for the best. I couldn’t work in the same building as him, see him every day and not feel something for the man I’d spent so long living with. I loved him as a brother, not as my husband, as it should be.





So far he’d stayed away from me, hadn’t emailed or called. Nothing. Mutual friends confronted me but asked what the hell I was doing. I always replied with the same retort, “I’m living my life as I see fit.” They wouldn’t be mutual friends for much longer.

With a heavy heart I climbed the stairs back to the second floor and headed to my desk when I saw him. He looked tired. The hair just above his ears showing streaks of grey and for a tiny fleck of time I wondered if that might be my doing, but dismissed the thought.

He saw me and crossed the floor faster than I’ve ever seen him move. “So you’re leaving,” he spat.

I’d never seen him this animated and angry. He’d raised his voice once in the many years I’d known him. Level headed was his strength and go to status in life. “I am,” I replied. No point in hiding it anymore.

“Why?”

His whole body contracted like a spring coiled tight before it explodes. He had never raised his hand to anyone. I didn’t fear him but this wasn’t like him at all. “Because I need to move on.”

“From everything.”

“Don’t be like that,” I reasoned. “You know I wasn’t happy.”

“Do I? Last thing I remember we were talking about the future, kids, a bigger home. Now I’ve got a house that’s a shell and feck all inside it because you cleared me out. Apparently you’re happy to stick the knife in my back and in public.”

He was making a scene, and I hated that. My dirty laundry wasn’t for public consumption no matter who had instigated this. “That’s right David, you shout it from the rafters for everyone to listen to and gossip about. That might suit you but I’d prefer to keep this between us two.”

“You would, would you? Well, you gave up that right when you left. We are the talk of this bloody office. People whispering behind my back and yet I’ve done nothing. Everyone seems to know what’s going on but me!”

“Don’t push it, David.”

He took as step closer and I saw venom in his eyes. He hated me and for the first time I felt the loathing seep from him. “Look if you want to have a go at me let’s move away from everyone’s ears.”

“Why?” he asked. “Ashamed to tell the truth, are you?”

“I don’t think you want to hear the truth!”

“Try me!” he spat. His stance hardened, arms folded, eyes daring me.

I should have kept my cool and walked away but I have never walked away from a fight or a goading in my life. I wasn’t about to start now. “Because I hate the ground you walk on.”

He recoiled in surprise deflated by my statement. Not expecting anything other than an apology from me.

“You want the perfect life. I want adventure. You want kids. I want the perfect lover and that’s not you!”

“But...”

“You can have the house, with everything I left you and you’re welcome to it.” I span around ready to walk away but something stopped me. That little devil chirping away on my shoulder – let him have it. Go for it, unload on him. I turned back to see him still standing there, head bowed. “You know what, David. It was easy.”

“What was?” he whispered.

My revelation took the life from his fight. This once proud man changed by just a few words. Would what I said next ruin him for life? Should I even bother? Again the little devil laughed at me. Yes you should, he has embarrassed you. I didn’t hear the good angel on the other shoulder. “Easy to empty the house, easy to leave you. It’s not like you noticed. Instead, you accepted everything I said and went along with my deception.” Should I stop there or should I tell the truth. My mind, the devilish part still screamed – go for it. “I cheated on you. Not once, or twice but for the past eighteen months and with multiple guys until I found someone I wanted to be with. Someone is in tune with me, my body, my needs and what I want for my future.”

He staggered into the desk by his side, falling into the chair. Did I feel sorry for shattering his dreams with the truth? No, not at all. In fact, I felt freedom. This had been weighing down my heart and soul for too long. “What?” I continued. “You act like it’s a surprise. We haven’t been together in months. Did you think I’d gone off sex? Because I hadn’t, just with you!” I forgot we were standing in the middle of a packed office where we both worked. In two days I was off to pastures new. He had to face these people again but I no longer cared.

“I couldn’t bare to spend one more minute in your company let alone your bed.” A pale, sick, glazed looking man who I now called my ex-husband stared back at me. I’d destroyed him with a careful selection of words.





********





Lindsay





I came back from lunch with my mate just in time to see the showdown we’d been expecting for the last three days. When I came back to work on Monday, I discovered David was the talk of the office. Hushed because he was still our boss but rather than join in with everyone’s wild assumptions of what went on, all I felt was sorrow. Now I was sure what I saw was Jayne moving out. That brought a whole new level of disgust to my feelings for her. When the two of them argued I tried to ignore the commotion, but it escalated and everyone couldn’t help but listen.

Jayne turned into the bitch I knew well and when David slumped into a nearby chair I knew it would get worse and someone had to do something. I grabbed the phone and used my contact list to call in reinforcements. He answered on the first ring.

“What Lindsay I’m busy?”

“Brian, stop moaning and come through. Jayne and David are having a major ding dong. Someone needs to separate them. Everyone’s just standing there listening.”

He didn’t answer, just hung up on me, appearing at Jayne’s side less than ten seconds later. He jumped into her eye line, muttered a few words I didn’t hear and she followed him out of our area leaving David slumped against the desk.

No one went near him. He sat there staring at the fire doors Jayne walked through. Even his mates in the area stayed away. Everyone returned their gaze to to their computer screens, but the whispering started.

My heart ached for him. I knew him well before his promotion he was my immediate superior and showed his soft side when my father died. Someone had to help him but no one appeared to want to.

Still wondering if it was the right thing to do, I stood, pushed my chair under my desk and walked towards him. “David,” I said crouching down by the desk. “Let’s get you a coffee, away from everyone.”

He glanced up at me tears in the corners of his eyes.

“You need to move.” I stood up and held out a hand. A gesture to show him I meant what I said but also to show him compassion. Not all women were as nasty as his wife.

“Thank you,” he replied.

He didn’t need my physical support, but I made sure as he walked away I shielded him from the eyes of over 100 people baying for more action.





Downstairs a dozen tables lined the walkway leading to a mobile coffee shop. “What do you fancy?” I asked as we exited the lift and turned left towards the tables.

“Thanks but I’ll be fine.”

“You don’t look it,” I replied. “Let me get you a coffee, with one for me and if you want to sit down here on your own then so be it.”

His eyes searched the floor for a reply, then he looked up and I caught the faint hint of acceptance. “Small cappuccino, please.”

David waited by my side as I bought the two coffees and smiled as I handed the smaller one to him. Something about today made me want a larger latte than the medium I always bought. I turned to walk away.

“Lindsay,” he said.

I stopped and turned towards him.

“Thank you.”

I smiled and walked away as he took a seat in the middle of the back row of tables. Seconds before I climbed into the lift I glanced back. He was already in the middle of an animated conversation on his mobile.





4.





Brian





I’m kicking myself, I really am. Since the shingles cleared up Lindsay, wants me back in her bed but I can’t. I’ve given her many excuses but truth is, I think I’ve found someone else. I thought it was a one off since it happened when I was away from home on a lad’s weekend when she was ill. Turns out, it wasn’t and we’ve seen each other several times. Now she wants more from me and I am leaning towards her offer, but I owe Lindsay.

Until I met her I’d flitted from woman to woman, never putting down roots or having career aspirations. She welcomed me into her home, helped me better myself and loved me. I was in love with her but over time it changed and became more of a comfortable feeling to be around her. Part of me still loved that initial boost before the intenseness calmed and that’s what I found that night. I was in trouble and I knew it. Till then my list of excuses was growing much to her disgust.





Last night I worked late so Lindsay made her own way home. That act wasn’t deliberate, just that with Jayne gone I’d stepped up to be the acting manager and hadn’t found a replacement yet. Two jobs were wearing me down. When I pulled the car into the street a small lorry was blocking the way. Two men were unloading a washing machine. “Shit!” I proclaimed. I hated having to park on the street just above the house. It meant walking further which wasn’t the end of the world but I couldn’t see the car from the window either. There were plenty of empty spaces. The pensioners that lived in the houses just in front of the bays didn’t drive. I parked, locked and alarmed the car and walked away.

Two years ago I moved in, but it didn’t feel right anymore. I approached the front door with trepidation. It didn’t used to be like this and it couldn’t go on. At some point I had to decide what I wanted to do. My brother laughed at my antics all the time. We’d spoken last week, and he thought it was my need for change driving my feelings. I daren’t tell him I’d fallen out of love.





“There you are!” Lindsay said as I opened the front door. “Dinners almost ready.”

“Do I have time for a shower?”

“Yeah.”

I walked up the stairs, dropped my bag in the room and grabbed a towel.

“Want company in there?”

Not a few months ago I would have said yes straight away. “No, it's okay won’t be a few minutes.” I turned on the shower but not before I heard the disapproving sigh from the kitchen.





Dinner was gorgeous. Lindsay is a great cook, able to whip things up from not a lot and turn the most basic of meals in to a taste fest. Tonight it was a risotto with cream cheese, peas, red and yellow pepper and as an added luxury for me, a bacon steak. She had gone gluten-free a few months before she caught shingles and it unleashed a need for real food and not processed convenience goods. I was partial to quick easy meals, so we compromised. Once finished I removed our plates from the living room and since she cooked, I did the dishes. Now the real battle of wills began.

Armed with coffees and bowls of ice cream I went upstairs. Lindsay had moved and as I walked into the room, she patted the couch by her side. I gave her a bowl and mug, then sat in the chair by the side of the couch and ate my own. Crestfallen that yet another attempt to seduce me had failed, we ate in silence.





********





David





My lawyer was right. The warehouse that catered for young families and divorcees like me was a god send. It took a week to organise and arrange delivery but I couldn’t live much longer without a washing machine and fridge. Take-aways every night were far too expensive and, in the long run, not healthy for me.

The day after we met, I received the divorce papers in my workplace’s reception at five past twelve when everyone was running out for lunch. Maximum humiliation when words and normal emotions were beyond me. She did it so publically. I couldn’t fathom her reasons. Had I been that bad of a husband or denied her anything and yet she was out to destroy me.

The papers were for a total dissolution of our marriage. No trial separation, no mediation, nothing. Just the end. I sat in a meeting room just off my area of the second floor the envelope lying on the table in front of me. My name and divorce papers the only words written on the front. I hadn’t opened it and already the sadness enveloped me, threatening to push me into a dark hole of pain.

Human beings get married, break up and divorce every single day but this was different. I didn’t see coming. With deep breaths I built up the courage to open the envelope, thirty minutes later I wish I hadn’t. Page after page of legal definitions made understanding the document hard for a layman but I eventually weeded out what I needed. She was asking for a dissolution based on irreconcilable differences which was a laugh. “What differences?” I asked the cold blank room.

Further down she had listed items taken from the home but not all of them and it didn’t include all the kitchen items she took. The biggest surprise was the house. All she wanted was her half of the deposit, around £10,000. It wasn’t an impossible but the more I read the angrier I got. It was almost a demand to leave her life and to pay for the pleasure. There were several more pages of requirements including walking away from the current account and the overdraft. Everything came down to money.





That wasn’t the truth anymore once she had confronted me in the office. Irreconcilable differences my arse. She admitted she’d cheated. When I recalled the lawyer’s words it made sense. If she filed on the grounds of adultery she had to name a counter party. The judge could insist on counselling and make us wait longer to get the documentation done. By moving out and taking just about everything she’d completed her own actions. There was no return. By citing a complete breakdown of the relationship and given the time we were a couple, she had more chance of getting a quickie divorce. I soon found out her plans lay in ruins unless I went along with it. I didn’t want to but what choice did I have?





As days passed my wrath refused to mellow. Every morning I woke less refreshed than the morning before. My dreams were full of better days. Early days when she hung on my every word. I would bring her little gifts, love tokens. Maybe she never loved me as much as I did her. When I woke from my memories I would say, “Good morning silence.” I sat up, stretched, then swung my legs around and placed my feet on the floor. “Another day and god willing a better day.” It helped me cope.

One morning about a week after she left I woke and realised I had to give in and buy new items so I could function. The guys brought in a brand new washing machine, a fridge freezer and a new two seat couch. I had left the bed in the spare room and moved all my clothes in. I loved that old bed. It had never let me down. I couldn’t be in our bedroom anymore. Come to think of it for a few days I didn’t even want to be in the home. With everything plumbed in, I thanked the guys, tipped them both even though both tried to refuse and took myself to the local Grocery hypermarket. I filled my trolley with food, frozen items, a nice red dinner set, toaster, health grill and a brand new kettle. This wasn’t the answer to all my problems but a normal life would help to get me back on my feet.





I hadn’t been single since I was sixteen. Now fast approaching thirty the idea I had to look after myself, foreign. Even the decisions on what washing machine to buy took me ages. Gone were the days when it was simple. Half loads, super spins, heat settings, everything confused me. It was the same with the fridge so I took advice from a guy who worked there.

So here I stood in the meat aisle wondering what to buy. Truth was Jayne handled the shopping. I pushed the trolley and said yes or no but she ran the home. For a second, I wondered what single men did when they were shopping. Did they buy convenience foods? Then I realised I wasn’t most men. I never wallowed. Never gave up on anything and I wasn’t about to quit on myself when it mattered the most. If I didn’t know what I liked it was time to find out. Grocery shopping was about to get exciting.





5.





Lindsay





The last straw was booking a holiday. For weeks I’d been trying to tie Brian down to two weeks in June or July to book for a sunshine getaway. I fancied Greece this year with the guarantee of good weather, great food and I hoped for good company. To remind him I placed brochures on the coffee table and notes on the board in the kitchen. I wanted to book soon but so far silence.

Every night this week he’d worked late. In fact, this had gone on for three or four weeks. He’d grown a little distant and still hadn’t moved back into our bed, preferring to sleep on his own. When I raised an objection, he’d reply with, “Well you wanted me to progress. The longer hours are the cost.”

Tonight as I stood in the kitchen making yet another meal I would end up reheating for him I questioned what that meant. “I didn’t tell him he had to get a better job. We were doing okay.” Truth was we were okay for money. Not on the breadline but not rich either. Just comfortable and able to treat ourselves a little plus I had a nest egg for emergencies. “Is he doing it to impress?” I asked as I stirred the curry I’d made. Truth was I loved cooking and starting something from scratch, crafting a tasty meal was a challenge but I loved it. “He doesn’t have to. I love him for being him, not some jumped up wannabe.”

Tonight he said he’d be home around half six, but at half seven I gave in and ate my dinner. The TV showed a re-run of a show I’d seen twenty times but it was just noise. By eight o’clock I’d worried. “What if something has happened to him?” I asked aloud, constantly reaching for my mobile phone. I touched the screen, and it sparked into life. Without unlocking I could tell if I had any messages or missed calls – I didn’t.

An hour later he still wasn’t home.





I text him, just a quick one line asking if he was on the way home. Maybe he’d gone to the pub and forgot to tell me. “Possible,” I reasoned aloud. “But he usually tells me!” I always talked myself out of whatever scenario I thought of.





By ten o’clock I’d convinced myself that he’d been in a serious accident. We had a rule not to call each other in case the other was driving. We would text. It drove me bananas. It was far easier to answer the call with a hands free kit while driving but this was one of his rules. One that made no sense, but he had so few, I gave in to that one.

Just ten minutes later I heard the garden gate open, followed by the bang as he closed it. I sat down and turned the TV on. I have no recollection of why, except I didn’t want him to think I’d been pacing the floor, worried to death by his lapse of respect and accountability. Even though I had been.

He staggered up the stairs, threw his jacket on the back of the chair and slumped down without a word. “Been to the pub, have we?”

“Nope. Just working late.” He kicked off his shoes throwing them across the bright red rug that complemented the new cushions I’d bought. “What’s for eating?”

I hated the way he assumed. “Curry. Made it for you coming home earlier but I guess it will taste the same warmed up.”

“That’s my girl. Get me some would ya? And a beer...” Before I could leave him with a volley of expletives he stood and wandered towards the bathroom.

Thinking better of the evening and the fact I’d staying up late I went to warm up his meal.





Ten minutes passed, and I heard the TV change channel a multitude of time before he settled on something he wanted to watch. I returned with his plate and a beer. He took it off me without a smile or thanks. I lifted his jacket, but I refused to lift his shoes. As I hung it on the peg inside the cupboard I caught a whiff of something sticky sweet. It reminded me of something. A smell I knew well but couldn’t quite place.

When I returned to the living room he had finished his meal. Empty bottle stacked on top of the cleared plate he’d placed them on the table, too lazy to bother taking them to the kitchen. He expected me to run after him. It wasn’t always like this, but it had gotten worse in the last few months.

“What did you spill on your jacket?” I asked as he lay back on the chair ready to nod off. His eyes continued to close, ignoring me or at least trying. “Well?”

“Well, what?” he replied, snuggling down into the cushion. “I must have brushed against someone in the garage when I paid for the petrol.”

“Mm,” I replied unconvinced. This was no good. My mind said yell at him, my heart said go to bed, sleep and talk to him when he’s not half asleep. “I’m off to bed.” He didn’t reply as I walked away.





The next morning I rose and got ready in a quiet house. I’d got out of the habit of asking if he wanted coffee or breakfast, the answer was always “No.” Instead, I waited for him to surface from his room.

When it got to half past seven, and he hadn’t surfaced, I stuck my head around the spare room door. He wasn’t there. “Where the hell is he?” He’d slept in the bed as the covers were everywhere, in the way someone who’s late throws them around. I had neither heard, nor seen him rise. Unusual as we always rode in together, even if we didn’t come home together. “Bugger,” I said. “Now I need to take the bus.”

Angry at his lack of respect for me I stormed towards the front door where I saw a post it note half hidden under my hanging keys. “Got a training course in Edinburgh. I’m getting a lift,” I read aloud removing the note. “No, I love you, or kisses. No nothing. Bloody typical and why hide it under my keys. Men!” I gathered my bag and left for work.





The motorway was a disaster area. The old road and traffic lights replaced by a sleek faster dual carriageway. It bypassed local access roads but the volume of traffic remained endless. Rush hour wasn’t as bad as it used to be but it was still nose to tail every morning unless you travelled in early. Then you had a clear road and decent speed.

My mind wandered as I crawled along at ten miles an hour. Why wouldn’t he tell me about the training course? Something was wrong, something I couldn’t quite get a read on. In front of me, the line of traffic rolled on for a few feet then it stopped. A few moments passed, and we travelled another few feet.

I filtered out the anger with the radio, hoping it would help the time to pass until the road cleared. As I looked down to the dials a flashing red light caught my eye. “Shit, I’m running on empty.” I looked back to the road, then back to the dial. “How the hell is that possible. He got petrol last night.” The next turn off was a just a mile ahead, and I knew there was a supermarket that had a petrol station next to it. Now I needed the traffic to move enough for me to get there before I ran out.





For twenty minutes we edged closer and closer but not enough. Nerves jangled as the light continued to flash, the dial firmly stuck to empty. Rage built as I fumed. What I wanted to do was blast him with a volley of abuse he deserved. I reached the turn off, and the queue moved forward enough for me to gun the car down the ramp.

By the time I rejoined the motorway my anger had subsided a little, but I would still have words.





********





Brian





I don’t understand why I told Lindsay I’d got petrol because it wasn’t true. I knew I could fill it up the next morning before she got up. When the alarm went off I read a flash warning on my phone reminding me I wasn’t going into work and forgot all about covering my tracks. It wasn’t till later that afternoon that my mistake dawned on me. A quick check of my phone showed she hadn’t called, or text which spelt trouble. I turned the phone off not wanting to spoil the rest of the day.





That night on the way home I contemplated buying flowers, but she wasn’t a flowers person and I didn’t feel like admitting I’d done something wrong. See that was the usual way things worked. I’d mess up and buy her a small bunch to say sorry. Either that or chocolates and I’d apologise and that would be that but this silent treatment was new and I’d no idea what was coming.





The fine scent of peppercorn sauce wafted out of the kitchen window as I walked along the path. “Steak for dinner, wonder what’s going on? It’s not my birthday.” My hand gripped the door handle I pondered the question. Why would she cook the meal I loved the most? Was this a game or did she not know about the car. Had she’d decided not to drive. For a second I contemplated running out to the car and checking the level. Then I would be sure but I’d moved the door handle and if she was in the kitchen she would have seen it. I lowered the handle and opened the door as the realisation hit me. She saw everything, and I was in trouble.





Inside Lindsay was tending to a pot on the stove. I dropped my rucksack and headed towards the kitchen door. “Something smells nice!”

“Figured we could use a special offer.”

She turned and smiled. This didn’t look like someone who was baying for my blood but then I still wasn’t buying this. I had betrayed her. I wouldn’t be this calm if it was the opposite way round. “Fancy a drink?”

“Sure,” she replied.

I grabbed a bottle of white wine and opened it before walking upstairs with it and two empty glasses.





The dimly lit living room, table lamps and scented candles giving the room a romantic glow with an added cinnamon scent. She loved it since it reminded her of Christmas. I could do without. Minutes later as I flicked through TV channels looking for something we both might want to watch, she climbed the few steps with my dinner and cutlery in her hand.

“Here, enjoy.”

“What about yours?”

“Just coming. Find a film.” She suggested.

I did but not one that was too soppy or romantic. She might have set a semi romantic tone to the room for tonight but I didn’t want to add to it.





We hadn’t had steak in a few weeks. The last time was Lindsay’s birthday, and we went out for dinner. I’d enjoyed the food that night but wasn’t comfortable. That’s when I knew that I hadn’t had a one night stand, but something more. I sat facing her, watching her enjoy her special night not knowing if I wanted her or the woman I’d cheated on her with.





She sat on the couch after returning with her plate. She’d cooked the same for herself without the sauce. Her allergy to wheat denying her the pleasure. Silence, broken by the film which I wasn’t watching, took over as we ate. She hid any anger, but the noises made while eating told me she’d thoroughly enjoyed her meal. It felt strange. The dread of the past couple of weeks whenever I was in her company was back. Almost willing her to say something, to out my behaviour.





When the film finished I carried our plates back into the kitchen and returned to the living room. She had left the TV on the same channel and was messaging someone on her phone. “I think I’ll have a shower,” I said opening the airing cupboard door to grab a towel, knowing that once I’d done this I’d head to bed.

“Brian, do you love me?”

Oh god here we go. I nearly escaped through another night. “I do,” I replied standing by the door.

“It doesn’t feel like it.”

She stayed calm, never averted her gaze from the TV or phone, which threw me. I’d no idea if she was doing things on purpose to throw me off or if this was her way of staying in control. Thing was whatever I said now would either annoy her or annoy me. I couldn’t win.

She didn’t give me chance. She walked towards me while I looked at the floor. I stepped back to allow her to pass by.

“You cheated on me. Whether it was last night or last week I don’t care, but you did. The perfume and the lack of petrol tell me as much and I don’t need more evidence. So choose! Me or them.”

I stood with my mouth open wide, astounded by her calm nature, but also by her statement. She always knew, and I’d kidded myself if I thought otherwise.

“And do it soon,” she said from the kitchen, “Or you’ll come home one night and find your stuff outside and the locks changed!”





6.





David





Tonight I fancy a pint and for no reason, other than I needed a change from the four empty walls I now call home. I’ve no idea how long a guy mourns the loss of a relationship. Probably not long, but I haven’t felt like going anywhere except work (I have to) and the shops (I need to eat) for the last three months. Since this is a last minute idea, I don’t have many choices. There’s a pub at the top of the hill, by the shopping centre, but the youngsters use it before they go to clubbing. Then there’s the local at the end of the path where we used to go for a quick drink on the way home. The local it will have to be. It’s my only option.

The path separated the trees and open grassy areas brought back happy memories of throwing balls, sticks and running up and down the grass trying to tire Harvey out. That lab had more energy than his two owners put together. He died a few months before she left.

“I have to get another one,” I said aloud as I reached the top of the incline where the two paths met. “Least it would get me out of the house.”





For a Friday night, the pub isn’t as busy as I thought it would be and I see empty stools at the bar. I walk across and throw myself onto the nearest one.

“What can I get you?” asks the girl behind the bar. She’s new. A little over five feet tall, long drawn back blonde hair, a low cut top and breasts that look like she’s prised them in with a leaver. Boy, she knows she’s god’s gift to men.

“A pint. Super cold will do.” I nod toward the pump and turn away from the barmaid as she wandered off. There’s a few faces I recognise from the flats across the road, from home, but that’s all they are... faces. I didn’t feel comfortable speaking to any of them, so I turn my attention back to the bar and await the delivery of my pint.





Half way through my drink, I notice that a TV hanging over the corner of the bar is showing Ice Hockey and I haven’t seen this game. I slid my pint down the bar and took a seat closer where I could stare at the game. It’s not long before I’m yelling at the screen. I’m still on my first pint but who’s counting, these days I’m a lightweight and lager just goes straight to my head.

“What’s all the yelling for?”

I turn ready to answer the person when I see Brian standing behind me laughing. “What?” I ask him, “Have you not yelled at the game before?”

“Yeah, but football, rugby, never ice hockey.”

“Oh, come on get real. You don’t know what you’re missing. There’s more fighting and dirty tricks in your average game of ice hockey then in a boxing ring.”

“And here I was thinking its four men on each side, a well padded goalie and a ton of stick clashing.” He laughed before picking up his pint.

“Sit for a while.” I tell him, “And watch there’s always fighting.”

He pulls up a stool and joins me.





Two pints later the game is over. There were four fights, some lost teeth and one team beat another team four goals to two, but I’m smiling for the first time in weeks. I had intended to stay out for one pint but I’m glad I had more though I feel a little drunk.

“What about a few games of arrows?” Brian slid off the stool, with the grace of an ugly duckling rather than a swan. I catch him glancing at the clock behind the bar. “You can’t go home yet. It’s only nine and Lindsay won’t be back for ages yet. You can’t leave a condemned man on his own to drink.”

“Okay, okay. Arrows it is or do you mean darts?”

“Same thing my boy.” He slaps me on the back and yells at the barmaid. “Pass the spare arrows will ya?”

She shoots him a dirty look but gives him the two leather holders anyway.

“She likes me.” He laughed, and I smiled as she mouthed a volley of silent expletives in his general direction.

“Yeah, yeah Brian. She likes you.” I placed my pint on the table next to the dart board. “What do you mean a condemned man?”

Brian sauntered across and placed his pint by mine. “Lindsay gave me an ultimatum.”

“Wants you to settle down?”

“Kind of.” He took out his darts and stepped up to the line drawn on the rubber matting. “Things haven’t been the same for a while. We haven’t slept together in months.”

He retrieved his darts, and I stepped up to the line. “Why not? She’s a fine looking woman and sweet. She has a good heart.”

“Yeah,” Brian said before sinking some of his pint. “I love her...”

“But you’re not in love with her?”

“I don’t think so.”





We didn’t speak for while as we threw the darts and competed against each other. I loved the game and had since he gave me a dart board for Christmas one year. Plus I was good. All those hours practicing as a teenager must have done good. I won the first match, Brian the second and we agreed to play a third. I was on my fourth pint and feeling its mellow effects a little and probed a little further. Since my breakup I’d become interested in the signs. What should I have noticed when things weren’t going well? Could I have changed things? If I could help Brian to understand what he had then that was a good thing. “So what went wrong?” I asked him as he nursed the dregs of his pint. “With you and Lindsay?”

“Dunno,” he replied. “Think the flush of romance is gone,”

“But relationships grow, they change, expand. Can it be fixed?” I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Or have you been a stupid boy?” I said it but I didn’t think Brian would have cheated on Lindsay. No way, she was far too nice a woman to do that to. The only one who’s shown me any sympathy and comfort in these few weeks and that I wouldn’t forget. I knew Lindsay, but Brian, I didn’t know well enough. Not to push the point any further than I had already.

“You have a warped romantic vision of what living with a woman is like. Sure you’re not one?”

“No, but I think a relationship is worth saving, plus the one you have is special.” I put my empty glass down on the shelf. “She is a great gal. You need to work at this.”





********





Brian





I staggered home after several more pints. Usually alcohol had little effect but as soon as I stepped foot outside the pub the fresh air hit me and I turned into instant drunk. David tried his best to stop me singing and waking up the neighbours. I leaned on him slobbering and said, “I need to treat her like a princess, don’t I?”

“Yes, you do.” He helped me to the gate.

Thing was, I didn’t mean Lindsay.

David steadied me then bid me good night. I tried the locked door without thinking. After fiddling in my pockets I found my keys, got it open and staggered inside.





The dark house told me she wasn’t home, which was a relief. My shoes flew across the floor as I kicked them off, thumping the wall. I crawled up the stairs discarding my jeans and t shirt as I fell into bed mumbling, “I don’t want to. I don’t bloody want to.”





When I woke the next morning half dressed from the night before I had my answer along with a killer hangover. After making coffee and checking the house to see if she was home yet, I grabbed my phone. She had text to say she was staying at a friend’s because she had too much to drink. I clicked a few buttons and waited for the phone at the other end to ring. “Is the offer still valid?” I asked.

The response was positive. I hung up, grabbed two bags from the closet and a suitcase to pack my belongings. No doubt it was the cowards way out but better to get out now than prolong the agony for both of us. This was over.





7.





Lindsay





Days passed aimlessly by since I spoke to Brian and I wasn’t sure if I was coming or going. I had been out with the girls. A night of laughter, a few glasses of wine, good company and a stress free environment for a change. I stayed over, drank a little too much and decided a night on the couch was far better than a taxi journey. The next morning Adele, one of my best friends since childhood, insisted I stayed for breakfast. After that we decided on some shopping. Since Brian had neither text nor called me I decided what the hell.





It was close to six when I got home. Adele dropped me off since I’d got the train over to her house the night before. The first thing I noticed was the missing car. Brian always loved to park in the same space and it wasn’t there or anywhere in the immediate vicinity. “He’s out,” I said to myself walking along the path. If he was I’d have peace for the night.

Inside there was post lying on the floor behind the door. Why would he not pick it up? “Brian, are you home?” I called out, but silence crushed my good mood.





The next morning I woke, refreshed but mindful he hadn’t come home before I went to bed. I rose and made coffee then lowered the door handle of the spare room and pushed the door open. His bed made. The usual chaos of clothes everywhere replaced by tidiness. “This isn’t right.” I placed my coffee in the living room and went back to the spare room.

I stepped inside and it hit me. He wasn’t here. The wardrobe doors were lying open but inside nothing hung on the hangers. I opened the top drawer to find it empty. Back in the living room I looked around, trying to see the little things. Phone chargers, his tablet, nothing remained. In the bathroom his razor, aftershave and various hair products had disappeared leaving space on the shelf.

“He’s moved out?” I said more to myself than anything. “Why now?” It made little sense I thought we were getting back to our best. Our last conversation after I thought he’d cheated on me was over two weeks ago and things had continued better than normal. I assumed he’d chosen me. It made no sense.

My phone dead, uncharged last night. I was obviously more tired than I thought. With it connected it sparked into life. Unread emails flashed up on screen, game and other app notifications but no texts or voice mails. This wasn’t right. My heart pounded and I could hear each beat in my ears. “This isn’t right.” I said over and over. Where was he? If he’d moved out where was the note telling me so? Where was the simple human decency? I needed answers.

With the phone still connected to the charger, I called his number, letting it sit on speaker. It rang seven times before going to voicemail. I hung up and glanced at the clock. It wasn’t early. I tried again and the same thing happened. The third time the call went straight to voicemail, and the automated female voice told me the phone I was calling was unavailable. “He’s switched it off. What a wanker!”

I rarely swore but there was no other word for him and his actions.





Monday soon swung around and I called work asking for an emergency day off. It was David who took my call. He didn’t ask why, just would I need one day. We agreed on two and I got the uneasy feeling he knew what was going on. I’d slept a few hours. My mind wouldn’t switch off at all. I kept replying every conversation from the last few days. Did he wake up on Saturday morning and move out? Or was this pre planned?

When I woke on Tuesday I decided no matter how much my heart ached I had to reclaim my space. This was my home. Not his and barely ours when he lived here. I grabbed two boxes and starting in what used to be our bedroom. I went through the whole room and boxed anything that belonged to him. After several coffees and lots of tears I did the same with the rest of my home.

“This was the one Adele,” I said that night blubbering down the phone. “The relationship I thought was going all the way. The one that showed promise.”

“Has he spoken to you yet?”

“No.” I sniffed away the tears falling down my cheeks. I had cried a little in the last few hours as I packed his things, but as soon as I spoke, they started.

“That’s wrong. What are you going to do about work?”

“I have to go in tomorrow but we don’t work in the same area even though it’s the same floor. I never saw him and there’s less chance now.” It was a truthful statement, but I saw him when I went to the ladies room as my nearest was in his section of the building. I would need to use the other ones at the other side of the area if I wanted to avoid him for the next few days.

“Can you not take more time off?”

“What for Adele? I placed anything he left in boxes today. I filled two that was all. It’s not like he brought a lot with him and what he needed, he took.”

“Yes, but you need to give yourself time.”

“I think ever since I got shingles, what four months ago, things haven’t been right. I’m sure I’ve been mourning the relationship since then. Yeah the cheating was an issue, if he did because he never said either way, but the worst is the way he walked out.”

“Just be easy on yourself and call me if you need to talk.”

“Thanks, I will.”





********





David





The drive to work on my own became a time for reflection on the day ahead. I no longer needed that half an hour of solitude since I had the house to myself every day. My mind ran through all the meetings as I pulled out of the estate where I lived. I joined the dual carriage way just above the bus stop but caught sight of a distinctive red rain jacket. I slowed enough to see its wearer and pulled over onto the hard shoulder just a few feet later.

“Lindsay,” I yelled, getting out of the driver’s door. She leaned out of the shelter. I waved to beacon her towards the car. “Come on, I’ll give you a lift.” She nodded and ran the few feet down towards me. This was my good deed for the day since it was pouring.

“Thanks,” she said climbing in.

“Brian not working today?”

She glanced across at me and I saw sadness. “I’ve no idea where he is.”

“Huh?”

“He moved out on Saturday and I haven’t seen or heard from him since.”

“Shit!” I exclaimed. “Sorry.”





We were half way along the motorway before I plucked up the courage to speak to her again, not wanting to add to her pain. “I never said thank you for the kindness you showed me. Meant a lot.”

“The things she said, well should have been in private. Not blurted out in an office packed with people who like to gossip.”

“Yeah.” I sighed. “Wasn’t good, but you helped.”

“Glad to. I felt sorry for you. That’s why I got Brian to pull Jayne away.”

“That was you?”

“Yeah sorry. She broke you and I couldn’t watch. Others were enjoying your pain a little too much.”

She looked at me. I glanced across then back at the road. The light in her eyes had returned, just a little. How could someone walk out on this wonderful creature? “You are amazing!”

“Me? No, it was just the right thing to do. I couldn’t stand by and watch someone hurt you like that. You’re a decent bloke, David. You deserve much more.”





We continued to drive into town threading our way through the city centre. Most employees that drove in and arrived early used a car park within five minutes of the building. Thing was if you didn’t get in there quick you would miss out as it could only take a few cars. We parked with ease but in the corner of the lot I spied Brian’s car. Lindsay did too. “Will you two be okay in the same building?”

“Soon find out won’t we!” She closed the car door and walked to the front as I locked my car. “Thanks for the lift. Saved me heaps of time.”

We walked away to the front of the parking structure. “You’re welcome. Listen depending on when you’re leaving I can give you one home.”

She smiled, and I felt strange, almost happy for the first time in weeks. “Thanks but you’ve done enough.”

As she turned away I mumbled, “I haven’t thanked you enough yet.”





That afternoon I emailed Lindsay and told her I’d be leaving at four, if she wanted a run home. Her desk was about twenty feet away from mine, so I could see she was sitting there. I looked up and her head was down, no doubt concentrating on whatever she was working on. No-one ever had a bad word to say about her work ethic apart from she took too much on herself. She looked up, and I saw the faintest hint of a smile. Seconds later she replied – Thanks that’s would be great. It felt fantastic to be nice.





Since she wasn’t too far away from me I’d been able to watch over her a little. We’d been in this department for quite a few years but she’d been at that bank of desks for two months. At her old desk I’d heard her laughing with her friends. She could be louder when having a good time but she wasn’t the worst. Since split, even though I didn’t think it was necessary, Lindsay withdrew. It could be up to a year or more before her manager moved bodies around again.

I saw her stand, but this time she didn’t go through the doors into the other area like most of her team, she walked the other way. Her plan I assumed, was to stay away from Brian. I’d gone through earlier but he was in meetings and not at his desk. I wanted to ask why he hadn’t warned me he’d moved out. It was his business, but I’d have appreciated the heads up, after all Lindsay was one of my employees.

Instead I emailed him, asking him to call me. He read it, but didn’t call. That told me everything I needed. He didn’t give a shit. That kind of attitude pissed me off. She and I would have to stick together.





8.





Brian





I moved in with my brother Jason just for somewhere to stay and get my head together. But in a few days I would move in with the woman I’d been cheating on Lindsay with. We’d discussed it already, and I’d decided. I was just waiting for her to return home from a business trip. She offered me excitement, Lindsay stability and at this point in my life that wasn’t what I needed. I felt a little bad about leaving as I did. At some point I would have to apologise but since I was about to move offices for a new position, I wouldn’t see her for a while. I hoped the break would lessen any anger.





“Travelling light?” Jason said interrupting my thoughts as he woke me with a coffee.

“Had little. Just my clothes and a few bits and bobs. I have left some at Lindsay’s so I’ll contact her in a while and get them dropped off.”

“No TV?”

“She had her own, so I never bought one.”

“You’re like a homeless guy that flits between places and never settles.”

“Life’s too short Jason, and that’s not what I want.” He stood by the door as I propped myself against the headboard of his spare room. “Listen, thanks for this but I’ll get out of your hair in the next few days.”

“Got plans?”

“Yeah and they involve a female who doesn’t want to settle either!”

“Does Lindsay know it’s over?”

“I think the fact I moved out says it all.”

“If you have any feelings left for her at all you should exit gracefully, or at least tell her why. Don’t leave her hanging.”

“She knows the score,” I lied. “Anyway I’m not interested in her feelings, just the ones of my friend.”

“Grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” Jason mumbled before turning and heading out of the bedroom.

“No, it’s not, but it’s more fun!”





A week later I repacked my bags and unlike the way I snuck out of Lindsay’s I arrived at my friends with a bunch of roses. This was what romance was about. She didn’t need them, heck anytime I’d been to her house to visit every room had them, but it was the gesture. I went into this with my eyes open. It was new and the first time for me because I didn’t feel equal in a relationship. She had more money, not just a little but a lot which took my feelings of being a kept man to a new level. But then, I deserved the finer things in life and maybe this was the way.





********





Jayne





That damn lawyer is just plain getting on my last nerve. I told him what I wanted from this and he’s niggling about the nuts and bolts instead of going for the throat and cleaning David of everything he owns. He wants me to accept a lower settlement offer because I took the furniture. He doesn’t realise that these were my things, my style and importantly my time. I spent hours poring over catalogues, swatches and plans for the best we could afford and it had to match my vision of comfort. If we lived in a better house and area, David would have come home to find his bags packed and dumped outside.





Am I that shallow? Yes. When we bought the house it was a toss-up between two. We enquired about both but they accepted this one. I wasn’t happy, and I told him so but we needed a new home and the sale went ahead.

Honestly, that was the start of the end!





This morning I was taking time for myself. I’d been running backwards and forwards from conference to conference and trying to get the divorce completed and my flat sorted. It caught up with me in a big way so I booked a doctor’s appointment. Sat in the waiting room surrounded by patients coughing I didn’t feel sick in the slightest, just run down.

“Jayne McClellan.”

I looked up at the sound of my old name. I had to put that right on their records.

“We haven’t seen you for quite a while,” the doctor said as I closed his door. “How are you?”

“Okay I suppose.” I sat and waited for his next question. Doctor Jones had known me since I was three years old. He still looked after my mother and father.

“What can I do for you?”

“Well awhile ago, few months, I had a horrendous dose of flu and I haven’t recovered. My glands are still swollen. I’m listless and just can’t find any energy.”

“Mm,” he replied before walking around the desk with his hand pointing to the examination table. His gentle hands probed my neck accompanied by an “okay”.

He never gave much away.

“Let me see you throat.”

I opened my mouth, and he pressed down on my tongue with a wooden stick. “Looks okay.” He threw the stick away. “Any muscle soreness?”

“Yes. The flu gave me aches in places I long forgot and they haven’t gone away.”

“I think we need more tests. This is not the flu.”

We moved back to his desk, and he typed into a pre populated form on his computer screen.

“While you are taking notes can you change my name on the records?”

“Pardon?”

I thought I was clear but never mind. Sometimes his doddery ways infuriated me despite his pleasant nature. “I’ve gone back to my maiden name.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

His expression said otherwise annoying me further.

He clicked on a drop-down menu before looking at me. “Nope I can’t change it but the girls in reception can. Just ask them on your way out.” His fingers stopped typing. Eyes glanced up from the keyboard. “Are you with someone new?”

“Yes,” I replied although I didn’t think it was anything to do with him.





Two weeks later a letter arrived asking me to attend a clinic appointment, but I thought they’d booked the wrong place. It asked me to go to the centre for sexually transmitted diseases. I thought it was a typo. I mean, who thinks a bad dose of flu is transmitted in that way. Yes, I slept with a few guys before I found my new prince charming, not including David, but that meant nothing.

A complete waste of time was what I said to the receptionist when I called the surgery. She insisted it wasn’t a mistake and I should go along at the allotted time. Still convinced this was nothing more than a waste of my morning I went along ready to give them a piece of my mind.





9.





Lindsay





The lift turned into a regular run into work and sometimes a run home. He knocked on my door the next morning and said, “Come on. Some company on the journey would be nice.”

All I could do was say, “thanks” and smile at him.

This continued for a few days. He would email me in the afternoon and advise if he was leaving at four or working late. On the way home as we walked up the path he would say, “Seven tomorrow morning? Or is that too early?” It never was.





After the second day we met on the path that led down to where he parked. I always left my home a minute to seven, and he did the same. The similarity didn’t strike me until the morning I walked out and he wasn’t there. I glanced down the path but his car was still there. I grabbed my phone to check the time and gave him a few minutes before going to knock on his door.

Five minutes turned into ten and although we wouldn’t be late since we had no fixed starting time, neither of us liked to be. I decided the best course of action was to walk the thirty feet to his front door and knock. He answered on the second.

“Sorry blasted alarm clock didn’t go off. Come in, come in I won’t be a minute.”

“That’s okay,” I replied unsure. He was one of my bosses and I wasn’t sure what to do.

“I won’t bite. Honest,” he said with a grin that showed his playful side for the first time.

I stepped through the door. “Well, hurry then or you’ll be moaning about the traffic.”

He laughed and ran back up the few stairs to his living room while I waited in the room none of us were sure what to do with.

Our homes shared a funny design. Front door opening into a room that could pass as a dining room but not much else. He used it as spare space, with next to nothing in it, bar boxes. I had my table and chairs there, not that anyone used them. Anyone who ate in my home did so in the living room in front of the TV. I glanced around, to pass the time standing there. Not to be nosey but it was evident he had little, and that seemed strange.

His clinically clean kitchen was just off the side of where I stood. Nothing sat on the counters at all, bar a kettle and a toaster. David walked down the stairs and caught me looking. I drew my eyes back and blushed but I had to ask. “Are you a neat freak on the quiet?”

“Huh?”

“The kitchen?”

“No, not a neat freak. Just trying to keep it tidy.” He glanced in the door. “Not too hard when there’s bugger all in it.”

“I’d have you pegged as a gadget man.”

He nodded. “I used to be. Guess I need to start re building my collection.”

I stared at him not understanding what he meant.

“You don’t know do you?” He looked at the floor, then back at me. His eyes cold, almost ice like.

“What?” I asked.

“Go for a wander and you tell me.”

“No, I couldn’t,” I protested. I didn’t want to be walking around his house. That was intruding into his life.

“Please, I insist.” He stared right at me, almost through me, before his gaze softened. “It would be a relief. Please. I promise it's tidy and you won’t see anything nasty.”





I climbed the stairs leading to the living room and bedrooms. His home had the same layout as mine. In the first double sat a metal bed. Piles of woollens lay in the corner of the room, stacked neatly, next to what looked like sports gear. The middle single bedroom empty. Not of furniture but of everything except the blind on the windows.

In the living room sat a couch, chair that didn’t match it at all, a small black MDF coffee table and a big TV. Some DVD’s and what I recognised a play station games lay by its side. I presumed in the drawer of the TV stand or behind the TV was a games console.

When I reached the last bedroom, I gasped. There, another double, lay empty.

“You okay?” he yelled.

I returned to the top of the stair. “Where is everything?” I exclaimed. “Either you are taking modern minimalism to the extreme or you’ve had a burglar, my friend.” I spoke as I walked down the stairs. As I closed the gap between us I caught the softest glint in his eye and the penny dropped. He hung his head, embarrassed. My heart clenched with disgust. “She cleaned you out.”

He nodded before looking back at the floor. I responded with what came natural and pulled him into a bear hug. His body sagged. Sorrow for his situation ebbed through my veins. When I took a step backwards. He looked a little shell shocked.

“If you want to borrow anything just come on over. He couldn’t take anything because it’s all mine.” I winked to let him understand I meant it as a joke and he burst into laughter.

“Don’t suppose you have a spare wardrobe or three?” His smile made the delay of this morning worth it.

“No, but I have portable clothes racks that would do the job for you until you find some you like.” I picked up my rucksack and threw it on my shoulder. “Come on, let’s get you to work.”





We walked down the path towards the car. “Thanks, Lindsay, for not judging.”

“Hey, I’m in no position, remember. We could have been in exactly the same position so I’m glad to help you.”

He opened the doors, and we climbed in.

“And while we are on the subject, let me pay for the petrol, will you?”

“No, no way,” he replied wagging his finger which would have been all I needed to go off the deep end, but I knew he jested.

“Let me cook you dinner.”

“Do you have gadgets in your kitchen?” His cheeky smile added to the question and I couldn’t contain my laughter.





********





David





It took every ounce of courage I had that morning to let Lindsay see how bad my situation was. I hadn’t let on to anyone I lived with literally just what I needed. She was right. It looked like I’d suffered a burglary. Trouble was on one salary I could afford the mortgage and the loan for the car, but not a lot of luxuries. Everything I needed was a major purchase, and I had no savings. I’d wiped out what I had replacing items required for everyday use.

I’d hid my real emotion of disgust. It was just easier I reasoned. I wasn’t sure where to start after I’d got the kitchen items so instead of carrying on, I’d stopped. I put a little away each month to grow a fund from which to make future purchases. But how do you replace things you bought together for a purpose? It hurt more than I ever thought it would and now I had legal costs for the divorce to shell out. Until that was all over I couldn’t afford to be extravagant. The whole episode had me on a never ending rollercoaster heading downwards but allowing Lindsay in might be the first step back to the top.





When we got to the car park, I parked and headed across to McDonalds for breakfast. I hated the canteen food, and I’d only enough time to make sandwiches for lunch. Breakfast was an afterthought. Lindsay came with me. I’m not sure if it was to make sure I ate or because she wanted something. Whatever the reason I was glad she did.

It was a strange sensation and something I hadn’t felt in months. A sense that this was right. She was who I should be with right now. My mind kept telling me to relax and learn from her like Master Yoda. I imagined her with a Jedi light sabre cutting through the everyday crap that accumulated. She was that kind of person, maybe that’s why I enjoyed mornings again.

“What’s going on in that dirty mind of yours?”

I laughed. I couldn’t say I’d just imagined her as a two foot tall green god of all knowledge. “Nothing. Fancy something to eat?”

She glanced at me, those quizzical eyes boring into mine. I tried to clear my mind just in case she could read my thoughts.

“My treat this morning.”

“I’ll have a bacon roll meal then, with coffee.”

“Two,” I said to the man behind the counter and paid for both wondering if she’d known I’d pick the same meal.





That afternoon as I sat eating a sandwich my phone rang.

“David? Dean Brody, I have news.”

“Good or bad?” I asked.

“Good. She’s agreed to return the items you wanted and we’ve negotiated a £1,000 reduction for the furniture.”

“That’s a bonus.” It made a little dent in the amount she wanted but I didn’t care anymore. This was a business negotiation. Nothing more, nothing less.

“I will have the paperwork for you to sign tomorrow and you’ll be divorced in about two weeks.”

He hung up, and I sat for a moment. The last chapter of my life built over ten years would be no more. Ended. Finished. I could move on if I wanted to, but it didn’t remove those shackled feelings holding me down. As I looked up, Lindsay walked away from her desk, heading for an afternoon coffee. Impulsively, since I never took one, I jumped up and wandered after her, trying not to run. I caught her as the lift arrived. She entered without knowing, turned and smiled as I walked in along with another two people. We exited on the ground floor.

“Got a meeting?”

“No.” My head shook for added effect. “Needed a break from my desk. Just took a call from the lawyer and didn’t want to sit there. You know?”

“I do.” She walked away then stopped. “Fancy a coffee, my treat.”

“Sure,” I replied and headed towards the pod with her.

“Are you celebrating or commiserating?”

Truth was I wasn’t sure. “It’ll be over in two weeks if that’s anything to go by.”

We neared the kiosk and stood in a queue of a few people waiting to order from the barista.

“It’s not all sorted yet. She still needs to hand over a few items, but it’s all but agreed. I guess it’s a mini celebration.”

“A friend of mine had a divorce party. Mind you hers was bad.”

I shuffled forward in the queue, feet barely lifting from the floor. I didn’t feel in either a party or a celebratory mood. “Not sure that’s the way I want to go,” I said looking at the floor. Uncontrollable emotions shook through my body, legs weakened and I touched the counter to steady myself. This happened since childhood. In times of great stress, I’d get dizzy and need to touch, even the smallest item to steady myself.

Lindsay touched my shoulder. The electric shock from her hand flashed through my skin and into my chest. “A mini celebration then. Let me cook dinner tonight.”

I glanced at her ready to apologise and ask for a rain check.

“No excuses,” she said before I could say a word. “Anything you don’t like or can’t eat?”

“I like everything.”

The barista asked for our orders and Lindsay paid for the coffees. This was new. Being friends with a woman who wasn’t my wife. She was my best friend for a while. I thought it was forever, and that hurt the most.

“Here,” Lindsay said handing me a large latte. “I guess since we were late in this morning you’ll be working later, so I won’t hang about tonight. Need to pick up a few things for dinner.”

“Don’t do too much. This isn’t a big thing.”

“Let me spoil you a little. This is a good day.”

She had a point!





Lindsay was right, I had to stay later than I wanted but hours had to be worked, emails returned, meetings attended. She left not long after normal and had sent me an email just saying see you whenever you get back. No kisses, no fluffy around the edges just a simple statement. That’s what I liked. A straightforward and to the point woman.

On the way home a thought crossed my mind. I should get Lindsay something to say thanks. Chocolates or flowers maybe. But she was doing this because I wouldn’t let her give me money. She was thanking me. Was it wrong to buy her a gift? This was the thing about new friendships. I didn’t understand how to behave.





I approached her front door with trepidation. Not sure if I should do this. She was in my team and I was a boss. Not hers, but her boss’s boss. There were rules, and I wasn’t sure if being friends was bending them a little. Tomorrow I had to find out what they were even if it was to put my mind at rest. “You’re an idiot,” I said, walking down the path that led along the front of the row of homes. “Who else in the last few weeks has shown you any compassion?” I was right no-one, but her. The friends I had before my marriage dwindled. All we made as a couple stepped back once Jayne began divorce proceedings. No one had called to talk, and I had no-one to reach out to. Contacts filled my phone. My Facebook profile had over one hundred friends listed, but I couldn’t talk to any of them. Lindsay had tried and here I was trying to push her away.

Her gate loomed, decision time. “Do I enjoy her company?” I gripped the slightly rusty wrought iron. Was it back to the doom and gloom of a partial shell or dinner with a friend?

Lindsay opened her door before I could turn and run. “Come in, come in.”

“How did you know I was there?”

“That gate, as soon as you touch it, it creaks. I knew someone was out here and I was expecting you. Are you coming in?”

“Yes.” I opened the gate and willed myself to take a leap of faith.





Inside the two houses were in the same peculiar layout, but this was much more. “Wow, you have a beautiful home.”

“Thanks.”

She took my coat and hung it in the cupboard where I usually just threw it. I dumped my rucksack by hers.

“Coffee, beer, wine or juice?”

“Beer if you have it.”

“I do.” She walked into the kitchen while I stood in the room that passed as space in my house but housed her dining table and chairs. “Here,” said handing me a beer, and I noticed she had taken the same thing but a different brand as I followed her to the living room.

A warm red rug took centre space complimented by red sofa throws and cushions. Pictures hung on each wall. Seascapes and beaches dominated each and contrasted the colours of her furniture. Two oak bookcases sat on the far wall, filled floor to ceiling with books. Others piled on top of the ones she’d organised. “Run out of space?”

“I did,” she said with a chuckle. “I have a soft spot for books, films and my favourite TV shows. If I like an author, I try to get all their books.”

On the shelf that was the top of the downstairs cupboards she’d lined up folders that probably housed her Cd’s or movies. There wasn’t one or two, but forty plus of all shapes and sizes. “How can you tell what’s in each?”

“This will sound strange,” she replied, “And I don’t tell many people because they think I have OCD, but I have a spreadsheet. Everything is numbered, so if I’m looking for something particular, I can look at that and find what folder to look in.”

“Wow, you must have hundreds.”

“Thousands. I have about thirteen hundred films and just over four thousand episodes of my favourite shows.”

“No wonder you need a spreadsheet. Do you get to watch many of them?”

“All the time. A lot of popular films get shown over and over, pulled out for Christmas or Easter that kind of thing but you can’t always watch them that way.”

I watched intently as she talked. Her passion evident and I saw a new version of her.

She held out her hand, and I sat on the couch next to her as she continued. “The last few years, TV schedules have missed one of the greatest Christmas films, but because I have a copy I can watch whenever I want to.”

“When you put it like that, it makes sense.” I took a swig of the ice cold beer, appreciating the calming feeling it produced as it ran down the back of my throat. “So what is this film? Love Actually? Miracle on 34th Street?”

She laughed. “No. It’s A Wonderful Life.”

“Oh, that’s a goody, sad. Has it been missing?”

“Yeah sometimes it’s on a week before Christmas but it’s the quintessential Christmas Eve movie to remind mankind what Christmas is about. The others you mentioned are good.”

“Chick flicks.”

“You’re not a lover of them then. You’d be a Die Hard Man, another great Christmas tradition?”

“I like a good action film. Die Hard is good – that whole series is good. But I prefer Home Alone or something along those lines, comedy.”

She smiled and sank a little beer before placing the bottle on her coffee table. “Excuse me for a moment. I need to check on dinner.”

“What are we having?” I asked as she stood, hoping she said something home cooked and that I liked, rather than some new age macrobiotic rubbish.

“Fish Pie.”

I grinned. I couldn’t help myself I loved fish but hadn’t eaten it in ages.

“Figured you could use fattening up. Plus I’m gluten-free so its home made from scratch and good for you.”





“Be about five minutes,” Lindsay announced on her return to the living room. She laid knives and forks on the coffee table, along with salt and pepper pots. “I eat up here unless it’s a special occasion, or are you happier eating at the table?”

“No, this is great. Thank you for offering to cook. Microwave meals only stretch so far.”

“Can you not cook?”

“I can,” I replied proudly. “It’s something I like to do. Just that when I get home, after let’s face it a long day at work, I don’t have the get up and go to make something.”

“I used to say that...”

“But now?”

“Well, going gluten-free was a good thing because now I have to plan everything out a few days in advance. Make sure I have things in I can eat and not come home and just chuck something in the microwave from the freezer. I can if it’s a curry or something like that, but now even a pasta meal needs to be cooked from scratch. I can’t just buy a ready meal.”

“Big change?” I asked drinking my beer. It seemed like a question that a friend would ask. The thing was I wanted to know the answer. In ten minutes in her company I’d doubled my knowledge, and I wanted more. Much more.

“It was at first. The shingles two weeks later hurt because Brian grew paranoid about what he touched and ate. He wouldn’t get me shopping, nothing. So I had to start online shopping and getting it delivered and I continue to do that unless I need things last minute.”

“They deliver it to you?”

“Yeah, I order, they pick, pack and deliver it right to my door. Long as I plan my deliveries right it’s cheaper than getting a taxi and easier for all the heavy stuff.” She glanced across at me then lowered her eyes to my beer before standing. “Want another one with your meal?”

“Why not. Thanks.”





A few minutes later Lindsay returned with two plates of steaming hot food. She handed one over and the aroma of parsley sauce, fish and comfort food sent my senses into over drive. She placed hers on the coffee table and returned with two fresh bottles of beer. “Tuck in,” she said. “I don’t stand on ceremony here. Enjoy.”

I sat back, balancing the plate on one hand and took my first few mouthfuls. The fish exploded in my mouth. It literally fell apart. “This is wonderful.”

She smiled as we ate.





With the TV on low, showing us the evening news we cleared our plates, and I finished the first beer and was half way through the second. I sat back, stuffed.

“Want more?” Lindsay asked before placing her empty place in the same place as mine.

“I couldn’t. Thanks. That was fabulous, but I am stuffed.”

“Comfort food does that.”

“Can I ask you something?” A question had popped into my head. Something I remembered Brian saying in passing and I wanted an answer, firsthand what the circumstances were. “You were off with shingles when Jayne moved out. Did you see anything?”

Lindsay sighed and flopped back on the couch. “What do you want to hear, David? That I could have stopped her?”

“No, no.” I protested holding my hands up trying to reassure her that’s not what was on my mind. “You were off that day and I wondered what you saw. Only one person knows what happened and she won’t talk.”

“I saw little since I was housebound and my view from the window is restricted but I saw a few things.”

I sat hugging the half drunk bottle of beer. Knowledge brings closure that’s what people said, and I wasn’t about to get that but a little was better than none.

“I saw the small lorry, or large van, pull in. A box one, with two guys in their twenties. They blocked the shop owner in and he wasn’t pleased. A few hours later they argued with a guy and an older guy broke it up. They left then Jayne walked to her car and drove off. I thought it was weird, because Brian had said she was on a course for the whole week, yet there she was. A few days later I found out she had left. I’m sorry, I really am.”

“Hey, you have nothing to be sorry about. You couldn’t have stopped her. Hell, even I couldn’t have stopped her. She’d been planning it for weeks. To pack and move the contents of a whole house takes organisation.” I slugged down a little more beer. “She never said a word, and I found no evidence of her getting ready to move out. I even spoke to her that morning about everyday things and not once did that damn woman even give me a hint.”

“We can talk about this?”

I wasn’t sure but my head nodded up and down. “I haven’t to anyone.”

Lindsay touched my hand, fleetingly and said, “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on in that head of yours?”





A few minutes passed by. I drank more beer, glanced at the TV a few times then back to Lindsay. She kept her eyes on my face the whole time urging me to talk but I didn’t even in good times. “I don’t know why and no one understands.”

“I do,” Lindsay replied. “When Brian left, which isn’t the same, but when he left I didn’t understand and I still don’t.”

“You two never married?”

“No. He never asked. So the split was less traumatic for me. Nothing was in joint names. Not even finances although I have now lost access to a car, but that’s about the limit of my problems.”

“You escaped there. I will be lucky to escape with the house intact. She doesn’t want much, just what she took, minus the bits I want back and she wants a lump sum.”

“What? She wants everything and money! That’s rich.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “Between you and me I had to take out a bigger mortgage to pay her off but it will be worth it in the long run.” I finished the beer with a long swig. “She wants to get away as fast as possible and in all honesty I’ve not fought too hard.”

“It’s a compromise.”

“Yeah but she’s been sly, which is a quality I never thought she had in her.”

“How so?” Lindsay asked.

“The papers were in my hand just two days after she moved out. She had them served on me at work, of all places and they listed irreconcilable differences. Then a few weeks later when we had that little confrontation that the whole office witnessed, I found out it was adultery. She’d cheated on me. If she’d filed with that reason then it would have taken longer to get the paperwork through and she’d need to name who she cheated with. I’m convinced it’s someone I know but I can’t figure it out.”

“That’s bad.”

“This woman was in my life for twelve years and never lied or deceived me before. Not on this scale. I thought we had a future, common ground to walk towards but she stamped on every single thing I ever wanted. Crushed my dreams into tiny little pieces.” I flopped back against one of her red cushions, drained by allowing my pent up feelings out. “Sorry, this is just a mess. My life is a complete wreck.”

“It’s not your fault. Don’t beat yourself up.”

“I try not to but it’s hard.”





10.





Lindsay





Life finally felt like it was back on an even keel. Ever since the first night I cooked for David, he’d been over every other. We’d chat about all our problems, share a beer or a bottle of wine and he’d go home. We’d passed that uncomfortable stage where neither of us knew whether we could do this. The second time he came over David told me he’d checked and there were no company rules that said we couldn’t be friends. Truth was I felt sorry for him. I had my own struggles but his were worse.

We continued to drive in together and some mornings there was even laughter at one or the others taste in music. We like the same bands but once in a while tunes caused one or both of us to laugh. When that happened I cherished the moment dearly. Some nights we would drive home, others I would get the bus. However, we always took care not to look to friendly in work. Gossip had already claimed both of our individual tragedies and neither wanted dragging through the mud again.





Since the first afternoon where David joined me for coffee, he had done it again twice. Mainly because he was downstairs at a table outside the coffee pod when I was in the queue. Sometimes he was there but mid meeting. He would look up, smile to acknowledge I was walking past then go back to his conversation.

One night I went out with Adele, keen to make sure I kept my friends close. “So how are things?” She asked hugging what was to be the first glass of wine that night and straight to the point as always.

“They’re getting better.”

“Heard from Brian?”

“Nope, not at all. I boxed up the rest of his stuff and it’s sat in the spare room. Just two small boxes,”

“That’s all?” she stated. “Wow. I thought he’d have far more than that. Men have a lot of stuff.”

I laughed at her statement. I’d say she was right but Brian had next to nothing. “Guess he was just different.”

“How’s work? Have you seen him?”

“Nope. He’s on some management training course in some college in town for a few weeks. I saw his stand in today and he told me. I want rid of the boxes so I built myself up and wandered around to his team and he wasn’t there.”

“Typical,” she snorted. “So how’s it going dealing with everyday things, getting to work and so on? Are you getting the bus?”

“Sometimes but most of the time I get a lift of David. The guy who works with me lives at the end of the road. Remember, I told you about his wife leaving him with nothing.”

“Is he a good looking? Worth hanging about with?”

“Adele!”

“What?” she said with laughter I hadn’t heard in a long time. “You say he’s a friend but if there’s something about him, well that’s all the better.”

I sank a little wine and replied, “Well he’s a nice guy. Kind, gentle, well spoken but hides his emotion and finds talking about things that trouble him very hard.” I sat back against the padded back of the bar booth. “Is he nice to look at, yes I guess he is. Tall, thinning hair on top but he’s cut his hair short. He likes to wear the 5 o’clock shadow kinda stubble while it’s still soft and he has the deepest green eyes I’ve seen.”

“That’s strange. Greens are pale.”

“Yeah these are dark, almost winter fir tree green. I wasn’t sure if he wore tinted lenses. They looked real enough.”

“You’ve got close enough you can see if he’s wearing lenses.”

“No.” I laughed at her suggestion but she had a point.

“Sounds dreamy...”

“He’s nice, but he’s just a friend. Nothing more.”

“Yeah yeah.”





Two days later I rode the lift down to the basement floor to deliver a batch of documents for scanning into the companies archive. I dropped them off, signed the log and returned to the lift. A few of us got in. I walked straight to the back and stood in the corner. Two people got out on the ground floor and a couple got in. They were from my team but hadn’t noticed me. At first I thought they were being rude but then I heard one say, “I’ve got gossip. Lindsay is sleeping with David.”

“I’ve seen the way they leave at the same time and he gives her a ride home.”

“Yeah well that’s not all he’s giving her. She’s using him to get a promotion. Thinks she’s too good for our team. She doesn’t fit in, at all.”

The doors opened on the second floor and the two of them walked out and towards the locked doors leading to our area. I allowed the lift doors to close and continue on their journey to the third floor where I walked towards the stair well, in complete and utter shock.

I stood there, slumped against the cold white wall. Did I hear that or was it my imagination playing tricks. No I heard it, but how does a lift or walking to the car mean I was sleeping with him. Was this something Brian planned to get back at me? “Shit,” I exclaimed. “What the hell am I going to do?”





Back at my desk no one noticed I’d been missing for longer than I should. I sat down. The two girls who gossiped sat across the other side of the table talking. Neither looked at me. Still unsure if I should say something to them I logged back into my work station and immediately saw an email from David. I opened it and read – Finishing at four – see you downstairs.

In two minds whether to have a word with my boss about what I’d just heard or to tell him, I decided I had to speak to him first. My manager would take it out of proportion because she would no doubt want to speak to them. That would inevitably lead to the rest of the team finding out and both of us would be uncomfortable. He’d been through enough but I had to warn him and stop getting a lift home. First thing in a morning, few caught us coming into work but plenty saw us leave.

Okay – but we need to talk outside here – I replied. P.S. Meet you outside





When I saw the clock on my workstation click over to Three forty five I packed up my desk and signed the sheet at the end of the row. I said good night to the five other people at my bank of desks. No one replied at all. A couple looked up then back down again. Every morning I would greet them all, every night I would say good night yet not one of them acknowledge me. They could gossip but not show common decency. I wandered away and back to the lift. The last hour had given me time to think, and I was sure I had to break this friendship off before it destroyed the both of us.





David came outside just after four o’clock and without speaking the two of us walked purposefully away from the office doors. It wasn’t until we arrived at the traffic lights at the end of the road he asked, “Are you okay? You seem flustered.”

“No. I heard something today, and it’s sent me in a tail spin.”

“Tell me about it.”

“When we get to the other side of the road,” I replied. There were a handful of people I recognised standing behind and at our sides. I wanted no one around that worked anywhere near us.

He said nothing more, just nodded and concentrated on watching the traffic lights. I think he knew whatever this was, it concerned work.





We crossed the link roads above the dual carriageway and cut down between some flats, on a path that led around the back to the garage. Not twenty feet down the path he said, “So, come on what did you hear?”

I stopped walking, looked around to check and replied, “Please remember this is not me saying this but what I heard.” He nodded, and I repeated what I had heard that afternoon in the lift. I didn’t miss a thing, including not letting on I was there or I was swaying with indecision about what to do. When finished we continued to walk but David hadn’t said a word. I stopped short of saying I thought we had to cool this friendship for his sake. We were inside the car before he spoke.

“I appreciate you keeping this from your manager.”

“Don’t talk like my boss David, this is about our friendship, not something we have or haven’t done in work.”

“But it is.” His hands gripped the steering wheel, and I saw him take a deep breath. “Look, maybe we should...”

“Cool this friendship...” I said interrupting.

“No, no way,” he exclaimed. “I was about to say leave it with me. Don’t confront them, don’t tell your manager. Don’t say a word. Let me see how far this has gone. It might blow over if they have something else to gossip about.”

“But this is just more for you to deal with and I can’t bare that.”

His hand rested on my shoulder. “They are gossiping about something that doesn’t exist, but it affects you more than me.” Self conscious of its position, he withdrew his hand from my shoulder that trembled. “They’ll move on but I won’t lose your friendship over something so silly.”





********





Brian





Life was taking the piss. A new woman, posh fancy house, money to burn and all the excitement I could handle but it came at a high cost. In my younger years I abused alcohol and drugs. Mum and Dad always said it would catch up, but I never believed them and I didn’t care. Even now, pain, flu like sniffles and a few days in my bed was fine but a week later my stomach crashed. Ever since then I’d not been able to keep much down and definitely not drink any alcohol. What man wants to be tea total? I didn’t, and that’s why I sat in the pub nursing a half pint, while I waited for Tiny.

Obviously she’s not tiny, but we refer to each other by nicknames. She’s the one I think. It’s been on my mind. I haven’t asked her to marry me but we live together and she might as well be. Not that she wants to settle down, so I won’t be popping the question but it’s strange that it’s in my thoughts. Married before and I don’t know what happened, but she left him and is vocal about not being tied down. She calls me “Bob” and she’s “tiny.” It’s all a joke.





With my hands wrapped around the glass I stared at the TV above the bar. A football game had just kicked off but my mind was elsewhere. Two days ago I’d had to go into the old office for a meeting. Since I still had my pass and my job, although loaned out, I could move about with no one stopping me. Lindsay was in work that day, sat at the same desk. Almost as time stood still. I expected my heart to pound, but it didn’t. Truth was although I still felt bad about the way I walked out I hadn’t missed her at all. Too busy with my new life. The only thing that stung me was a realisation we should never have been together in the first place! I watched her for a few moments trying to remember what I loved about her but nothing stuck out. Then I knew. The last three years were a waste, but it got me to where I am now.





An hour later, I still had the same half pint, but I’d had two whisky chasers.

“Got em Bob,” a voice said slapping two plane tickets on the bar beside my half empty glass. “Business class seats and great times.”

“Wow, are you sure about this?”

“Yes. We deserve a treat. Three weeks between Sydney and Melbourne here we come. We leave in ten days which should give us time to get packed and organised.”

“You spoil me.”

“I know but we deserve a change of scenery.”

She kissed my cheek, and I grinned. She gave me the world. Every dream I’d had she’d delivered, and this was the next one. My mates called me a kept man. I wasn’t because I worked but I couldn’t afford anything like this. I wasn’t sure she could, but I wasn’t about to ask while she kept shelling out!





11.





Jayne





Word arrived via a recorded delivery letter this morning that the divorce was final. It took four months once I started the paperwork, but I’d been planning it for at least double that. A few weeks after I cheated on him. I thought the divorce would make me stand still, take stock. I was wrong. The cheating did that. By the time I left him, I wanted to escape. I felt nothing.

The first time I was on a course. A good looking guy, business man, lonely, away from home bought me a drink. That’s all it took. Attention and alcohol. The second, another business trip, flirted with me over two single dinners. That’s when I knew our marriage was over. These were two guys found in any office, the length and breadth of the country. I felt nothing for them, any of them.

The next guy hit home in a big way, we clicked. This time was serious. I’d picked someone who wasn’t my type at all, chalk and cheese but we hit it off. Over a few weeks, clandestine meetings for ramped up full on sex turned into meals, nights out and affection. All the elements that had gone stale in my marriage. I wanted more from this man, so I broke free. Found a flat, bought it, decorated it on the quiet all under David’s nose and he never suspected a thing.





The one page letter said everything – Divorce Absolute. Over, ended. All those memories, good and bad but I felt only relief. I didn’t fight hard over the money or the things he wanted back. His keepsakes were in boxes I lifted without realising. The money, well what’s mine is mine, right? Why should I pay for the deposit of a house I no longer live in? His lawyer had played games, tried to take money off the amount for all the items I took. That point I fought over. He deserved nothing at all. What man stops treating his wife right?

Anyway now the letter is here and I need to return things. I could drop them off through the lawyers and my friend, said I should. Why make more trouble where none exists but I prefer to rub his nose in it. He’s lost. I won.





An hour and a half later I placed a small shoe box on the passenger seat of my new sports car. A luxury yes, but I could afford it. The transferred money, my settlement, arrived at the bank the day before. Life was a little better, and I intended to live it to the full. The journey down to the house we shared made for a bad dream but something I had to do. I wasn’t sorry for cheating on him. Rather having my dirty laundry out in the open festered, and I wanted this visit to end things personally.

When I pulled into the street his car was at the bottom, two spaces from the usual point. He’d wanted a new one but I guess he’d stayed with the old. I looked up and saw his new friend Lindsay’s house just a few doors down. I’d heard the rumours and laughed them off. She was far too plain for him. No way, he was sleeping with her, he wasn’t that desperate.

The house looked the same. The patio a little unkempt but he was never green fingered. He would get that fool Lindsay to help him. I knocked on the door three times, business like. It opened and for the first time since our stand up argument in the office, months ago, there he was.

“You’re a day early. I thought we were going tomorrow?” he said opening the door without looking.

I didn’t reply.

He turned and scowled. “What do you want?”

“To give you these and to talk.”

Slowly he folded his arms. The scowl enforced by lowered brows. His feeble attempt to look angry and menacing laughable. It wasn’t in his character at all.

“Can I come in?”

“If you must...” He stepped back far enough for me to walk in and close the door. His arms unfolded and fell to his side, but the scowl stayed. “What do you want? I’m busy, so make it quick.”

“The completed paperwork arrived today.”

“I got a copy.”

“Okay, so as part of it, I was to return the items you wanted and I have them.”

“You could have dropped them at the lawyers.”

My gaze fell from his face to the floor. “Yes David, I could but I wanted to see you.” His stance softened ever so slightly. His guard dropped. “Look I made a mistake.”

“You can say that again.”

I deserved that. I didn’t deserve half the anger I thought was inside him. He was as much a part of the problem as I was. He shifted the blame. “For god sake David, the divorce wasn’t the mistake I meant. I couldn’t be happier that I’m free to live my life without you and your constrictive ideas.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

Inside the box I’d placed an envelope giving him instructions on visiting a health clinic that specialised in sexually transmitted diseases. I’d caught something from someone I’d slept with and although remote, I might have passed it to him. I grabbed the information and handed it to him. “You need to get yourself tested!”

“What the hell?” He opened the envelope, pulled out the sheet I’d enclosed and with his mouth wide open in aghast his eyes panned down the sheet. He stepped backwards. “What have you got?”

“Actually we’re not sure yet I had the tests the other day. I’ve to advise all my previous partners of the past year, so you qualify.” I handed the box to him before walking to the front door, not wanting to prolong this meeting.

“You have a warped sense of humanity. You serve the papers, then a week later, tell me you’re a whore. The day the divorce becomes final you tell me you have a disease and have contaminated me!” he exploded.

A fleck of rage in his eyes sent a chill through me and I got out of there. “I am sure you’ll be fine. Ours was a limited amount of exposure.” There I’d made him feel better. His happiness wasn’t on my priority list. Me and my new beau that’s what counted, but I wanted to leave knowing I’d softened the blow. I didn’t want him to think of me as a complete bitch. I turned to face him as I opened the door. “You should call them and soon.”





********





David





The official letter announcing my divorce hit me that morning and now Jayne left me battered and bruised. It never crossed my mind she had passed anything. The few months before she left me, we’d slept in the same bed but that was all. Every time I tried to make an advance she hit me with the old line of having a headache. Now this advert for a clinic said I’d been in contact with a person who’d recently tested for a sexually transmitted disease. If I had any doubts over her claims she’d cheated, I didn’t now! Was this good timing or what?

Her revelations stunned me into total silence. “Bitch!” I said sitting in the living room clenching my phone. “Shit!”

I called the clinic and discovered they had free appointments that afternoon. I had to sort this out now although I realised I had no symptoms of anything.





An hour later I sat in a sterile white waiting room. Two young lads hung about in a corner, chatting, rocking on cheap grey plastic seats that scrapped the floor and my nerves every time they moved. Year old magazines lay on a low, wood effect, table that had seen better days. Posters hung in every available space advertising free condoms and the dangers of not using them. Jayne had obviously never bothered. That was the level of love and affection my ex-wife had shown me. None. Just total disrespect. I sat with my head bowed trying to concentrate on a game on my phone. I wasn’t playing but being in this place deeply embarrassed me. The boys fitted here, starting out on their sexual life, sleeping around, making mistakes but I hadn’t. I made one. I trusted my wife!

“David McClellan?”

I stood up. “That’s me.” The doctor held his hand out and I shook it a little sheepishly.

“I treated your ex-wife. Come with me and we’ll have a chat.”





His office was four plasterboard walls thrown up and attached to a door. Uneasy at this morning’s course of events and being here, I took a few seconds too long to walk into his office. “It’s okay. This has come as a shock.”

That was an understatement.

“Please excuse my temporary office. We’re redecorating as our office is expanding.” He held out his hand, and I sat in the chair opposite.

“So!” He clasped his hands together, leaned forward on his desk and placed them on a file. “You understand I can’t tell you anything about your wife...”

“Ex-wife,” I interrupted.

“Ah yes, that’s right.”

His greying hair hid that he was in his early thirties like me. There was no wedding band on his hand, unlike mine. I still hadn’t removed it. I guess until this morning it hadn’t felt real. Now it burned as I twirled it nervously.

“Well either way, I can’t tell you anything about her tests, the results or any treatments she may need. What I can do is explain why we told her to speak to you.”

“That would be an overstatement. She handed me a leaflet this morning and told me to get tested.”

He sat back relaxing in to the black battered leatherette chair that squeaked. “I’m sorry. Sometimes this happens when a couple breaks up. Do you mind me asking how long since the split?”

“About six months give or take a few weeks. The divorce was final this morning, and she turned up on my doorstep with this bombshell.”

“Look, do you fancy a cup of coffee? I’m parched this morning.”

“Yeah why not.”





The doctor returned a few minutes later with two mugs of white coffee and handed one over. “Let’s start this again shall we.” He glanced at me and smiled. “I’m Doctor Thackery and it’s good to meet you, David.” There was a brown folder on his desk and he flicked it open. “Your wife referred you to us because she’s had tests after falling ill. We’d like to check you over, just to be on the safe side. We appreciate that you’ve not slept together for a few months and that there may have been no contact for a while. To be safe and to protect the lives of anyone you may move on with. It’s better to check.”

“Understandable,” I confirmed hugging the mug. I preferred this starting again approach. Now I felt like it was a proper doctors visit and I could see the wisdom of coming even if still a shock. “So what do you need from me?”

“Just some answers to questions. Honest answers, a urine sample, some blood and a general examination, including your penis and surrounding areas.”

I took a deep breath. It never crossed my mind that this might involve examinations. The thought of letting a doctor look at my old boy wasn’t high on the list of things I must do but it might just keep me safe. “Okay,” I replied with an audible sigh. “What do you want to know?”





Doctor Thackeray lifted his pen, flicked open the folder and glanced across at me. “Let’s start with a few details. I have your name, address and date of birth already. When Jayne gave me your details I did an NHS search and located your records, so let’s talk about what’s relative to this issue. How many partners have you had since you and Jayne split up? Because we will need to contact them.”

“None,” I said. Sadness tinged the answer.

“And while in the relationship?”

“Just Jayne.”

He nodded and showed a quick smile. He understood my position. “That simplifies things. One thing I would advise is that you try not to do anything until we confirm all the results.” Doctor Thackeray wrote a few things on his sheet then said, “So we will test you for the usual suspects. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea require the urine sample but tests for HIV and syphilis require a blood sample. We will test for herpes if you have sores on your genitals.”

“Do all of them?”

“Yes. The symptoms can be wide ranging and similar.” He glanced down again then asked, “Do you have, or have you had a fever?”

“No.”

“Does it burn when you urinate?”

“No.” I shook my head for added effect although this questioning was embarrassing.

“Any coloured discharge? White, yellow or green?”

“No, definitely not.”

“Any tenderness in either the penis or testicles?”

“No,” I replied wondering if I would answer yes to anything.

“Colds, flu like symptoms, sore throats or rashes?”

“No, nothing.” I watched him write another rejection in his chart and waited for the next.

“Okay. Last question. Any sores, in your mouth or on your skin, anywhere on your body?”

“No.”

“Well, then let’s get you along to the examination room and we’ll get those tests started.” He closed his folder and stood up. “We won’t be sure until we get the results in the next few days to a week but your answers make me confident that everything will be okay.”

Who was he kidding?





Back home I took a beer from the fridge and lay on the couch watching the afternoons sport highlights. My mind reeling from today’s developments. Violated beyond anything I’d ever existed because she couldn’t fulfil her vows. “How does someone cheat on their life partner?” I asked the empty room. “What did I do that was so wrong? What did I do to deserve this?” The beer went down slowly, replaced by another and another.

I ordered a take away. I’d been so good of late, eating with Lindsay and cooking my own meals. My passion for life rekindled by chats with someone who got it. She understood the pain, hurt and misery I’d been going through. Now, after today’s bomb shell I felt nothing, but disgust. To rid my mind of events I finished the beer and found a bottle of Jack Daniels.





12.





Brian





Because of my past we couldn’t travel to the United States, which is where we first wanted to holiday. I needed a special visa clearance rather than the quick electronic waiver paperwork and it could take months to process. So we planned a holiday of a lifetime to Australia. All I needed for that was a ticket, passport and a letter from my doctor to confirm my reformed drug user status and had been clear for over five years.

While my girlfriend went shopping this morning with her friends for the last items she needed for our trip, I went to pick up the paperwork. The doctor gave it without reservation but commented on my general appearance and the fact I’d lost weight. He wanted to run a few tests given my history, and I relented to having blood taken. Whatever it was, I hadn’t even noticed! I’d deal with it when we got back.





We met for lunch later and I showed her the letter. “Is that it?” she asked about the one page piece of paper with two paragraphs of text. “And that cost fifty quid to get. It’s a rip off!”

“Can’t go without it.”

“That’s true.”

I gazed across the table at her and wondered why we hadn’t met years ago. We could have had fun from day one, as we have been doing, but for longer. Her blue eyes hid behind dark glasses as the sun beat down over our outdoor table. Beautiful, sexy, smart, slightly older but far too classy for someone like me.

“What’s on your mind, Bob?”

I saw that smile. The one I fell for all those months ago. “Nothing. I’m just wondering why we couldn’t have met years ago. Why now?”

“Because we were busy with others. Forget them. Life is for us now!”





********





Lindsay





I haven’t seen David for a few days. We were going shopping on Sunday. He wanted to go to IKEA for some bits and pieces for his kitchen. I said I would keep him focused, so he didn’t buy lots of rubbish but he never showed. He never answered his door or his phone. He said he had other things to do, so it wasn’t a definite thing. I didn’t worry, but it miffed me a little he forgot to tell me it was off.

Monday morning soon came around but today I’d a hospital check up on my foot which had been plaguing me for over a year. I didn’t ride in with him. It wasn’t until I got back I realised his car was still in the street. Before I headed to work, I knocked on his door in case he was ill. I tried but still there was no answer. After letting my boss know that I had a follow up appointment later in the year, she asked me what was wrong with David. He’d called in and taken a few days off. I answered honestly, I hadn’t spoken to him. She left me alone to get on with work but watched me all day. Eyes boring into the back of my head.

On the way home I tried calling him, but it went straight to voice mail. When I walked past there were no lights on, so again I went home none the wiser what was wrong.





This went on for days. His phone was off. His house phone went unanswered as did the door. By Wednesday I worried what was going on but all I could do was keep trying to contact him. I wanted to ask him about how he went about dropping stuff off for Jayne at the lawyers or vice versa. I’d received word through my lawyers that’s what I was to do with Brian’s boxes. Our clean breakup had gone well, mind you, we didn’t have the usual ties of children, home or joint finances.





Friday night soon came around and I was happy to get out of work. It had been a strange week. Every day to nothing with David left a part of me bereft. I would look up throughout the day and not see him. A part of me ached, and I realised this fledgling friendship mattered more than most.

I ambled along the pedestrian precinct towards the bus station dreaming of a hot bubble bath, glass of wine and to curl up with a good movie. If I saw a light on in his home I would knock his door and see if he wanted to talk otherwise I’d have to continue giving him space. Even though I knew something was wrong. This wasn’t like him at all.

At the entrance to the precinct, on the corner, a famous chicken restaurant had opened a brand new branch. A queue of people stood blocking the path as they waited for tables. I’d been in once and although I liked the spices and sauces bathing my chicken, I hadn’t been back. I refused to pay inflated prices.

As I dodged the queue of people, I saw Jayne, sat facing the window with a guy who I could see the back off. Other diners blocked my view of him but she was laughing. He leaned across and cradled her face before reaching for her hand. He had to be her new lover. She looked directly at me before returning to her friend.





Lost in confusing thoughts I walked along the path towards our homes. David’s sudden silence had me confused. I wasn’t sure if he was ill or something had happened with Jayne. To see her happy, in love, just made me want to help him even more. I wandered into the corner shop to buy wine since I hadn’t been to the supermarket. That pleasure would save till tomorrow.

The queue ambled as the assistant “Lucky” joked with each. When I go to the front, he said, “Tell Mr David to turn his TV down. I can hear it at all hours.”

“I didn’t think he was home.”

“Yes, all week.”

“Okay Lucky, I’ll tell him.”

Convinced something was wrong, I walked around to his front door and knocked. The shop joined straight onto the side of his home and Lucky had the flat right above. Since they were open from early morning till late at night, his TV must have been annoying for a guy that just wanted to sleep. He didn’t answer the door, so I knocked again, and again and again.

Nothing happened, so I prised open the letter box and peered through the inch gap. Plates and cups piled high in the kitchen was all I could see along with beer bottles lined up on the work surface but I heard the TV. He was home. “David, it’s me. Come on, open the door. I’m not going away.” The letter box snapped shut, and I stood back from the door waiting. I meant what I said. If I had to wander around the house and throw small stones at the window I would get him to talk.

I waited a few minutes then knocked again, and again, and again. On the fifth knock I heard a key turn, and the door opened an inch. A sullen eye followed by a week’s worth of facial hair stared back at me.

“David,” I whispered. “Let me in.” He stepped back and opened the door wide. A wall of stale beer mixed with day’s old curry and Chinese takeaway met me. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” he whispered.

“Hey,” I closed the gap between us until I was just inches from his face. “This is me, remember. Oh, and lucky says turn the TV down.”

“Okay.” He turned away then spun back. “Sorry about the smell. I’ve not done a lot of cooking.” With a glance at the floor, his shyness back on display he said, “Things just took a nose dive and well, I think you call it wallowing.”

“David, you could have reached out, talked. I’m here for you.”

“Things got on top of me. The days just blurred into one.”

I leaned closer to him. “Want to tell me?”

“Divorce is final,” he said with a sigh. “Then she dropped a bombshell. She might have a disease. Caught from one of her conquests. She turned up here and handed me a letter saying I had to be tested.”

“That’s awful.”

“A shitty thing to do.”

He started up the stairs, and I followed him even though didn’t say to do so. The living room, a disaster area. Beer bottles, pizza boxes, and an empty bottle of Jack Daniels lay on the floor by the couch. “Sorry,” he apologised again.

“Hey.” I touched his arm, running my hand up and down it to make him see I was just concerned. “Stop apologising. Want a hand throwing them out?”

“You’d do that?”

“Course, we’re friends.”

He smiled, reached across the unit behind his living room door and handed me a roll of black bags. “You hold it and I’ll fill it.”

I pulled off a bag and opened it as he lifted the boxes and bottles tossing them in. When it got heavy, I snapped off another, and we continued. While I tied the tops he grabbed a pile of clothes and tossed them into the bedroom before returning to take the bags outside to the bin. “That feels so good.” He said on his way back into the house. “Can I make you a coffee?”

“Yes.” I went downstairs with the bags because I had seen the same issue in the kitchen, “Here.” I ripped off another, and he accepted it with a smile. “I always wondered what a guy’s house would look like if he’d been partying for a week.”

“Worse than this, that’s for sure.” His jovial mood returned, and I was glad to see it. Everyone needed time to get back on their feet especially when dealing with divorce. He’d been doing so well but this latest development had knocked him sideways. I couldn’t understand what he felt as I’ve never had someone show up and say I might be ill.

“Penny for your thoughts?” David said handing me a steaming mug of dark liquid.

“Thinking about you,” I replied as I followed him back upstairs.





I’d never sat in his living room and now I knew why. It was a blank canvas. He sat next to me and lounged back on the cushions. “Listen I’m sorry. You’re right, I should know that I could talk to you but it’s embarrassing.” He passed two documents from the coffee table. The first was his divorce absolute.

I read the words. “So that’s it, it’s legally over?”

“Yeah. House is mine for what’s its worth. She’s paid off and brought back the few items she took by accident.”

“You don’t believe her?”

“Would you?”

“No.” I replied. “I don’t think I’d believe a word she said at this point.”

“They were in a box. She checked and couldn’t see them. Funny she returned them in the same shoe box. She knew all along that it would cause me both physical and mental pain not to have them.”

“Least you got them back.” I didn’t want to intrude too much into what they were.

“Yeah, then she hit me with the other piece of news.”

“She told you about this,” I said, flapping the letter in the air.

“No, she handed me that information in an envelope and said, you need to read this.” He finished his coffee and placed the mug on the table. “I went straight down, answered all of their questions, gave samples and felt stupid.”

“No wonder. When will you know if you’re clear?”

“I found out yesterday. Got a call that said everything was clear and I shouldn’t worry. But it’s the indignation of having to go through it all. I never so much as looked at another woman all the time we were together.”

“That makes it harder to accept.”

“You’re right it does, and that’s what destroyed me. They asked so many personal questions, the indignation of examinations and then the tests take two minutes. I made a mistake but...”

“What did you do?” I said with a half smile, expecting him to have made an inappropriate joke.

“I researched the diseases when I got home and that’s when it hit home how bad this could be. It convinced me I had everything even though I had absolutely no symptoms.” He grinned at me as I cracked a smile, knowing what he was getting at. “It made me think too much, and I wallowed in the uncertainty and the nastiness. Then when they called yesterday and said I was clear, it didn’t even register. My mind was full of I might have this and this.”

“What did they test you for?”

He looked embarrassed and glanced across at the TV rather than at me.

“Sorry, that wasn’t tactful at all.”

“No, it’s ok.” He touched my hand and sent electricity pulsing up to my shoulder. “They tested me for everything that’s on that list including HIV which shocked me.”

Suddenly he cried. I leaned forward, grabbed his shoulders and pulled him towards me into a big bear hug. “You’re okay David, You’re okay.”





13.





David





Every day I heard the knocking at my door. I got all her texts but ignored them and all her phone calls, trying to push her away from me. Truth was I was afraid that no one would ever want to be close again. I’d never been ill, more than a bout of cold or man flu so when something I never knew threatened my life, it backfired. She persevered and once I allowed her in I saw what I’d regressed to. I wasn’t that man, at all, especially the slob aspect.

The next morning I woke from a great night’s sleep. A lack of alcohol and sleeping in a bed rather than the couch. I showered, saved off the week’s growth and the old me emerged, refreshed, renewed and with a more positive spin on the problems of this past week.

I bypassed her window walking to my car, but the curtains remained closed. It was early, and I hadn’t said last night I wanted to treat her. An idea popped into my head and I drove off.





When I returned she’d opened the curtains. I drove along to the end of the street by my home, hoping she couldn’t see me and unloaded my shopping. This felt normal now. The everyday chores that life brings, shopping, cooking. I accepted it all and enjoyed it. With my groceries stored, I picked up the last purchase and walked the few feet to Lindsay’s door and knocked.

“Hello,” she said throwing the door open wide. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Thought we could go on that shopping trip?” A wave of nervousness descended making me tongue tied. I wasn’t a mature man in my thirties I was a teenager asking out his first date.

“That would be nice, but I need to get ready, so come in.” She stepped back.

I bent down, picking up my surprise and walked through the door. “These are for you.”

“Wow. Thanks.”

Her eyes lit up at the sight of a bunch of the finest flowers Tesco offered. She deserved so much more than my humble thanks.

“Why?”

“For kicking my butt when I needed it most and for caring enough to do it!”





On the way to the retail park we chatted like this week hadn’t happened but I noticed the new way she styled her hair. It suited her face, shed more light on it and made those blue eyes pop. She quietened, presumably to allow me to concentrate, but I found my mind wandering. These streets were second nature. What wasn’t was the change in how I looked at her.





Inside the home furnishing superstore I pushed the trolley, she did her thing. Displays passed by, whole areas designated to different parts of the home. I knew the daily bits and pieces I needed but she thought bigger, gave me her vision of what would and wouldn’t work. What was too feminine, what was good value and what would last and not go out of style. I stood listening and an old couple passed behind me. The man stopped, stood next to me for a few seconds, and said, “Snap her up quick son, she knows her stuff. She’s what we used to call a keeper.”

“I know,” I replied with a smile.

She carried on looking for items I’d suggested and I pondered why I’d just agreed with the old guy. He was right, she knew her stuff, and I’d never seen her so animated but there was something different going on.

Over a shared strawberry tart and two mugs of hot chocolate, because we wanted to get hot dogs at the end of the trip, we discussed what I needed downstairs. Cream with a hint of strawberry jelly lingered on her bottom lip. I fought the urge to wipe it off. Instead, I touch mine then pointed at hers. She subtly licked her lip with the tip of her tongue and I melted. Smitten with her.





Downstairs I took over placing glasses, crockery, two new pans and everyday items I lacked into the trolley. Again Lindsay kept me right, pointing out money saving offers and sets that were a better deal. We moved on to soft furnishings and I hit her playfully with a few cushions. That almost started a war. I found myself inches from her face. She dropped the cushion and our eyes met. Do it, my mind screamed at me. I took a leap of faith and closed the gap between us.

Her tender lips tasted of the strawberry jelly we had just shared. Although fleeting our lips locked, and she leaned into me, her hand placed against my chest to stop her falling. It’s a cliché to say it was a magical kiss, but it was. When she backed away my lips missed her, my arms wanted to hold her and never let her go.

I caught her gaze tumble to the floor then she laughed before looking back up at me. “I think that complicates things a little...”

“It doesn’t have to,” I mumbled.

“You sure about that?”

I wasn’t but I wish I could have said yes.





We continued to wander, stopping at storage boxes, pictures and candles. I loved a large black and white canvas of New York’s skyline. She loved it which surprised me since hers were all seascapes. Even with art work she had a knack of knowing what would go with a piece of furniture and not. I stood right behind her as she compared two different pictures longing to wrap my arm around her waist and kiss her neck. Suddenly I had to have her in my arms.

She picked the picture and turned to put the other one back on the shelf, bumping into me. “You’re to close boy-scout I’ll end up standing on your toes.”

“Fine by me.”

“Down boy, let’s finish what we started in here.”

“Yes, boss.”

She smiled, stood on her tip toes and kissed the tip of my nose. As she moved back I took my opportunity and moved my arm behind her pulling her close. She didn’t resist.





After paying for our items, we shared two hotdogs and juice and I suggested we head across to the main centre where we could grab a movie. All I wanted to do was spend time with her. A film meant I could be with her and learn what she liked, what made her laugh. I needed to know everything. Almost like I couldn’t go another minute of the day without knowing. I can’t explain why, I’m not even sure why. It’s like I woke up from a deep sleep and needed her in my life but not just as my friend. I wanted her, to share this new life she’d helped me find. Without her I’d still be lying on the couch drowning myself in whisky and beer.

She agreed to a film, and I let her pick. Surprised that she went for an action flick but happy it wasn’t a chick flick romantic comedy. I wasn’t sure if it was because she thought I’d get embarrassed. That, I would add to my list of things to ask. We sat together a few rows from the front. When I asked why here, why not further up in the main area she said, “Because no one walks in front of you.” It made sense and I have to admit it was like we were the only ones there, in our own private picture show on a huge screen.

We laughed where appropriate. She jumped at scary bits and smiled throughout. Towards the end she glanced across at me, her face blanketed with pure joy and happiness. I thought I’d seen her happy before but this was something different, almost like we’d brought each other back from the edge. Alive and kicking again.

“How about some dinner?” I asked as the credits rolled. “There are restaurants just down from the car park. Let me treat you.”

“Okay,” she replied. “But we share the bill.”





********





Lindsay





I do not understand what came over David today. One minute we were shopping, and I was offering honest advice, the next locked in a kiss. I knew nothing would be the same again, no matter what he said. Okay so we weren’t sleeping together, it was a kiss, but it was inevitable things would change. The kiss was blissful and I would have done it again and again but I wasn’t sure why this had happened. Had I led him on, had I flirted or given him some kind of sign. We’d continued to walk around but the second time he kissed me I knew that was it. Hooked on each other and in trouble.





Dinner turned into a riotous affair. I’d never seen him laugh. Giggles, chuckles, plenty of half smiles, but not a complete let loose belly laugh. It wasn’t even a joke that set him off but the way I said, “Harvey Wall-banger.” He found it hilarious so I would say it every so often reducing him to tears.

We shared a banana split, leaning across the table to lock spoons, as we had earlier with our lips. That close his eyes sparkled against the dimly lit stall we sat in. Smooth vanilla ice cream with the odd chuck of banana and a sweet banana liqueur slipped down my throat and I shivered. The shock of the cold after a warm meal. He grinned, something had occurred to him. “What?” I asked. “What did I do?”

“It’s the look of pure pleasure mixed with the efficient way you suck the ice cream from the spoon, making sure you get every drop. It’s very suggestive!”

“Stop it you.”

“Why?”

His teasing caused my cheeks to flush.

“Now that’s endearing!” He leaned across the top of the glass. “Come here.” I closed the gap to him, still flushing and our lips met.





On the drive home he couldn’t stop smiling. I wanted to slap him. The dynamic between us irreversibly altered, but he seemed happy. What changed between today and yesterday? As I sit here by his side I would kiss him again. He is a great kisser, and I had a sneaky feeling he would prove to be a good partner for me. But that’s the problem where will it lead. We are friends. He is my bosses, boss. There is no getting away from that. There are complications. It’s not as simple as a kiss.





He parked. We emptied the boot and walked up the little hill away from the car. His house was to the right, mine to the left. “Can I cook dinner for you tomorrow?”

“Okay. Do you have everything you need or are you going to steal any of my gadgets?”

“Good point.” He laughed and looked at the floor. “Maybe I can bring everything to your house and cook it there...”

“You have a deal.”

He placed the bags on the floor and before I could protest or catch my breath his arms were around my waist pulling me close to his chest. He bent his head as I am a few inches smaller and pressed his lips against mine. This was tender with just a hint of restrained passion. His hands never moved from around my waist. Was he conscious of them or worried where to put them? This was more than each of the others today but he remained a gentleman. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”





Breakfast on a Sunday morning was my opportunity to let my hair down as much as I could. That wasn’t much these days but anything was a welcome change to yoghurt, cereal or both. This morning I had a fry up, well bacon, tomatoes and toast. It was my treat. As I stood by the cooker tending to the tomatoes it half crossed my mind to text David, but I dismissed the idea as it entered my mind. Not that I didn’t want to see him, I did. I wanted the peace to examine what happened yesterday and how I felt now I’d slept on it.

I loved doing nothing on a Sunday morning but to read the papers. In this digital age of newspapers on every device and twenty-four-hour news channels, they were a luxury, but I enjoyed the ink on my fingers. This morning I took the time to clear my mind by enjoying my ritual then lay back on the couch and closed my eyes. Visions from yesterday replayed like a mini movie as I drifted off to sleep with a smile planted on my lips.





14.





David





My purchases lay in bags on the spare chair in the living room. I’d come home last night to the letter that confirmed I was clear of any infection at all. It didn’t knock me, but it put a dampener on the euphoria I felt. I never set out to start something with Lindsay. I’d leaned on her and wanted to show her how thankful I was that she was in my life. It was the old guy who set my mind reeling.

I placed the letter with the other two and found a large envelope. The words – Important documents – written across the front. I grabbed a pen and wrote – The past – underneath, took off my ring, placed it inside and sealed the envelope. It wouldn’t stop my mind hashing over them but locked away I wouldn’t catch sight of them. There were enough daily reminders in this house.

While I was being a slob last week I wondered if I should sell up. The market had picked up. If I did a minimum amount of painting to freshen up the place I could sell, escape with a deposit and buy a flat. I wanted to stay in the area but couldn’t figure out why. Now I knew, Lindsay. Even subconsciously I wanted her.





I prepared what I could which was the vegetables since I intended to make a risotto. Once finished I set about opening my purchases and placing everything in its new home. Then I could say I had a touch of her in my home. She hadn’t turned it into her home, but it no longer looked like I lived in a minimalist environment. I hated that the walls were empty. Now the big print hung, and she was right, it needed nothing more than that to fill the room. Sometimes less was more.

At four o’clock I didn’t want to wait anymore, desperate to cook for her but also, to spend as much time in her company as possible. I knocked on her door, hopeful she was in. Sleepy red eyes gazed bewildered around the edge of the door. “Sorry, did I wake you?”

“Sunday after brunch doze. It’s okay I should have woke hours ago.” She stepped back and let me in. Had she been closer I would have dropped the box and kissed her there and then, but she moved out of the way and let me walk though. “Just put that in the kitchen.”

When I turned around after laying down the box, she was right behind me. I took my chance and leaned in for a kiss. She placed a finger on my lips stopping me. “Put the kettle on, you’re closer. We need to talk.” The thud in the room was my heart as it sank. Oh, I hope this isn’t the - I want to be friends speech.





I helped to make the two drinks and carried then upstairs to the living room, following her every move. She sat on the couch and I handed her a mug. “Before you say anything if this is the part where you tell me we shouldn’t...”

“David. Shut up...”

I grinned and lifted the coffee mug to my lips.

“Look, I wasn’t about to say we shouldn’t but I would ask why? How did this happen? What are we going to do?” She grasped her mug. I saw nerves written in wrinkles of her face. She’d been thinking about this a lot. “I like you, I do. It’s just, well, complicated.”

“It doesn’t have to be. I like you, you like me. Nothing needs to step in the way of that.”

“But why David? On Friday we were just friends, now two days later, well, what are we?”

“Took me by surprise too. Look, since Jayne left no one’s talked, you know that. People exchange pleasantries, but you pushed me and helped me to heal. Last week no one spoke at all.”

“I tried.”

“I know,” I whispered. “But you were the only one even though I didn’t respond. See that hit me yesterday. Every day you tried. You never gave up on me and I realised what a precious gift that is.”

“You worried me when you didn’t answer.”

“That’s the thing Lindsay. You cared, every step of the way. I thought I bought you flowers, to say thank you and I did, but something just clicked that I wanted more. It wasn’t enough to be friends. I want you in my life, to be mine, and only mine.” I leaned towards her and this time we kissed. But as I sat back I saw glints of tears in her eyes. “Hey now, none of that. This is a good thing.”

“But...”

“You’re worried what it will change.”

“Yeah, I guess,” she replied, poker straight face so I couldn’t read what was coming next. “I don’t want to be your rebound.”

Floored was an understatement. That never crossed my mind, but she was astute in everything she did. “You’re not,” I said caressing her check with my thumb as I cradled her face. “Please never think that. You are no one’s bounce back bit on the side. No ones and I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“We’re both broken, David.”

“Just a little around the edges. We can love again, love each other.” I had to ask, maybe she couldn’t. “Can you love me, or at least do you want to get to know me better?”

“David,” she said with sweetness in her voice I hadn’t heard before. “I like you and yeah maybe I am falling for you but I’m scared.” She looked away, took a deep breath then turned back. “We are both attracted to each other, that much is obvious, but are we doing this because we think no one will love us again, so we’re settling. I mean you could have anyone you wanted. Any woman at all.”

“But I want you. Let me show you.” I leaned in and she melted into me. I felt the change in her from resistance to wanting me as much as I wanted her. My hand travelled up and ran through her hair. She smelled good enough to eat. Urges long since suppressed coursed through my veins. I wanted her now. I had to take a chance. Still kissing, I pulled her to standing, lifted her, and she wrapped her legs around me. Neither of us stopped. Neither broke the kiss as I carried her into her bedroom until I stopped by her bed.

She placed her feet back on the ground and stepped back from me. Eyes questioning, looking for reassurance.

“Are you sure about this?” I asked. “It will change everything.”

“Yes,” she replied and planted a long lingering kiss on my lips before raising my t-shirt above my head.





********





Lindsay





The next morning I woke first and went downstairs to freshen up. In the kitchen I filled the kettle and readied two coffees without thinking. Last night we made love, and it was incredible. Afterwards we lay in each other’s arms and drifted off to sleep for a while. When we woke David made dinner before we made love again. This was all new, a man being considerate, wanting my needs to be fulfilled. He was a fantastic lover. The best which wasn’t saying much since he was just the third man to share my bed but we clicked in a whole manner of ways.

As I stood there stirring, a broad smile grew from the corner of my lips. “When was the last time you felt like this?” I said to the silence. With a grin I replied, “Never!” And I was right. No one made me feel this happy, this fulfilled or loved. In just one night he took my body to places it had never been, or I even knew existed and I was hungry for more.





With two mugs of coffee I climbed the few stairs and went back to my bedroom. Inside David slept on. Had this been a normal Monday we would have to get up and go to work. This was a holiday and we could spend more time together before the real world intruded. He lay on his side facing the space I’d occupied. I stood in the doorframe watching. It looked like he’d always had a place in my bed and that confused me. It wasn’t weird seeing him there, and I knew it should. I tiptoed back into the room, sat the two mugs on the nightstand and climbed back under the covers. He stirred a little, his eyes moving under his eyelids, then bursting open. A smile spread across his lips.

“Good morning,” I said. “Sleep well.”

His hand reached out and pulled me towards him. “Yes, I did.”





15.





Jayne





Two weeks away was what I needed. Away from the job and divorce just to relax and recharge. I decided I needed heat and deserved the best so book a Caribbean island break. The guy in my life decided not to come because he wasn’t the type to lie on a beach baking. He needed action.

After three days I’d gotten a little burnt, but I loved the peace and quiet. Every night I dressed up and walked barefoot down the sandy path from my chalet along the sand to the hotels open air restaurant. Most of the residents were couples or families not on their own like me and most kept their distance. That suited me. Idle chit chat wasn’t my style.

I drank cocktails, ate well and slept soundly for the first time in months, but being on my own gave me time to think and digest all that had happened.





At the start of the second week someone walked up to the beach bed one day and asked if the one next to mine was free. I looked up through the dark sunglasses that lay across my eyes and saw a young stud peering over the rim of his. Wow, my heart thumped. “Sure, take it.”

He lay there stretched out absorbing the rays of sunshine for a few minutes before he turned and said, “Javier. Please to meet you.”

I shook his outstretched hand. “Jayne.”





We spent a few hours lying there enjoying cocktails and conversation. He flirted outrageously, and it was obvious what was on his mind. At first I resisted after all I was with someone even if he didn’t want to come away. But his flattery wore me down. When the sun sank I stretched and commented that I was heading for a shower but how about dinner and he agreed. I walked away swaying a little more than normal, turned to glance behind me. Gaze fixed to my bottom I had him if I wanted him.

After showering I opened the closet to reveal the one sexy dress I packed. Cut to the navel, front and low at the back it showed off my new tan and the lines of my breasts. My original idea for the break had hoped to add romance to my love life, but he didn’t come so Javier would reap the benefits. I squirted a little perfume and gazed in the mirror.

“Knock out old girl, you still have it.”





When I walked into the restaurant heads turned, eyes followed my every step. “Yes, this dress is a winner,” I mumbled as I walked over to the bar. Javier sat on a stool, open shirt showing his tanned skin and flowing chest hair. A walking cliché but right now I fancied every inch of him.

Dinner was a riotous affair, lots of laughter, flirting, more cocktails and delicious food. Twice Javier leaned close and kissed my cheek. His hands traversed the back of my chair all night. His finger tips brushed the small of my back pulsing electricity through my veins and I realised I missed this excitement.





After dinner we took a stroll to the water’s edge where I threw off my sandals and paddled by moonlight. He rolled his trouser legs up and reached for my hand. I took it and smiled.

“I guess I should ask if you have someone special.” Javier crooned as he kicked the waves.

“No,” I replied. What did it matter if it was a little white lie? If he was special then he would have come whether this holiday was for me or him.

We stopped, and he spun me around into his arms. His lips touched mine, and I melted. It didn’t feel wrong. Hands caressed my back, one traversing lower until his fingers crept along the soft skin at the bottom of my spine. “Let me love you,” he whispered.

Corny but I didn’t care.

We sank on to the sand and he made me come right there.





The next morning I woke first, Javier lay beside me. I tiptoed away to the bathroom. Our clothes from last night lay discarded all over the room. After our sand escapade we came back to my room, and he had me at least three times all over the room. That was two or three firsts for me. I stood in front of the mirror, my neck red from the weight of his lips. “What are you doing?” I asked my reflection. I grabbed a glass, filled it with water and took my tablets.





For the rest of the holiday we behaved as a couple. Together, always attached. He held my hand, opened doors and behaved like a gentleman but get him aroused and he was a different story. Wild, just a little like me. I don’t mean to brag but we had so much sex by the time I was on the flight home my body was aching for a rest. If I had a list of places, which I don’t, I’d be crossing a lot off. In the sea, on the beach, on a boat and one of the sun beds.

After a glass of champagne on the return flight I dozed off dreaming of the wildest afternoon. Javier told me about a stretch of beach attached to one hotel on the island that catered for a group of adults who wished for more excitement. Instead of being a private area, they encouraged visitors and allowed them in if they paid a small entrance fee. We could even have a locker to store our belongings. I was all for adventure so we visited the nudist beach for a day and wandered about like it was natural to us. Although both found ourselves in a semi permanent state of arousal. Around us couple stimulated each other freely with little concern for others. Since it was an adult’s only environment, the shackles were off and we soon joined in. What I didn’t realise was that this was a no holds barred environment.

When a couple came to chat with us they expressed a desire to engage in some group activities. I didn’t understand what they meant for a fleeting second, but as the guy leaned close and ran his hand down my spine I realised he meant a foursome. The man leaned in for a kiss and tweaked my nipple while his partner kissed Javier and stroked his manhood before both stood and walked off.

“Wow,” was all I could say.

“Sorry, I didn’t know it was that kind of place.” He looked a little sheepish as he replied but it didn’t matter.

“Let’s stay, have dinner?” I looked across at Javier keen to watch his reaction. “Try to get a room for tonight. Experience the whole scene.”





“We’ll be serving dinner soon. Would you like beef or chicken?” the stewardess asked, waking me from my dreaming.

“Chicken please,” I replied my face flushed red as I tried to wipe the image of a pile of writing bodies from my thoughts.

She smiled and walked off as I finished my drink. It never occurred at anytime through the holiday to mention to anyone with whom I had sex with that I was HIV positive.





********





Brian





Two weeks into the holiday I felt like a prize idiot. “Tiny” flirted with everything in a pair of trousers. She wasn’t even subtle about it! How can I be her special one if she’s looking at other blokes? Drove me nuts.





First time I noticed was in a bar and in walked two Australians in tight shorts. She didn’t hide the glances at not just the bodies but the packages. I didn’t know where to look. On the beach she leered at young blokes in speedos and for the first time as an adult I felt shame. I tried to bring it up, but she always laughed it off.

One afternoon I lay on a sun bed, “Tiny” lay on the next one on her front, glasses firmly attached to her eyes hiding them. She scanned the beach looking for her next prey. “Two can play at this game,” I whispered. I turned over and while she watched the guys walking by the waves and running out onto surf boards, I watched the girls. Beauties of all ages walked along the sand in tiny strips of material that passed for bikinis. It was a player’s paradise. Tiny turned and saw me. “What happens on holiday stays on holiday.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant but ten minutes later she walked off towards the waves and I soon saw her patting one surfer playfully on the bum. “Is she for real?”





A few hours passed by, I fell asleep under the partial shade of a yellow beer branded umbrella covering the sun bed. When I woke the back of my legs had reddened and she was nowhere to be seen, so I walked across the beach to the hotel bar. A cold pint of fosters numbed the tingling sensation of sunburn but it couldn’t chill the growing anxiety inside. Around me, couples chatted, laughed and had a good time. I sat on the stool and stared into the bubbling amber liquid. “Where is she?” I whispered before turning and staring out towards the pool and beyond that, the beach.

The guys who’d been surfing were now larking around with beach toys in the pool. Inflatable crocodiles floated as bodies dive bombed others already in the water. “Wait a minute,” I said and placed my pint back on the bar. “Where are they?” Two of the guys including the one who she had groped were missing.

I walked across to the pool area towards one guy busy sunning himself. “Hey, where’s your mate’s?”

“In the pool.” The young lad spoke with disdain.

“Not them. The two in the fluorescent green Speedo’s.”

“Pulled a bird and disappeared. They’ll show up when they’re done.”





Back at the bar, I fumed. A young woman in the smallest bikini I’d ever seen sat on the next stool and ordered a margarita. “You mind?” she asked.

“No,” I replied ogling her ample breasts.

“Here with anyone?”

“No,” I said before taking a large drink of his pint. “Well, I was, but she’s disappeared with two hunks.”

She touched my leg as she leaned closer to whisper. “Want to have a little fun?”

At first I wasn’t sure I heard her right but her hand ran up and down my leg and her smile repeated what she asked. “Sure, what did you have in mind?”

She licked her lips suggestively and said, “Grab you drink and follow me.”





16.





Jayne





Life sucks. One minute you’re loving life on top of the world and the next it has you in a choke hold sucking the life right from you. What am I going on about? It’s the utter and total devastation that is my life. It was going great, Life was good. I loved my new home, and I thought the man in it. Just back from my latest adventure spending my divorce settlement, the sex with a stranger meant nothing but proved that I wasn’t ready for a new relationship.

I planned on telling him as soon as possible but when I returned he wasn’t there. Instead, I found a note dropping the bombshell he wanted to cease the budding relationship. He did what I did to David.

Then the next morning I took a call from the doctors. I’d had tests done, and the results were in. We needed to talk. What a twenty four hours to come back to. My holiday bliss lay in ruins.

I sat in his office a week later and listened as he said the Multi-class combination drug I’d been taking for the last six months wasn’t working. He wanted to try something new. Made sense but since I felt no symptoms I wasn’t listening and I missed the most important thing he had to say.





Later that morning I sat in a local cafe waiting for my best friend to finish work when my mind wandered. I needed a chat, someone to bounce developments off. Truthfully I didn’t understand the in’s and out’s of the illness. We both had it. Either, I had given it to him, or the opposite, or we both brought it to the relationship. One of life’s great irony’s, and I thought it would stop me playing the field. It didn’t. Now things weren’t working maybe I had to do things differently but as long as I was careful it added to the danger. Life was for living. Right?

I’d got a new job as a manager with a distribution company. A fantastic top end company card, expense account, even a clothing allowance since I attended conferences. In the past that was a recipe for me to have a little fun. When I found my match it no longer appealed until my holiday.

For months I was angry with David for not trying hard enough to love and fight for me. That’s why I asked for the divorce rather than trying a separation. It’s also why I gave him the information for the clinic as I did. I heard through the grapevine it had destroyed him and that made me happy. Sounds bad, but I didn’t care and anyway they also said he’d shacked up with Lindsay. Oh, he could do so much better. She was pretty in a plain way but never going to make anything of herself. Maybe that’s what he wanted, someone who didn’t threaten him and who he had to look after. Not strong enough to stand on her own feet.





I sat back on a couch watching young families on the other side of the area. Mums chatting, kids playing in the little offshoot area. Tables with blocks on curvy wire and large circular puzzles that hung on the wall kept them entertained for all of thirty seconds. It kept them segregated from those, like me, without kids.

People queued at the desk against glass cabinets filled with sandwiches, muffins, cakes and biscuits. Overpriced rubbish. I hated these multi-national chains but there was a lack of independent coffee shops in the area. Then I saw him. David, smiling and talking to a woman standing just in front of him. He had his arm around her waist. “Oh juicy gossip,” I muttered lifting the cup to my lips. “Wonder who he’s cheating with?” As the queue slimmed, I realised he wasn’t cheating. He was with Lindsay.

She’d changed her hair, lightened it and allowed it to grow long. I have to admit it looked good and suited her. She’d even lost weight, not that she was a big girl, but she wasn’t slim like me. He looked happy, in love. Like he did when we first met and although I didn’t want him, jealousy stabbed my heart.

They stood together just inches separating their bodies, almost joined as one as they placed their drinks orders. After paying, they stepped to one side, consumed with each other, neither looked at anyone else in the shop. He kissed her, eyes fixed. I wasn’t the only one watching them, so was the old woman at the next table.

“Young love, eh!” she said. “Makes you feel good.”

I gave her a half smile. It didn’t make me feel good, I felt nauseous in their presence.

They lifted their coffees and walked out with hands clasped together, locked just like their lives. I hated the both of them.





********





Lindsay





For a month we existed as a couple outside the office and as two unconnected individuals inside. Careful not to let any lingering looks go between us where anyone else could see. It worked, but we both knew these things didn’t last for long. David requested a chat with his ultimate superior who sat in an office that wasn’t more than a few footsteps away from my desk. Arranged for Friday he didn’t know the time, so when she sent me an email to come to her office I had nothing to fear.

“How long have you two been a couple?”

The questions started before I’d even sat down. “About a month.”

“Who started the relationship?”

“Pardon.”

“What I mean is, has he chased you, made inappropriate comments or anything?”

“No. Definitely not. We were friends. That’s how it started.” I answered defensive, trying to protect him and not make a big thing out it. Relationships, if it led somewhere, meant one would move to a different department or leave.

“I understand you two live in the same area.” She sat emotionless in her chair in front of a desk that showed no personal touches or family photographs.

“Same street.”

“You knew each other before dating.”

“Yes, we’ve known each other since he moved into the street before he worked here. Since we split with our former partners we’ve been close friends, kinda leaning on each other.”

“This is rebound then, not serious.” Before I could answer she said, “Good, wouldn’t want to see a good man throw away his career. Okay you can go back to your desk.”

She’d dismissed me before I could set her straight.





That night we went for dinner, David picked the same chicken restaurant I’d seen Jayne sat in. Whereas she sat by the window, we sat at a small booth. “Been here before?” I asked him, in case this was a favourite of his past life. Not that I was jealous, but I needed to ask since I’d seen her.

“No. I heard one of the team talking about the place and said it was good but bit pricey. Since it’s on our way home and we rarely eat out I figured why not.” He picked up a menu. “I know Jayne’s been in before. It’s okay.”

“How?”

“The guy I sit next to told me he saw her and some guy. I think he knows who the guy was, but he wasn’t about to tell me.”

“It was the Friday I knocked your door down.”

He leaned across and kissed me. “It’s okay. Now what do you fancy?”





Our meals arrived and David slathered his in hot sauce. He would pay for it later but right now he was just interested in making it as hot as possible. I went a different way and added a sweet sauce. “So I spoke to the stick,” he said with a grin.

“I’d no idea you called her that.” I laughed at his choice of words. We all called her that since she was too tall for a woman and wafer thin. “I thought it was just us plebs that used that phrase!”

“No, but she said she’d want to talk to you so watch out for an invitation.”

“Already had it,” I replied as he nearly choked on his chicken. “She sent me an email demanding I come to her office. Asked me questions about how and why this...” I pointed at the two of us, “Started. She seems to think you made me do it but I think I convinced her we were friends first.”

“Lovely!”

“Yeah and she has decided that we are a rebound thing and not serious. I didn’t put her straight because she dismissed me before I could say anything.”

“She lectured me about the responsibilities of being a manager. Anyway unless we are married she can’t make us change departments. She might make it tricky for a while, so I had a chat with your boss just to fill her in...”

“David,” I interrupted. “I should have done that.”

“I’m sorry but I had to warn her in case she got pulled in too. She’s fine, glad you’re happy.” He placed chicken in his mouth, chewed it, before glancing at me. “You are happy aren’t you?”

“Yes, despite the interfering at work. I’m happy.”

“Good!”





17.





David





News of Lindsay and my relationship would not stay quiet once the hierarchy knew what was going on. We’d gone public away from work, hanging out together, shopping together and living in each other’s pockets. I wanted to tell the world I loved her, but she wanted it kept quiet.

I first noticed the whispers a few days after I spoke to my immediate manager and she’d dismissed us as a rebound which we weren’t. Since I sat a few rows from her teammates I noticed everyone who looked at me, then glanced across at Lindsay. The heads would bow and the whispers would start.

That afternoon I disappeared for a meeting and when I came back she had her head down, working away. I walked past to my desk without stopping which drew a few looks and logged back into my system. There in a separate folder I’d set up, so they stayed out of my main mailbox, sat an email that said – four o’clock? With a little fed up face after it. Obvious she’d had a bad afternoon. As I looked up those same eyes watched me, as their ultimate manager I did, at first, wonder if the gossips didn’t have enough work to do. I locked my system and left the department through the doors behind my desk.

Five minutes later I was back and walked purposefully up to her desk with two steaming coffees. I placed one in front of her then squeezed her shoulder. “Four is fine with me. I’ll come and get you.” She looked up surprised that I didn’t want to meet downstairs. “Time we went public,” I whispered. I leaned down and kissed the top of her head before walking away with a huge grin on my face. Sod the gossips!





********





Brian





I came back to earth with not a bang but a seismic shock. A few days after returning from holiday I ended up in my local hospital needing emergency surgery on my stomach. Things didn’t quite go to plan on holiday. The first week went great, sightseeing nice food, plenty of drinking and sex like you wouldn’t believe. Then on the second week she grew bored and strayed. I retaliated. In my position I didn’t want the repercussions but found myself increasingly on edge.





“All right mate,” my brother Jason asked as I opened my eyes.

The only thing to do in hospital between visits was sleep. “Yeah. Not bad, feeling a little better. Eat all my grapes?”

“Sorry.” Jason sat on the chair by my bed. “So where’s the girlfriend? Shouldn’t she be here?”

I sat up a little, squirming. “Yeah she had a few things to do.” Truth was I’d no idea what she was doing. She said she’d be in later. Since we got back things had been iffy. I guess the greener grass wasn’t all that and more. It was good and as a couple we were great but she had this thing where she needed other people more than me. I was good for dangling on her arm, for fulfilling her needs but talking, that’s what her friends were for. Right now whatever she had going on meant she turned to them not me.





Three days later I left hospital without a visit and once I walked into her home I realised why. Clothes lay discarded from the front door all the way up stairs leading towards the bedroom. The door pushed over I leaned against the frame, ear to the wood trying to hear anything. Not latched properly it opened an inch. Her bed was on the far wall behind the door. If I wanted to know the truth I had to open the door. I stepped back and looked downstairs. The clothes told me what I needed to know, but I had to see it for myself. Breath held I threw open the door battering it off the cabinet behind it.

She lay naked, arm wrapped around a guy, both fast asleep at three o’clock in the afternoon.

“What the hell is going on?” I screamed. It was obvious. She’d replaced me with a much younger guy.

The guy sat up, but she slept on. “Sorry mate,” he mumbled before falling back on the bed.





18.





David





Our six month anniversary approached and as a surprise I organised a long weekend break. We took two extra days off and drove to Hull to catch an overnight ferry to Rotterdam. My grandparents lived just outside Venlo on the Holland Germany border. Since they were my only relatives it was important they meet and liked Lindsay.





Things moved slow at the beginning. I stayed that first night but went home the next. We’d cook each other meals, travel into work and home again, together. After two weeks she asked me to move in, with whole speech thought out in case I said “No,” but I said “Yes” straight away with no reservations. Two weeks later I rented out my home to a nice young couple looking for somewhere on a short month-to-month lease and haven’t looked back.

Our biggest challenge was going public and the only time we’d argued. She still wanted to keep it quiet. Not wanting to become part of office legend and idle gossip but to hide our love troubled me. I didn’t want to hide how I felt for her. Every time I looked up and glimpsed even the top of her head my heart swelled. With Jayne, I didn’t have half this much emotion, and that surprised me.

I grew ten feet tall, shouting to the world she was mine and that I loved her but she didn’t understand. Instead, she grew quieter until the gossips moved on. I guess it took a day or two, but she forgave me. People grew used to the sight of us two together and we became old news. Thing was as everyday passed I saw a new future for us. Deep down I have old fashioned values. I wanted a proper family environment where she would stay at home to look after our kids and I would earn enough to support us.





A fraught journey to Hull, thanks to roadwork’s and an accident, we spent most of the time discussing alternative routes. It wasn’t like the boat would wait for us. We needn’t have worried we were there in plenty of time. I’d organised a cabin, with a bathroom since I didn’t fancy running down the corridor in the middle of the night. We stored our overnight bag and laughed at the bunk beds before heading out to explore the ship.

People milled around moving into cabins and exploring the seated sleeping areas. I pulled Lindsay outside where we could walk along the deck while the ship was in port. “Ever been on one of these bad boys?” I asked keen to relax and forget about the stresses of work for a few days.

“A long time ago, with the school. We went to France for two weeks in the summer but it was the four hour Dover to Calais crossing.”

“Never overnight.” I wrapped my arms around her waist. The fishy smell of port mixed with the sweet elixir of her perfume. “This is an adventure then.”

“Yeah.” She leaned back into me relaxing as the stragglers joined the ferry. “How often did you use this ferry?”

“All the time as a youngster. Every holiday we’d see them. Then as we grew and left home it got less and less till it was once a year. The last few times I’ve been over I’ve gone on my own.”

“Why?”

“She, Jayne, didn’t like the ferry. She always wanted to fly, but part of the relaxing for me was always the journey. Plus if we took the car we could go into Germany and buy beer and goodies from the hypermarkets.”

“Not posh enough then?”

I laughed, she had it in one. “No.” The ferries horn blared, and a tannoy rang out instructing anyone who wasn’t sailing to disembark. “Want to stay out here and watch as we leave?”

“Yeah why not.”

That’s another reason I loved her so much. Her needs weren’t high brow. Just the simplest joys and experiences.

The ferries powerful engines roared. Smoke flooded from the funnels high above our heads and the propellers churned water underneath the stern. I remembered the noises of my childhood and grinned. It was an awesome racket and one that signalled the start of our adventure.





We stood, the only ones and watched the port sink into the distance. I hadn’t meant this as a romantic moment but it was. A perfect one but I wasn’t ready to ask her the most important question. Love and compatibility. We had these qualities but after my much failed former marriage I wanted to ask the two people I trusted more in the world than myself.

Still, I couldn’t tear myself away from dreaming about the plans I needed to make. A ring fit for my queen, but one that suited her unique personality, and I had to make the experience special, unforgettable.

She turned around in my arms to face me. “You okay? You look a little lost.”

“No. I’m fine. Just thinking...”

“Anything I can help with?” she asked and stood on her tip toes to plant a gentle kiss on the tip of my nose.

“Nope, everything’s fine.” Before she could make me talk I changed the subject. “Hungry? I booked us a table at the ships restaurant rather than the buffet. I figured we deserved a treat.”

“Nice,” she replied. “Come on then, it’s getting cold.”





Inside we found our way to the restaurant. They seated us by the window and were attentive but the time between courses frustrated me. I wanted to go down to the bar area and find a table to sit, talk and enjoy a few hours of just letting the world go by. As the restaurant thinned the service quickened. We received an apology for their slackness, a partial refund plus complementary deserts. Things were looking up.

Downstairs we hit the bar area but bought soft drinks. I had to drive tomorrow, and she wasn’t a big drinker. Another quirk I loved. We sat, cuddled up on a small couch laughing and joking, waiting for the cabaret show to start.





After several more soft drinks we retired for the night. Our cabin was far enough away from the ongoing entertainment and the small casino that operated at the side of the bar. We’d stopped for a few moments to watch and she tried to get me to have a go. It crossed my sober mind we were on a boat, ploughing through the water and that was a wheel spinning at a different angle. Truth was I’d never set foot in a casino in my life. Apart from the national lottery and the odd bet on the Grand National I had tried nothing else. Folly in my eyes and I wasn’t about to start now.

We wandered away, hands wrapped together towards peace and quiet. The divide between the two halves of the boat refreshing. Inside the cabin, the thick doors blocked any noise from the corridor. I’d forgotten while we were off exploring and eating we were coming back to bunk beds.

“Do you want the top or bottom?” Lindsay asked as she peeled off her jeans.

I grabbed her and pulled her up towards me. “Neither, just you.”





The next morning I woke first. Lindsay was sleep on her side, with her head on my shoulder tucked in against my body. I loved that even in the tightest of spaces we were together. We hadn’t spent a night apart, and we weren’t about to start now.





The ferry docked a little after nine. It took fifteen minutes to clear customs, and we were off driving on the wrong side of the road. Holland was eternally different to the United Kingdom. Flat, not a hill in sight, rolling fields appeared as towns disappeared. Dykes ran alongside motorways, sometimes crossing underneath. Houseboats floated past, painted in many bright colours. Some tripped out and worth a fortune. Lindsay’s wide eyes soaked everything in.

“How much further to Venlo?”

“Not long,” I replied. “It’s less than two hours from the ferry.”

“Wow.”

“Holland’s not that big. It’s half the size of Scotland or like adding all of Yorkshire into one plus County Durham and Northumberland.” I glanced across and saw her laugh. “Plus you can drive from one end to the other in half a day.”





We arrived at my grandparents a little after eleven o’clock. I got lost on a new stretch of motorway that took me right by their home on the outskirts of town. I doubled back and pulled off into an area I remembered. Their cottage, a cross between the Norfolk thatched roof and painted white walls and the colourful gardens full, of Tulips in various stages of bloom.

They lived in Maastricht while my Grandfather served with NATO. When he retired they moved to Venlo because of its location to the rest of Europe and its relaxed way of life. He threw their front door open as I drove across the driveway, tyres crunching gravel. He waited until I stopped, then yanked my door open and me out of the car. “It’s been too long my boy,” he said hugging me, slapping my back with joy.

“Sorry, I promise next time won’t be as long.”

He walked around the car, opened Lindsay’s door for her and waited. She climbed out a little shell shocked by his enthusiasm. He grinned as he hugged her and welcomed her into our little family.

My grandmother stood by the door, her face trimmed with glistening silver hair. A much shorter cut than I remembered, but it suited her. Both of them looked well which was a great relief since both were entering their late seventies. They’d had Dad when they were in their twenties. He did the same with me. It was a family tradition I had intended to keep then thought I’d lost.

That was the one thing we had to overcome – our fear of the future. We’d both been on a course that without warning disappeared with no explanation. Many nights we learned about each other. She would talk about the uncertainty of not knowing what she’d done wrong. Why Brian left? She might never know and that realisation happened over several weeks. Neither one of us found it easy to move on. The biggest step towards mutual healing was facing those uncertainties and knowing that something good happened. Our love for each other.



Inside the cottage hadn’t changed. They’d updated it, redecorated and my grandfather had finally got his big screen TV but other than that it retained its country charm. Gran had coffee waiting along with biscuits taking me back to my teenage years.

Keen to enjoy our weekend as much as possible we ventured into the centre of Venlo for lunch by the River Maas followed by shopping in the farmers market. We strolled for hours, together as two couples enjoying each other’s company. It could have been any town in any country on any day. We were just content.





That night while Lindsay and Gran sat in the living room, I washed dishes and my grandfather put them away. “No wonder you’re always smiling when I see you on Skype,” he said. “She’s a great girl.”

“Yeah.”

“Gonna take it further?” he asked standing with his back against the draining board looking towards the door.

He’d used this tactic since I was a child for matters that needed quiet discussion. “I’d like to but I’m not sure.”

“Still battle scared?”

“We both are. I don’t want to push her too soon.”

“But you live together and have since, what the first month?”

“Yeah but we were friends well before then.” I handed him another plate for drying. “But I see your point.”

“She doesn’t know does she?”

“Nope.”

“What’s her story because she seems to have her head screwed on right? Or are her issues deep rooted?”

“No, she’s as you see her. She met, moved in with her school sweetheart and after five years he cheated on her. She threw him out. Then a few years later she met Brian, and they were together three years. He’s a weird case. He told me he felt nothing for her anymore one night in the pub. The next morning he’d gone, and she still doesn’t know why.”

He ran the tea towel around the plate then stored it back in the cupboard. “Do you?”

“No.” I shook my head as I passed the last pan to him. “He never said. We work in the same building but he’s never there. I think he’s transferred out to stay away from us, or I did in the beginning. I wanted to ask, but it’s just been impossible.”

“Well, if you’re looking for my opinion, my son, I’d say get in there quick. She’s smitten with you and you seem the same with her.”

“Oh I am, but are you sure we fit?”

“David,” he said placing his hand on my shoulder. “Trust your instincts. She’s a smart, beautiful, caring girl who reminds me a lot of your grandmother. What more does a man need than someone to love him?”

He had a point!





********





Lindsay





David’s Grandparents are sweet. A glowing example of long term love. As we drove down Autobahn 61 the next morning I looked at the three of them and saw a happy and long established family unit. I remember him saying they raised him and how he attended an international school because his grandfather worked out of the country. He had turned out all right. The trauma of losing his parents had impacted him but they raised him right.

David kept us entertained as his grandfather directed him along the autobahn. Their comical arguing, while driving down a long straight road with no turnoffs till the one we required, hilarious to both females in the back of the car. They rebuffed our attempts at back seat driving and we collapsed against each other laughing until I got hiccups.





The hypermarket was a brand new experience for me. It was the size of a commercial cash and carry with its own coffee shop and associated outdoor vendors selling the usual pretzels, waffles and German speciality sausages. “We once came here,” his grandmother said, “and we took five hours to walk around. At the end of every other aisle they were giving away free food samples, and he wanted to try them all twice.”

I thought she was talking about his granddad until I saw David flushing a beet red.

Inside was chaos. Wide aisles with palletised products sold alongside single items on shelves above. Everything laid out with ease. Clear pricing at all levels and comparison guides for people swithering between a handful of products and bulk buying. I loved this idea. It made perfect sense, and I realised we were shopping the wrong way back home.

David had a list. He’d come prepared, and I saw, first hand, his love for continental food. I followed close behind, enjoying the dynamic of his relationship. He wanted a few trays of Warsteiner. A premium German larger. Nothing else would do. Eventually he found it tucked away around a corner. The grin of a toddler allowed another chocolate bar greeted us when he looked back.

“You okay?” His grandmother asked as I stood watching him hunt for his favourites.

“Men, they are all such simple creatures,” I replied.

She looked across at her husband and grandson loading the trolley and working out how to cram everything in. “Those two are,” she giggled. “But then we love them that way.”

“We do.”

She linked her arm through mine and we walked away in search of some white wine to take home.





We were with them for two days since our ferry left at five pm on Monday night but I felt like I’d known them for years. I hoped we’d come back soon to visit and travel around with them. David expressed a desire to visit Belgium and Northern France and it sounded like fun. We bid them goodbye with added hugs and drove back to the Rotterdam.

“They like you.”

“Good, because they are nice people. Great fun, kind hearted and warm.” He glanced at me with this strange glazed look. “What?”

“Nothing.”





19.





David





I’d done it, I’d found the perfect ring. Bought it, had it boxed and hid it in the house in with some of my stuff she never went near. Now I needed to plan the perfect proposal and after a week of pondering what she would like, I cracked it. I wanted something romantic, spell binding, something she would remember for the rest of our lives.

One of my friends won a weekend break to a holiday cottage on Loch Long in Argyll, which was two hours away and perfect. A remote location with a wooden log style cabin, panoramic stunning views and an outdoor deck with hot tub from which to enjoy the nights. He couldn’t go as his wife was due to give birth, so he donated it. She had no reason to suspect this was anything but a weekend away.





Friday night we arrived and fell straight into bed as we couldn’t leave work at a decent time. We got caught in the Friday night rush hour and it was half past six before we left the city centre. I woke first on Saturday morning and made breakfast quietly. The holiday company took a shopping order from me a few days previous to our arrival and everything I’d requested was there. I carried our food back into the room on a tray and after placing it on the unit then woke Lindsay with a lingering kiss. Sat on the bed by her side, I stroked the hair from her eyes as she fought the urge to wake up. I bent down and kissed her again. This time her eyes flickered open, and she reached for my face.

“Ah,” I chastised her, knowing what she wanted. “Food young lady. We didn’t have a healthy meal last night. Plenty of time for that later.”

She laughed but sat up and plumped the pillows behind her back as I brought the tray across and dished out the delicacies I’d prepared for her breakfast. I’d kill for a bacon roll slathered in brown sauce but if she couldn’t eat it, then neither did I.

“So what are we doing today?” Lindsay asked while chewing a piece of pineapple I’d cut up and mixed with strawberries and grapes.

“I figured we were just here to relax, so not a lot. Maybe a walk into town, grab lunch. It’s about two miles around the loch path so we can walk there and back, if the weather stays nice, which it should do. We can book dinner at the hotel then come back and chill in the hot tub.”

“I’d love that.”





After a lazy breakfast and a snuggle we set off on our walk into Arrochar. The path was easy enough to find and flat. We held hands as ever, keen to be together. I thought it would wear off but I’m not complaining because I loved the closeness.

Walkers of all ages passed as they hurried by with their long sticks and designer back packs. They were heading to the top of the hills and the view point aptly called The Cobbler. Silence fell as we walked on through stunning scenery. The loch on one side, the green and orange autumnal forest on the other and the hills in front. The information in the lodge said most of the area catered for walkers of all disciplines. There were several information places in the town, shops and resting places. I was interested in knowing if there were tourist shops that would occupy us until lunchtime but shouldn’t have worried. We didn’t leave the lodge until late morning.

I had organised a surprise for her back at the lodge but not until tonight. A romantic touch I hoped would put this weekend high on the scale of unforgettable moments. I’d told the lodge manager we wouldn’t be back until after eight, so they had plenty of time to get it ready. All I had to do now was keep her occupied, happy and away.





After reaching the town we strolled around passing all the usual small tourist shops. There were no major coffee or fast food chains to clog the streets just good old independents each offering their own twists on traditional Scottish fare. “Coffee or...”

“You want a whisky don’t you?”

“I wouldn’t say no, and since I’m not driving.” In all honesty the nerves were kicking in big time and I needed something to help take the edge off.

“Come on, then.” Lindsay pulled my hand, and we walked into a little pub.





Hours later after lots of laughs, cuddles in a small corner booth plus a light lunch we left the pub and walked around the rest of the town.





*******





Lindsay





We’d walked back towards the lodge complex after spending the afternoon walking around Arrochar. It was an idyllic little town but since we were pretending to be tourists there wasn’t much else to do. I wondered why we didn’t head back and hang out in the hot tub but David always had one more thing to do.

After a lovely steak meal, back at the hotel I was fit to burst but ready to relax with a soak in the hot tub. Tall lamps lit the path from the hotel to the lodges every few feet against the black night. Above the forest canopy twinkling stars guided the weary travellers but all that interested me was the twinkle in David’s eyes. I noticed it as we finished dinner. His eyes often expressed his feelings. Since on the quiet side I decided it was just a trick of the light and tiredness. After all it felt like we’d walked double the miles we had.





Inside the lodge, the lights were on but down low. Since we hadn’t been back I assumed they were on a timer. “After you,” he said opening the door.

Inside, a trail of rose petals lead through the lodge towards the outside balcony and the hot tub. “How?” I asked as I turned to face him.

“Surprise...”

“But.”

“I thought I’d be romantic, so arranged a little something.” He hugged me, his chin resting on my shoulder as his arms pulled me in to him. “I love you, Lindsay. You and only you.”

I unwrapped myself and turned around planting a kiss on his lips and melting into him. “I love you too.”

His arms relaxed, and he took my hand. We walked into the living room. Every few feet more petal led around furniture and through the doors out to the deck. “How do you turn the hot tub on?” I asked.

“It’s on already,” David said. “Listen you can hear the bubbles. Give me a minute then we’ll go out.”





A few minutes later I heard his footsteps behind me as I looked across the deck. Outside a bottle lay inside a bucket. Two wine flutes sat on the table on a tray. “Want to go out?” I nodded, and he opened the double door.

Outside the stars reflection bounced off the loch illuminating the balcony. To the side the hot tub bubbled. I touched the water as he uncorked the wine with a pop. I turned around to ask him where the towels were, eager to get in, only to see him sink to his knee.

No, no way. My mouth dropped open in slow motion in complete shock.

He flicked open a small box, then raised it up and said, “Lindsay, I love you and I can’t imagine a day without you in my life. Will you marry me?”

His eyes stalked mine, his heart lying before me. Stunned, my mind struggled to find a response. Eventually I screamed, “Yes, yes.”

He jumped up, grabbed me into a passionate embrace then slid the ring on my finger with ease.





20.





Jayne





My doctor suggested I get help from a support group for newly diagnosed HIV patients to cope with the struggle of living with the disease. I told him no at first, but with each visit he wore me down and convinced me to attend.

I went to the first, held in a community centre, and listened as people sat about drinking tea and coffee and talking about their lives, which sounded horrific. No one gave more personal information away than their first name, but all spoke of hassle at work and problem partners.

All at a similar stage between a month and a year since diagnosis. That was the only thing I had in common with them. None looked like me, nowhere near. Most gay, some infected thought disease and contaminated blood, others through sexual partners. At that first meeting I didn’t want to share. It took four more before I even said my name.

The doctor told me I had to attend two meetings a week for three months as a compulsory measure, after that, it was my decision. At the end of every meeting I’d get a card stamped and go about the rest of my business. I knew no one and decided hanging about afterwards wasn’t my scene.





I’d been going for four weeks when I first spoke, said my name and that I contracted HIV from a one night stand. No one said a word. No “Urms”, no “Ah’s”. Nothing. In that instance I realised they were the only people who wouldn’t judge me.

From that day onwards I looked forward to the meetings, listening to their stories and learning all I could. I mean it’s not my fault I have it. Yes, I slept around but whoever it was should have told me. I couldn’t tell my friends that would be the end of it. No one would understand. They didn’t have time for medications, routines and implications. Their lives were about shopping, men and make up. So was mine, but now I had to add this disease into it.





“I thought these meetings were anonymous.”

Petrified who was behind me, my mind partially recognised the voice but it couldn’t be. I spun round and there he was, Brian. “What are you doing here?”

“Support Group,” he replied. “I attend the later meeting. Have been for a few months. Doctor mandated for a while then I kept coming.”

“But...”

“I know I don’t look sick.”

“No, you don’t.” I picked up my coffee mug and walked to the side of the area. Brian followed me. “So are you positive or?” I left the question hanging because I couldn’t say the words. They disgusted me. This whole thing did.

“Just positive.” He placed his hand on the steel pillar by my side and leaned against it. “Shared needles in my drug hazed days. Got it then along with a dose of Hepatitis. Most people can’t tell and the only symptom is my dodgy stomach because of all the mediation.”

“And Lindsay?”

“Fine I think. I was always careful but you can never tell.”

“Does she know?” I asked looking for a tiny tit bit of gossip I could throw in David’s face next time I saw them together, all loved up.

“No, although they diagnosed it about six months before I left.”





There it was. My rainy day nugget. That piece of priceless information for me to torment them with. Maybe the fact he was there, and I was no longer alone would prove useful.





********





Brian





I always parked the car across the road from the community centre halfway through the first session. It was rude to enter midway, so I waited for the second sitting. That was when I saw her walking out of the session. “What are you doing here?” I said looking into the rear view mirror. My former boss and confident walked to a small black two seat sports car, yanked open the door and climbed in. “Mm.” She drove away as I climbed out of my car and walked into my meeting.





Two days later I was back, but this time I attempted to reach the first meeting on time. I snuck in minutes before it started and sat at the back. She sat three rows in front of me. She didn’t speak, but neither did I until there was a break for coffee and I approached. The following week I asked her out for something to eat after a meeting and she accepted, much to my surprise. It became a pattern. A meeting then a meal and over the next two weeks she became less of a former manager and more a friend. Someone to bounce the daily problems off.

One night as we walked through the park from the community centre to the Italian restaurant across the street she said, “I have a question for you. How do you have a proper relationship when you have this curse?”

I grinned. “Well, there are two ways and it depends on circumstances. You don’t tell them, take all the precautions and cross your fingers, which is what I did. Or you can be open, tell them and take it from there.”

“Precautions?”

“You are new at this aren’t you?” I laughed, but she looked hurt and I relented. “Condom’s.”

Jayne nodded. “I thought you meant something else.” She took a deep breath before saying, “Bit of a bummer and not something I want to go through life using.”

“Yeah I know. Unless you’re lucky and you find a partner who’s infected, it’s your only way to live responsibly.”





Most people told me she was a bitch. When she became my manager they said to watch my back. She’d stab me as much as look at me but I never saw that side of her. Honest, caring and hard working. Yes, she could be tough but achievers always are and I learned many valuable lessons from her. Tonight as she sat in the candle light eating a bowl of Cannelloni I saw a new vulnerability.





Back at the cars, she fished about for her illusive keys, wrestling them from the bowels of huge bag she carried. She unlocked her door as I stood by her side. “Thanks for dinner. My treat next time.”

“I will hold you to that.” I took one step to the side and placed my hand on her door handle. “Let me get this for you.” I opened the door and stepped back.

She stood on her tiptoes and pecked my cheek but as she pulled back electricity passed between us almost as both brains clicked. I leaned closer, and she reacted by pressing her lips against mine. I stepped into her space and pressed her against the bodywork of the car. My attraction to her growing obvious each passing second.

“Want to come back to mine? We could come back and get your car in the morning,” I whispered kissing her neck. “I’m just on the south side of town. Not far.”

She broke free, closed and locked her car door before pressing her body against mine. Her hand snaked its way to the growing bulge in my trousers. “Think you’ll last that far.”

I didn’t. We barely made it to my car.





21.





Lindsay





David’s proposal came as a complete shock. He played it right. A lovely setting, romantic but not over done and the perfect princess cut diamond platinum ring. We spent the next hour in each other’s arms, naked in the hot tub. Well, except for the ring. I never saw it coming. The next day we drove home, and he called his grandparents. They couldn’t be happier, just as my friend Adele, they screamed down the phone. Everything was great until we went into work.

Now he had proposed, and I’d accepted we were no longer just messing about. News filtered around my team but only my manager stopped to wish me well. From the rest I heard jealous whispers and accusations. Meanwhile, David found himself summoned to see his boss and told in no uncertain terms he had to change departments. He later told me he had stunned her with the news he had already been applying for promotional roles within the company.





Every morning after that I hated the journey to work and in the car, two days later I raised my fears. “Maybe it should be me that looks for a different job...”

“Why?” He asked. “I thought you liked what you did...”

“I do, I don’t like that team.”

“What would you want to do?”

“Anything but this.”

“It will get better, I promise!”

I stared out of the front window as we crawled along the motorway. It was a lot slower than usual with heaps of additional traffic on the road.

“Can you check your travel app? See if there’s something going on. Road shouldn’t be this busy.” He fiddled with the radio tuning it to a local station as I fired up the app and waited for the real time updates to load.

“There’s a police incident on the Kingston Bridge. Says it’s closed eastbound.”

“This must rubber neck traffic then. Best we peel off and go through town.” The radio stopped playing music and gave a news and traffic update. They also called it a police incident.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Could be anything,” David replied. “Although it’s usually for jumpers, if it’s at a bridge.”





We peeled off as he’d suggested and weaved through the city streets to reach the car park. The trouble was just before the Kingston Bridge. As we walked across the motorway overpass to the office we could see police cars with blue flashing lights and two fire engines. Whatever it was, it caused chaos. I gripped David’s hand a little tighter as we walked on.





By lunchtime whispers filtered though the department fuelled by gossip but also someone’s passion for using the internet during work time. A report on the local news website said a car had plunged over the edge of the bridge but gave no more details. Speculation was rife. David was right. We were old news.

He came and got me from my desk at lunchtime and suggested we get out of there for while. We wandered down to a local chain coffee store and sat to one side, content to spend half an hour in each other’s company alone from the world. Neither of us enjoying working anymore. Two people walked in we knew. Members of Brian’s old team. One had tears in her eyes, the other had been crying.

“Something’s going on,” David said, showing their presence with his head. A couple more members of his old team walked in and sat down in an area to the side of the main door. The guys hugged the girls. “Whatever it is, it’s not good.”

We finished our coffees and got up to leave. David took my hand, and that’s when I heard it. “You’d think she’d be more upset! And she’s moved on.” The two women spoke with venom in their voices. I stopped and stared at both of them. It was obvious they aimed their comments at me but I couldn’t believe it. What had I done?

David tried to move. I couldn’t, shell shocked at what I’d heard. “Lindsay?” he whispered, “Come on.”

“That’s right, get her out of here, she never loved him anyway!”

He took a step towards them, gripping my hand.

“What are you on about?”

“Brian, she used him to get to you. Now she has you and he’s dead.”

My knees buckled, and I fell into the table by my side. David grabbed me, stopping me sinking to the floor. The shop walls around me closed in. Stars blazed across my vision and everything went black.





********





David





Lindsay passed out from the shock. She came around a few seconds later as I struggled to hold her in the chair. The shops staff ran to our aid but not her accusers. Once I was sure she was okay, I yelled, “Happy now? Feel better because you hurt her?” None of them looked at me. They looked at the floor. “She didn’t use him,” I continued. “He left her, just like your boss Jayne left me. We are the victims here.”

“David,” she said. “Don’t...”

My concern was Lindsay. I let them be. “Are you okay?”

“Just shaken.”

I thanked the staff for their help and with my arm around her waist I helped her up and out of the shop.





Back in work Lindsay’s manager saw us walking across the floor and sprinted towards us. “I’m so sorry both of you. Let’s go somewhere quiet.”

She directed us around to a quiet area we sometimes used for meetings. A small corner portion filled with a round table and half a dozen chairs. I helped her to sit since she still seemed a little off balance and white.

Sonia, her manager walked in with two brown plastic cups. “Sugary tea, good for shock, here.” She handed one to each of us.

I pulled a chair closer to Lindsay and sat next to her. I thought fresh air would bring the colour back to her cheeks, but it didn’t.

“Heard the news. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Was a shock to find out the way she did?”

“Did Maggie not tell you?”

I shook my head. Maggie, the stick, wasn’t on speaking terms with me after finding out I’d proposed to Lindsay. “No, we found out because Brian’s old team mates caused a stir in the coffee shop.”

“Ah. Look I think you should take Lindsay home. I heard some of the chat in the team and I guess it’s as bad as you’ve already heard.”

“None of it is true,” I protested as I sipped the awful brown liquid.

“I’m aware of that. Any rational person is but you know what the gossips like in here.” She glanced at Lindsay who hadn’t said a word before continuing, “Why don’t you pack up your stuff and I’ll stay with her.”

“Thanks, I need to speak to Maggie and get time off.”

“Already sorted, she said and I quote, Tell him to leave.”

“Yeah I think she’s pissed off with me.” I bent down by Lindsay’s chair and gently touched her knee. “I’ll be back in a few minutes okay?”

She nodded but didn’t speak.





Back at my desk I’d missed several calls, some had left messages but none were important and couldn’t wait. I logged back on, checked my emails, replied to any that required an answer and turn on my out of office message. I’d no idea if I would be back tomorrow or not. Right now Lindsay was my concern, no one else. I grabbed my bag, then walked across to her desk and grabbed her stuff. No one spoke nor asked what I was doing, despite every one being at their desk. It was at that moment I realised what she’d been going through sitting here.





Sonia insisted I wandered across to get the car and brought it back to the office. Lindsay still hadn’t spoken and hadn’t touched her tea. An inspired idea because walking back to the car park the motorway remained shut in one lane. Emergency vehicles still in evidence on both the motorway and in the river below. “Shit,” I exclaimed and dropped the two rucksacks. “Thank god she didn’t walk this way!”





Lindsay went straight to bed when we got home complaining of feeling dizzy and needing sleep. I sat in the living room the TV on as background noise but as the local news started I turned it up. Their top story was the crash. I saw for the first time that his car had been in the stationary traffic waiting to peel off the motorway and onto the slip road into town. A lorry hit him at high speed, pushed the car into the one in front and sent him into the barrier and over it, plunging into the river below. “Shit, he never stood a chance.”

“Who didn’t?” Lindsay appeared at my shoulder.

I grabbed the remote and flicked off the channel. “Sorry.”

“No. I need to know what happened.”

I turned the TV back on and cuddled her as she sat down.





Neither one of us felt like any food but I knew we had to eat. I fixed a plateful of sandwiches and took them back up to the living room. “How are you feeling?” I asked as she tucked into one of them.

“Better thanks. Sorry I scared you. I’ve no idea what happened.”

“Shock. That’s all. It wasn’t a nice way to find out.”

“It was the anger, threw me completely.”

“Just remember both of us know the truth.”

My phone rang interrupting our conversation. The screen flicked up a name I hadn’t seen in a long time. “Hello Graham,” I said raising the phone to my ear. Jayne’s Dad and I hadn’t spoken since the day she walked out.

“David. Look this is a difficult call and I’m not sure what we are supposed to do in situations like this but I thought you should hear this from us.”

Her father’s voice cracked as he spoke and my mind ran wild. I had never heard him speak in anything other than a monotone voice. A man who never showed emotion at all.

“What’s going on?”

“Jayne’s dead. Killed in a car crash today.”

I didn’t think I heard him right. My mind stuttering. No, she couldn’t, not the same day. “Graham, sorry, how?”

“I’m sure you’ve seen the news. She was a passenger in the car that catapulted over the barrier and into the river on the Kingston Bridge.”

“Dear god,” I exclaimed and sank back into the couch. Lindsay stared at me not knowing what was going on since she had only heard my side of the conversation. The realisation hit me with a bang. There was one car involved. Brian and Jayne were in the same car.

“Look David, I have a few more calls to make. I will call you with her funeral details as soon as I have them.”

“Okay,” I replied as he hung up.

Lindsay stared at me waiting for an explanation but I needed a few seconds to digest the information. She placed her hand on my leg but no words were necessary, she could tell from my face, whatever it was, it was bad.

“Brian...” I stuttered. “He wasn’t alone.” I couldn’t find the words to tell her. “He was with Jayne, they’re both dead.”





22.





David





A few days passed by and neither one of us went into work. We both called and took time off shell shocked by events. Lindsay heard from Brian’s family and they filled her in on the funeral arrangement and Graham called back with Jayne’s. They were to be held on two consecutive days and at opposite sides of the town.

To say we were both in shock was an understatement. We spent much of the days between finding out and the first funeral in each other’s arms trying to understand what had happened. I knew Jayne was seeing someone when we split up, but Brian, that was never on my radar. I couldn’t believe it. My head just wouldn’t accept that she betrayed me in that way and with someone I knew. Both of us were having trouble dealing with the emotions it dragged up.





Jayne’s funeral was first and although she was my wife for a long time I’d move on. I’d had to. Now to go back and face her family after the betrayal of her cheating and the divorce was almost too much. Lindsay and I comforted each other and encouraged each other when the other flagged but this was a big ask.

She was to have a church service then a cremation before a gathering back at her parent’s home. I guessed that her mother and father had decided on the funeral arrangements. She hated church and wasn’t too keen on most religions, insisting we had a registry office wedding because that’s what she wanted. I drove across to the church with a grave sense of foreboding.

We parked in the shopping centres car park because the one next to the church was too small and already full. I held Lindsay’s hand tightly. She is the light of my life and having her with me kept my emotions in check and I held my head high. People in front of us and behind us were all heading to the same place. Many of them older, friends of her parents rather than Jayne, which seemed a little strange.

Across the road a large minibus pulled over at the side of the road and people more our age spilled onto the pavement. I recognised some of them as her old team from the office. Some of them were the ones that confronted Lindsay in the coffee shop. Immediately the nudge brigade went into over drive and looked across at us. She remained focused on me and where we were going.

“You okay?” she asked as we turned and walked up the path that led to the churches front door.

“Okay is a stretch. I still don’t know how I’m supposed to feel.”

“However you want David. No one can tell you what you should think or feel. You were a couple for a long time. In love. You can’t deny that you had feelings for her. Just be true to yourself.”

I squeezed her hand then raised it to my lips. She was my one in a million and I was lucky she loved me.





Inside one of her brothers greeted me, shook my hand and showed the two of us down to wooden pew a few rows from the front. “You’re still family mate,” he said showing us in. I didn’t feel like family but maybe that was the point. While married I barely saw her family and so did she. They weren’t close at all and we never bonded.

Lindsay sat next to me never releasing my hand from her grip. People filed in, her team sat on the opposite side of the church towards the back. A few noticed where we were but I didn’t care what they thought about me.





After what felt like an hour but was five minutes, music started and her coffin arrived, her mother and father walking behind it. Neither looked grief stricken, both looked composed, business like which seemed odd.

For the next hour and a half we sat down, stood up, knelt down to pray, which I refused to do and sat head bowed instead. Everyone said she was a kind, spirited person, the life and soul of the party but that’s not the Jayne I knew. I listened to them eulogise and grew angrier by the minute. Sure, when we dated she was one person, but she grew into another, then one who lived a double life. I wondered how many sat in this church knew her.

The pall bearers returned, lifted her coffin and out they walked her mother and father behind her again. We all stood and filed out of the pews. Outside the church the hearse drove away along with two black funeral cars containing her family.

“That’s strange,” Lindsay said as we walked down the path leading away from the church and back towards the car park.

“What is?”

“There were no flowers on her coffin. Did she not like them?”

“She did and you’re right, that is strange.”





At the crematorium we watched as her coffin trundled along the rollers. The end of her journey. Still none of her relatives cried a tear. Funerals are emotionally charged, but this one seemed restrained. I wanted to cry, I wanted to bury my head in Lindsay’s shoulder and let out the pain I felt for Jayne and her tragic ending. After everything I didn’t want this. I wanted her to find her way, find happiness and if it wasn’t with me than with someone else who could give her what she wanted.

Outside her old team were standing to the together in a group we walked past them to get to the car. She had her arm around my waist and we both looked straight ahead, neither ashamed to be together, or attend today.

“David.” A young guy, who I’d seen twice since he sat across from Jayne’s desk when she worked there, stepped forward into our path. “I’m sorry about the other day. That was wrong of us. We didn’t understand the full picture.”

“Neither, did we,” I replied as his face turned to shock.

Now that would shut the lot of them up once and for all.





********





Lindsay





The morning after Jayne’s funeral we dressed again in sombre suits ready for Brian’s funeral. He was close to his family even though they had tried and failed to help him in the past, he thought nothing bad of them. He had a self destruct streak in him. Be it gambling, alcohol or women. He’d sought help for addiction before we met. He’d been clean of gambling for at least five years and cut down on drinking although hadn’t stopped. I thought I was the new life he wanted, but I wasn’t.

I’d learned to accept that I wouldn’t ever know why he left. It gave me sleepless nights for months but I had to face facts. He didn’t love me enough to stay and work at a relationship. Maybe he left me for Jayne. Maybe not. Now I was with David and this was a far better in every way. Being in this new relationship taught me what love was and I didn’t have that with Brian. This overwhelming feeling and need. That didn’t mean I didn’t feel terrible today knowing we were about to say goodbye to him.

Yesterday I supported David. I felt for him, I did. Betrayed in a public way, made the scapegoat and the object of everyone’s gossip then put on display. He struggled, as all men do, to let out his feelings. They tumbled out last night over a glass of wine. I hugged him as he finally let it out. Something’s better bottled but not this.

I lay on his chest cradled in his arm as he slept. The stress of the day ebbing from his face as he fell into a deep sleep. The memory of him in tears remained in my mind’s eye.

Today it was my turn.





We saw some of the same faces at Brian’s service. His parents had picked a service at the funeral home followed by the crematorium which suited Brian more than a church. He wasn’t the religious type and neither we’re they. Yesterday I’d been expecting to see Brian’s folks at Jayne’s funeral but they weren’t there. David made a good point in they probably hadn’t met each other’s families yet. Strange if they had been together longer than us but he was maybe right. The whole thing of them being together didn’t feel right.





As we approached the funeral home I felt David pulling on our clasped hands. “You okay?” I asked wondering what was going on. He had been quiet all morning.

“Is it appropriate for me to be here?” His feet scuffed at the path. “I didn’t know Brian other than a few drinks sessions.”

“As right as me being there yesterday.”

He stopped and pulled at my arm, which stopped me walking down the path. “If you need me then I’m here.”

“I do. Please stay.”

He stood on his tip toes and kissed my head. “I’m yours. All yours.”





This funeral was far different. His parents and brothers greeted mutual mourners at the home’s doors. They shook my hands warmly. We’d spent a lot of time in each other’s company. Barbecues, Christmas and New Year's Day dinners were always large family occasions. All four hugged me. “I’m glad you came,” his mum whispered. “I was so sorry when he said he’d broken up with you.”

“Shocked me too.”

“Glad you found a nice guy. David isn’t it.” She held out her hand to shake his. “Look after her.”

“I will,” he replied.

We shook hands and hugged his dad, then his brothers. The youngest, Jason, asked to speak after the crematorium. I nodded my head wondering what it was all about.





His service seemed fast compared with Jayne’s yesterday. His coffin already sat at the front, closed just as Jayne’s but his had flowers on top. A song played on a continuous loop as everyone filed in, then ten minutes later his father, brothers and friends carried his coffin out to the hearse.

“Is that it?” David asked. “Over too quick.”

“Maybe.” I squeezed his hand, and we joined the queue of people leaving the funeral home. Outside, we walked away as the hearse drove out of the driveway to get our car and drive across to the same crematorium.

A real sense of déjà vu fell upon us both as we drove into the crematorium car park and walked across the grass to the entrance. He squeezed my hand tight as I had done with him yesterday. We sat in roughly the same place, just a row further back. I sat listening to the priest prattle on and tried to remember the guy I knew, not the guy who walked out on me.

It wasn’t always bad, and it wasn’t always good but then all relationships are like that, I glanced across at David. It might have been different if Brian’s had been first. I was lucky to be with him. He could have the pick of any woman but he chose me and sometimes I wonder why. He squeezed my hand again, and I felt bad. My mind wandered on thoughts of David when I should have had my mind on Brian.

His coffin trundled away along the rollers and I gasped. Tears fell and unlike David, I couldn’t keep them locked away. They had to come out. He handed me a tissue, and I dabbed at my eyes. Truth was, the first few days after he left I got over the shock and anger and I didn’t miss him. I really didn’t. I was okay but what I desired was closure. Was he cheating with Jayne behind my back? Did that just happen much later? Did he fall out of love with me? Or had I done something? Now I would never understand and that hurt.





23.





Lindsay





At the wake I never had time to catch up with Jason. Every time we talked someone pulled him away to deal with family or a crisis concerning the food. As we were leaving he said he’d give me a ring because he still wanted to talk, but I didn’t think he would, neither did David. He proved us all wrong. Two days later, on the Saturday morning I sat in a coffee shop in our local shopping centre waiting for him to arrive. David had gone into work to kick start his week since we’d both been off. He didn’t want to go in on Monday morning to face a week’s worth of problems. I didn’t need him with me to talk to Jason and I wanted to make sure whatever he had to say, he was comfortable doing it.

He walked in and gestured to the coffee bar but I shook my head. I already had my skinny latte. I couldn’t face eating anything I was too nervous.

“So,” he said sitting down. “How have you been?”

“Is that not my opening line?” I smiled and watched as the cheeky grin I remembered grew across his face.

“Yeah. Look I wanted to talk to you because I think there are things you need to hear.”

“Okay,” I replied nervously.

“Mum and Dad aren’t happy but I have to do this but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t.” He glanced down at the coffee.

The apprehension in his tone of voice left me cold. Something was wrong.

“Brian was sick.”

I took a moment unsure who knew what in his family. “I know about the addictions, Jason. Knew before we got together.”

“Not that kind of sick Lindsay. He had hepatitis, and he found out months ago he was HIV positive.”

The coffee cup trembled in my hands as the words registered. Jason reached across the table and grabbed it, placing it back in the saucer.

“They diagnosed him months ago but importantly before you two split up.”

“No way.”

Jason nodded. “Look I need to ask. Do you have it?”

Wow, he could he think that. “No Jason,” I exclaimed annoyed that he would even think such a thing. “I didn’t give it to him if that’s what you’re getting at.”

“I’m not.” He held both his hands up to stop me pushing the point further.

The earlier nerves gone, replaced by indignation at his assumption. I gripped my cup and took a gulp of froth. “Is that what he told you I’d given him this horrible illness and wrecked his life?”

“Far from it Lindsay. It was his addictions that gave it to him either that or his cheating on you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“This will be hard for you to hear.” He sank a little more of his drink and sat closer, elbows and arms resting on the table, almost touching my hands that were gripping my mug. “His hepatitis came from dirty needles and after chatting to him he told me he hadn’t told you about it.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“We had a few arguments about it because he should have but then he cheated on you for at least three months at the end of last year. Two weeks later you got ill, and he said he faced a dilemma. The woman wanted him to leave, but you rescued him and he felt like he owed you.”

“I had shingles,” I stressed.

“I think he feared it was more because the doctors told him to look for specific symptoms. You showed some although they all leaned towards shingles rather than anything either disease.”

“So he thought he gave me Hepatitis and HIV? But why leave and not tell me?”

“Self-disgust and his fascination with this other woman. He put you in danger but she had a hold over him.”

“I get that, Jason, but why not tell me?”

“Given time I think he would have.” He answered me with a shrug of his shoulders. “In the weeks before he died he talked about all sorts but mainly his regrets. Of which you and how he left things is, sorry was, one of his main ones. He wasn’t sure when he fell sick or where he contracted it from. He told me you always used precautions, and he was certain you wouldn’t have it.”

“I’m speechless.”

“It’s a lot to absorb Lindsay. God knows it is. I think once he got a handle on it and got treatment, he saw it wasn’t the death sentence he thought it was. From then on he reached out, and we talked.”

“So him leaving?”

“Sorry Lindsay, he was in love with this other woman. Look the reason I wanted to talk to you, is that I think you should get checked out. You were both still a couple, in every sense of the word when he slept with her. There is a risk to you and anyone you are with.”

“David’s clean, Jayne told him to get tested six months ago, right before we got together.”

“I wish Brian had known that but if he infected you, well it’s hard to say this but both of you could now be a risk.” He finished his coffee. “I suggest you both get tested just to be sure. You look well in fact you’re positively glowing and just as beautiful as ever. Deeply In love suits you.”

“Thanks but I need to ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“The woman he left me for. Was it Jayne? Because I don’t understand why they were together.”

“No, I don’t think so, Lindsay but I don’t know the woman’s name. What I can say is that when he left he moved in with a rich woman who treated him like a toy boy. As far as Jayne, well they met a few weeks ago at a support group and grew close. I don’t understand why they were together. None of us do.”

I nodded accepting his truth. He gave me a hug and left, leaving me sitting there shell shocked.





********





David





When Lindsay called I was finishing up in the office. She filled me in on what Jason had told her and I couldn’t believe we were going through this again. Her revelation about Brian’s relationship with Jayne eased my mind a little. Being left was hard but dumped for someone you knew way worse. If they met at a group then maybe it helped them as my friendship with Lindsay helped me.

Four hours later we sat in the same doctor’s office, but together. He had my file in his hand as he greeted us. “Didn’t think I’d be seeing you again.”

“No offence doctor,” I replied as I shook his hand. “Neither did I!”

We followed him to his office and I let Lindsay sit, then I followed.

The doctor flicked open my file, ran his finger down a piece of paper then looked at us both. “So, what can I do for you two?” He looked directly at me. “Your tests were clear.”

“It’s more complicated than that...”

A few minutes later he sighed and sat back. “Now that is a problem. I think the best thing is to do a repeat test on you and a new test on Lindsay.” He leaned over and pulled two forms off a pile on the shelf. “Let’s get this started.”





A week later after many sleepless nights for both of us we were back in his office. “I thought you posted these out.”

“We do, but I wanted to talk to both of you.”

Nothing about that statement filled me with glee. “What’s going on?”

“Well, I have good news and news I’m not too sure of.”

“Okay,” Lindsay said. “Let’s have the good news first.”

The doctor smiled, then flicked open two folders and pulled out two sheets of paper. He placed them in front of us. “I want you both to read these and absorb it.”

We both leaned forward.

“You are both clean. No signs of any infection.”

I sank back with a huge sigh. “You’re sure?”

“You were both worried and had good right to be but please, don’t worry anymore. There are no signs of the virus at all.”

Lindsay squeezed my hand. I leaned across and pulled her into hug. She cried. All the heartache of the last few weeks flooded out.





Eventually we stopped, and I turned to face the doctor without breaking my hold on Lindsay. “So what was the news you weren’t sure off?”

“We had trouble with Lindsay’s tests but once we sorted out the problem we ran them again.”

“Problems?” David replied.

“Look, I can see how much you two mean to each other...” He flicked over a few pages and looked at both of us. “Not sure this is the right place or time to tell you this but you’re pregnant.”





24.





David





Those two words sent our world into a tail spin. We left the doctors in a state of shock but deep in my soul I knew this was good shock. We didn’t plan to have a child so soon but we both wanted a family. Back home that first night we toasted our good news with tall glasses full of orange juice and lemonade. “Did you have any idea?” I asked Lindsay as we sat. She was leaning back into me, resting against my chest.

“Not a clue.” She sank a little of the juice. “I knew I was late, but that always happens in times of stress. But I take my little tablets every night, so it shouldn’t happen.”

I know she was saying it to convince me she hadn’t planned this, but she didn’t have to. I live here and see her taking them. “Hey, I’m not complaining.” She sat forward, and I bent down to kiss her. “I want to have children with you. Okay it’s soon but we’re getting married, we’re settled.”

“Yeah but it’s the not knowing.”

“Listen, Lindsay, you heard the doctor, the chances you have passed any part of a virus you don’t have to our child is almost impossible.”

“But not totally, you heard him.”

“But we don’t have it. So any children won’t have it either.” I lifted her chin to face me. “Please don’t think like that. Don’t let their selfishness ruin what is a blessing.”

She smiled at me and I melted. I hadn’t seen that smile in a few weeks, since the night I asked her to marry me, what three weeks ago. Then it hit me that might be the night we conceive our child. The doctor said she was around five to six weeks so that made sense. Since then everything had changed, I wanted that magic back. “Marry me Lindsay, marry me.”

“I already said yes...”

“So let’s do it before you get fat.” She punched my shoulder. “Hey, I didn’t mean it like that. I meant before you show signs of our child growing and you think you’re fat and undesirable. Which you won’t be.”

“Stop talking, David.” She ran her fingers around my cheek. “I agree. Let’s get married.”

“Can we have more babies too?”

“We should work on this one first then see what happens next...”





That night as she lay in my arms I vowed to make things better for all of us. The last three weeks had been rough, and she deserved better. Neither of us felt good about the funerals and even worse about the tests and the shadow that filled our days. Almost impossible was good enough for me but not for her. When the baby arrived we would get an additional blood test done, to be on the safe side. If it gave her peace of mind, I was all for it.

One thing was bothering me and that was our situation. Both home and work. We couldn’t continue with two homes. We needed somewhere nice, with a garden but affordable and I needed a new job because I wanted her to give up. She deserved better than sitting there day after day being ignored.

“I promise you the world, Lindsay. A new home, garden, a new job and happiness in abundance, for you, for my children, for both of us.”





The next morning I put my master plan into action. I knew of vacancies for management positions within the company and I applied for them all keen to work up the ladder. However, a chance meeting leaving the office brightened my day. A guy I knew bumped right into me and as we walked to the cars we chatted and he tipped me about new positions in his company. To leave the company I’d worked in for the last ten years would be a bind. It wasn’t my first choice but if none of these positions turned out to be for me then it was another option.

I drove back to the office in time to pick up my soon to be wife, who’d been working a little longer tonight. She was tired, but we went out for a meal and then the pictures. I wanted to spoil her and lay the seeds of the changes I saw for us.

Over potato skin starters I figured this was a good a time as ever but she beat me too it. “Come on, spill it...”

“What?”

“I can tell when you’re plotting something. So what’s on your mind?”

Time to be honest. “Everything.”

“Like what?” She asked as she bit the tip off one skin.

I wanted to kiss her. She was the whole reason I did anything these days. Sometimes it scared me I’d become attached to another person so soon but then I would look at her, see her smile and know that it was right. “I thought the time might be right for us to make plans. A new job for me, time off for you obviously and condensing our two homes into one. A new one, somewhere with a garden.”

“Whereabouts?” she continued to eat unfazed by all the change I’d just mentioned.

“Well, we could still live in the same town, or somewhere different. I guess it depends on how much we’re talking about and what we want.”

“So I should look at houses and wedding dresses?”

“Yes, you should. We need to figure out what’s left on our combined mortgages, what we can sell both houses for and then what we can afford with one wage.”

“One mortgage, just yours.”

Confusion reigned. Did she not want to sell? “I don’t get it...”

She beckoned me closer with her fingers and leaned towards me. “We have your mortgage. I don’t have one.”

“How is that possible?” I exclaimed. “Sorry,” I grabbed her hand and stroked my thumb across her soft skin. “That didn’t sound right. I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything.”

“You didn’t.” She clasped her hand over the top of mine and squeezed. “My mum died from cancer when I was young. For so long it was just Dad and me, then he died, a heart attack. He left me a sum of money but it was much more than that. Dad ran his own successful company, he had partners and now they run it and I get his share of any profit.”

“Wow, I never knew.”

“Not something I talk about. I kinda wanted to make it on my own. So I bought a house where I’d be comfortable. Not too big, not too small and the rest I’ve never touched.”

“You’re one in a million, do you know that.” I squeezed her hand and smiled at this vision before me. “Most women would have spent the lot!”





********





Lindsay





A month after we found out I was pregnant we were on the ferry travelling back out to Holland. Both of us took the same days off between Christmas and New Year which was a minor miracle. I had a funny feeling that my boss knew why I wanted those specific days despite the secrecy. With no family on my side and only David’s grandparents on his it made sense to do something small, just them and us.

To marry in a foreign country in such a short space of time provided its own challenges. We had to announce our intentions on the town hall registry, prove both of us were free to marry which was difficult in David’s case. And we needed a form from the British consulate proving we were free to marry. Seemed like a whole heap of paperwork proving the same things but it was necessary. We had to fly across to Amsterdam to visit the consulate building the week before Christmas to get the paperwork signed and stamped.

I’d never married, so I had no paperwork, but David, well he’d married, divorced and now she was dead. He needed all of it. It was when I read through the requirements I realised he needed a copy of her death certificate but as her ex he didn’t have one. That discovery turned our world upside down again.

David reached out to her father who confirmed they had a copy but refused, reasoning it wasn’t his job to help his ex son-in-law move on. He blamed David even though Jayne left him. Since they weren’t close they didn’t speak, and that hurt matters more. We needed legal help. Everything took time, and it was the wrong time of the year.





I was digging out paperwork, hopeful that his marriage and divorce certificates would be enough, when I discovered an old insurance policy. He walked into the living room and I asked, “Do you still have life insurance or did you claim it?”

“Haven’t cashed it in, I only have the one...”

“An alliance plan, an endowment?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Because I found this.” I handed him the policy document, and he took a moment to look over it. “Do you see it?”

“What?”

I leaned over and pointed at the box containing the lives assured. It said both David and Jayne.

“No way. It’s in joint lives.”

“It means you have a valid reason to get a death certificate. Make the lawyer's appointment David. You need to check if this is still valid, in joint names and if so, what happens to the proceeds.”

“I still pay the direct debit. It’s connected to my mortgage.”

“So the details should be in the divorce paperwork...”

He leaned over and kissed my forehead. “Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am that you fell in love with me.”





He took the policy to his lawyers and after a few days they had news. It was still in joint names and live, therefore claimable. His lawyer got a death certificate from the national register, at a cost since we needed it straight away and put the wheels in motion for claiming the policy. His divorce papers claimed the proceeds were his, but it still caused ructions.

A few days before Christmas he came home flustered. “Bad afternoon?” I asked. I left work at lunchtime as I had my first anti natal appointment. He wanted to attend but at the last minute “The Stick” had called him into a meeting he couldn’t get out of.

He threw himself onto the couch and kicked off his shoes. “Gordon called and asked me how much blood money I was getting.”

“You’re joking! That’s not right.”

“And how does he know I’m getting anything. I’ve been paying the premiums for that plan. She signed over all her rights to any policies secured to the mortgage. I didn’t force her.”

“I know...”

“He said he will object.”

“Can he do that?”

“I guess he can try but its more hassle, arguments and money, fighting over a legal document.”

“Hey,” I reached over and gave him a hug. “He doesn’t realise she signed everything over. He hasn’t seen the paperwork.”

“Yeah you’re right.” I leaned against him and felt the stress ebb out of his body. “Any way what did the doctor say on your visit?”

“She had a whole heap of questions about our medical histories. About where we live, work and so on to make sure we are stable and what support we will need.”

“And what about the baby?”

“She lectured me on good health advice, which I said I knew because I’m gluten-free. Then she went on about birthing plans, breast feeding and on and on. Eventually she checked my blood pressure. Nothing much happens for a few weeks but she booked the first scan for the Thirtieth First of December.”

“Wow, now that is a good ending to the year.”





25.





Lindsay





So here we are sat in a hotel room in the centre of Venlo. Just me and David’s grandmother waiting for the right time to walk down stairs and into the registry office next door. Yes, we could have done this at home but then it would have been him and I, alone. It was too much to ask them to travel at Christmas, better we went to them and special. Few people went to Holland to marry. His grandfather teased about the need to get married and quick but they knew he’d asked me well before we found out.

I’d chosen a white dress, simple, fitted under the bosom so it allowed for my blossoming figure. My increasing breast size and showing stomach gave the news away long before we wanted to let the world know. Met with the same derisory comments that had announced our engagement, at least I wouldn’t have to deal with these people much longer. I chose not to get a strapless dress, fearing for the cold of a December wedding but also the need for my bosom to hold it up. With a small white jacket, which was more wrap than jacket, decorated with crystals and pearls I completed the look with a simple flower band for my hair.

“You look beautiful my dear. Simple stunning and if I may say, positively glowing.”

“Thank you.”

“He’s a lucky boy and I can see how much you love each other. Keep that feeling in your heart and you’ll be fine.”

I hugged her because I wanted to but also because she was right.





On the walk across to the office David’s grandmother, and I took our time. She reminded me the bride always arrived late, but not too much. Since it was just next door we left our room a few minutes to the hour. She walked by my side discussing everyday pleasantries as I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Was this how I saw my wedding to my prince charming as a little girl? No, definitely not but then who gets the fairy tale castle and dashing knight. Few and not me. This was better.

We climbed the stairs up to the office. The plain municipal building didn’t look like a place anyone would want to get married but we opened a door leading into an outer room and that all changed. Soft pastel yellow walls and tall flora decorations adorned the area. Plush red velvet chairs lined the far wall for guests to sit and wait. I saw a board by the doors and our names with the time and smiled. This was happening.





David’s grandmother opened the door and in I walked. He stood, looking handsome in his new grey suit and red tie waiting for me. He held out his hands, and I walked down the makeshift aisle in between rows of empty chairs towards him.





********





David





I had been the one who wanted to spend the night before apart, so I booked two rooms in the hotel. My grandparents arrived that morning since we’d got in late the night before due to a rough crossing. I didn’t sleep a wink worrying about the car, the outfits, whether we would make it to Rotterdam or would we have to turn back. We didn’t leave Hull until late that night to miss the worst weather. It worked because the crossing wasn’t as bad as I feared.

Lindsay lay asleep in my arms. Soon I wouldn’t be able to get near her for the little person inside but I didn’t mind. Sometimes I would lay behind her, and that’s just what I would continue to do. Once we knew she was pregnant I felt an overwhelming sense of protection for her and our child and argued with myself daily as to the best course of action. She wanted normality. I wanted safety, then security.





My job hunting had proved fruitless. “The Stick” had black balled me from getting a promotion. I found out via numerous sources that every time I applied for a higher position they would ask her, my current boss, for feedback prior to interview. She always brought up my inappropriate relationship and the apparent detrimental effect it had on my ability to do my job. Despite the plain facts it didn’t. My only option was to leave, so I applied for jobs outside our company.

We cashed in the insurance policy that Lindsay found and cleared the mortgage which was a huge weight off my shoulders. Now I could sell the house and the money was ours. Gordon was still intent on fighting for a piece of it but my lawyer assured me he had no claim. She relinquished all rights to the house, and any associated endowments in return for her part of the deposit back. We sent Gordon’s lawyers copies of the divorce agreement but still he pressed on with his crusade. It would end in court and badly. Meanwhile, my house was under offer and before we left I’d accepted it. All being well, the paperwork would take six weeks.





Now here I stood in the room ten minutes before I would marry my rescuer fixing my tie.

“All set?”

“Yeah pops, I can’t wait.”

“And you’re doing it for the right reasons?”

“I love her. I want to have a family with her, care for her, and provide for her every day. She made me who I am standing here Pops. She rescued me and made me see the man inside, the man who has unconditional love, for her.”

“Good.” He stood and hugged me with an added back slap.





Inside the registry office I waited for Lindsay. The decision to not see each other was my suggestion since she’d not married before. This was it for her. It saddened me she wouldn’t have the big white wedding. I’d planned a small surprise for our return, a meal with all her friends, and mine and their partners. When we made a list of anyone we would invite to a wedding it wasn’t huge and a meal popped into my head. She thought it was a non-starter since it was between Christmas and New Year but I organised it anyway.

Time clicked on. My nerves climbed as the clock ticked on to a few minutes past the hour. I didn’t remember being this nervous when I married Jayne but then we had months and months of preparation time rather than a few weeks. While waiting my mind drifted. At the start of the year, married to Jayne. Yet less than twelve months later I was about to marry Lindsay and she was pregnant with my child. It blew my mind, and I understood why my pops had asked if I was ready. This was a huge step, but it was right. My head told me so, my heart told me so.





She appeared looking beautiful and all my nerves disappeared with each step she took. My future life practically sprinting towards me. Chest hurting, ready to burst with love and happiness she stopped by my side.

“Hey,” I whispered. “Glad you could make it.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” she said with a smile.





26.





Lindsay





We spent a further two days with David’s grandparents enjoying life and relaxing before we came home. The ceremony, although simple, was perfect for us. Ten minutes to officiate a union we hoped would last a lifetime. If we could still be together at the age his grandparents were then we’d been a success.

Back home I unlocked the door and David scooped me up into his arms. “Let’s do this properly.” He kissed me and carried me across the threshold.

“Are you going to do that again when we find a new home?”

“Yes. Although you might be heavier, then.”

We walked through laughing but both of us stood in shock as there was three large bunches of flowers and a bottle of champagne on the unit. Only Adele had keys to our home other than David and I, so it had to be her. I couldn’t drink it but I appreciated the gesture.

“That’s nice,” he said putting me back down on the floor. “Will we save the plonk till the little one comes?”

He was forever thinking of us. “We can get more so we could open it.”

“Let’s save it.” He kissed my forehead and went back out for the bags.





There were messages galore on our answer machine that surprised me because we only ever got calls for surveys. There were a couple from David’s lawyer about his house sale but an interesting one for both of us from the estate agent. He’d found a house new to the market which he said we should view as soon as possible. David called him back and within an hour we were back on our way out of the house and across to view the property.

The agent was right. This was in an older development rather than a brand new one with houses still being built. There was a fence around it, with large gates over the driveway and a smaller one leading to a path up to the front door. We knocked, and the agent opened the door.

Inside we wandered around, the agent having told us that the owner was on holiday but looking for a quick sale. David took my hand, and we walked through the hall and into an open plan living, dinging and kitchen area. My eyes widened desperate to take it all in. This could well be my dream house. I loved wide open spaces, and it was ideal for our growing family. Somewhere I could see them at all times. He said little, just squeezed my hand as we walked towards the kitchen.

This was three times the size of our existing area with plenty of power sockets for his gadgets and plenty of cupboards and unit space. “This is beautiful,” I said.

He nodded then pulled me towards the door. “Let’s look upstairs.”





The house had a split stair case built with a 180 degree angle change halfway up. This I liked because it was safer for little ones. At the front we found the master suite with walk in shower room off the corner and a large closet with plenty of room for all our bits. I had little in the way of clothes compared to a normal female. To spend money on bags and shoes I would wear once didn’t appeal at all.

Between the master bedroom and the three at the back was a nice size family bathroom, with lovely large beige tiles on the wall split with small glass tiles. I loved that look, especially with the matching floor tiles. In the back were three large single bedrooms, big enough to be children’s bedrooms or guest rooms.

“You like it, don’t you?”

“I do, I really do.” I walked across to where he was staring out of the bedroom window into the back garden and wrapped my arms around him. He lifted his arm and pulled me in close.

“Let’s do it. Both our houses should give us a tidy profit. One’s sold, the other well it’s got people who have viewed it. We could use most or not all of it towards this and not need a mortgage.”

“What if I used some of the money I have stashed away and then we don’t need one at all. I’d rather we had a home, free and clear then a bunch of numbers somewhere.” Ever since we looked at new homes it had been on my mind. If I would be a mum then I wanted to spend time at home and not feel like I had to go to work. Maggie blackballed him and he was considering leaving the job he loved for us, so this was my way of helping ease the worries.

“I can’t ask you to do that Lindsay. I can manage.”

“It’s my way of investing in our future. I want to.”

He kissed the top of my head and squeezed me as tight as he dared given my growing bump that had exploded over the last few days. “Okay.”





Downstairs we told our agent to put in a in a bid as close to what the homeowner wanted and start from there. He shook our hands enthusiastically, happy that he had found us a new home.





That night David insisted we went out to celebrate, given that most restaurants would be booked up the following few days with New Year parties and bookings. I walked into the restaurant before him and waited for a waiter to show us to a table. David grabbed my hand and walked me through into the back area all decked out in cream and silver balloons. Suddenly Adele and her fiancé jumped out, scaring the life out of me followed by more of my friends and some of David’s. All clapping and happy for the two of us.





********





David





I watched Lindsay as we sat in the restaurant surrounded by those closet friends who had stuck by us. Sure she was the only one who bothered with me in the hard times but I realised some of mine just didn’t know how to help. Women embrace their friends, help them dissect their problems whereas men don’t. They met you for a pint and take you out for a night out to meet another woman and that wasn’t what I needed.

Centre of attention wasn’t a place that Lindsay was comfortable with but for tonight she went with it. Drinks and laughter flowed and with it she relaxed and enjoy herself. When Adele tried to give us a present with a joke about “What do you buy the couple who have everything?” I saw the resistance in her eyes soften. In fact, they gave us gift vouchers to get whatever we needed for our new house. That was a nice thought and much appreciated. If nothing moving to a bigger house would show what we were lacking.





The following morning we went to her scan appointment. Both of us sat in the waiting room hands wrapped together waiting for her name to be called. What struck me was that so far nothing much checked our child. This was the first appointment where the focus was on both of them. Hopefully they could also give us a firm date. So far we knew it would be June. That was my deadline for a new job, a new home and for a room to be finished. This was the first scan so impossible to tell if we were having a boy or a girl but I wasn’t sure I wanted that information anyway.

“Lindsay Faulkner?” Her name rang out over the tannoy. “Please go to room two.”

“Don’t worry I’m changing that,” she said as I stood up and offered her a hand.

I smiled. “I know!”





Inside the room a table laying front of a machine hooked up to a computer screen. A technician turned and smiled at us as I shut the door. “Please take a seat on the bed Lindsay and you can pull over a chair.” I did as she instructed.

“Can I get you to change the name on my records,” Lindsay asked. “We got married a few days ago and I need to update it.”

“I can’t, but if you go to central records after this, they can do it for you as long as you have an official document.”

I knew she’d mentioned it this morning she would carry the certificate so we could go to the bank later and change account names.

“Okay Lindsay lay back and lift your top.”

She did as the technician required and I held her hand as she settled back. Our clasped hands were to reassure her as it was me. The woman placed gel on Lindsay’s exploding belly and using a hand held scanner she moved it around. She made a few hums and ah noises then said, “Would you like to hear the heart beat?”

“Yes,” we both exclaimed.

She flicked a switch and a whooshing sound with a fast thud filled the room. “Hang on a minute,” the technician exclaimed. She moved the probe around and the sounds changed. The thud grew faster and appeared to happen twice in quick succession. “Do multiple births run in your family?”

“No,” I replied and glanced at Lindsay who shook her head.

The technician moved the probe to Lindsay’s side and said, “There you are.” She looked at both of our concerned faces. “Now there are two parents in shock. You’re having twins.”





27.





Lindsay





It took two weeks into the New Year before the news sank in. A wedding and new home was earth shuddering in our little family but twins that news blew the two of us sideways. My first worries were monetary. Buying two of everything and a larger stroller would soon mount up. I could use my nest egg but David might be resistant to that. Other than that could I cope? Could we both cope? I read everything I could to learn what to expect leading up to their birth and afterwards. The first few months would be the worst and I had to hope I didn’t need a caesarean or my recovery would need factored in. I had always been a practical person, but this needed new extremes even for me.





My house had sold, David’s had completed despite Gordon’s best efforts to stop the sale and our first offer for the new house was acceptable. We’d be moving in a matter of weeks. Now all we needed was news of a new job for my beloved. I looked at him day after day from my desk and saw the pain of doing a job that had deserted him. Part of me now knew he was putting off leaving till I did, which would be earlier now we knew I was having twins. That news I’d kept to myself, not wanting to become the latest gossip again.

Originally I intended to keep working until my eighth month or week thirty six, all being well. Now that would have to come forward to week thirty two, since I would probably deliver them at week thirty six, the books told me. At the same time as I knew he was holding out, I didn’t want to leave him here on his own. He needed a fresh start, somewhere away from accusations and backbiting because he fell in love.





We told our nearest and dearest about the news. Adele was over the moon and there and then I knew she would be a godmother to at least one of them. David’s grandparents were beside themselves with joy and even offered to come back to the UK and help out as long as we needed them. That would be a god send having them around but meant we had to get at least another room decorated. It seemed like every time we solved one puzzle another problem came along.





By the time we were packing I’d hit twenty weeks and exploded. I could help with light stuff but nothing else. We had no option but to hire a proper packing and removal firm. Thankfully their quotes weren’t too bad and affordable. The last thing I wanted was an argument over money. David’s excess stuff from his house was in storage, so required no packing, just removal from the storage to the house. It was mine causing the issue. I’d lived in that house close to eight years and amassed an armada of junk, never throwing much away. Now it had to go.

We came up with a system where he would pack things if I moved them into piles, keep, donate or bin. It felt like storage hoarders but on a far smaller scale.





On removal day my job was to sit in the new house and deal with all the deliveries, telling them where things were to go. I labelled the bedrooms, one to four, so all I had to do was give them a number and retreated to the kitchen to unpack. It took all day but everything was in although piled high in each room. As soon as David arrived from making sure my old home was empty he grabbed his tools and went straight to putting our bed together.

The days rolled on, and it looked like our home but we were still unprepared for our imminent arrivals and we had decisions to make.

“What are you hoping for? Boys or girls?” I asked one night as we sat at our new dining table.

“As long as they are healthy and so are you, I don’t mind.”

“But if you could choose?” He ate the mouthful of steak and I saw the pondering in his eyes. “Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer!” I said with a chuckle then saw that sexy smile that got us into this mess.

“In an ideal world I’d like it to be a boy and a girl, non identical ones. That way we will have one of each.”

“So you need not have more?”

“No.” He laughed cutting his next fork full of food. “That way there’s no pressure for more children to be boys or girls?”

“You want more? Let’s see how bad twins are first!”

He leaned over as close as her could across the corner of the table and planted a warm sweet kiss brimming with passion and honey mustard sauce on my lips. “Deal but we have plenty of room.”

“Would you want to know?” I asked. The real reason for starting this line of conversation.

“What?”

“If we were having boys or girls?”

“No, I don’t think so.” He finished what remained on his plate, placed the cutlery together, lifted his glass and sat back in his chair. “I guess that means I’m painting the nursery yellow!”





********





David





My phone interrupted my process of painting the walls with a pale yellow base coat. I’d been daydreaming of the next steps, sticking balloons and animals on the walls ready for my twins and didn’t hear it. Paint brush in one hand I fished around my pocket. “Hello?”

“David, you sent in an application for a commercial manager’s job?”

“Yes.” I’d applied for about twenty management jobs, so if he didn’t tell me where he was from I’d have to fish about for an answer.

“Well, this is Donald for the HR department of Asset Management solutions. Do you have time for a quick phone interview?”

“No problem, I can do that.”





We chatted for about twenty minutes until Lindsay waddled upstairs with two coffees and said, “On a tea break already?” As she entered the room without seeing I was on the phone. I waved at her and she placed the mugs down and quietly took a seat.

“Okay thanks, yes I can make that. Thank you for your time.” I smiled as I hung up.

“Good news?” she asked.

“The best. An interview and it’s not a company in town. They have an office over in the industrial estate, at the bottom of the road by the energy giants.”

“Wow, local.” Lindsay picked up a mug and handed it over before sitting back in the comfy chair.

She looked tired, and I knew she wasn’t sleeping well at all. I’d ordered a body pillow for her to sleep on to help but with two sets of feet in there kicking her insides, who could blame her. I walked over and sat on the floor in front on the chair. “Did you order the cribs and units?”

“Yeah, all done. Be here in three days.”

“So we’re all sorted in here then?”

“Yes. I think we are.” She reached down and ran her hand through the side of my hair. “This is getting long. You should get it cut before your interview.”

I placed my hand on her knee. “I will.”

“Are we ready?”

“Will we ever be?”

I knew what she meant. One new arrival was daunting but two was damn right petrifying.





28.





Lindsay





This was it, the end of one life, the start of another. My last day in work. David was in court this morning, fighting over the joint life insurance policy that Gordon had decided should be shared, rather than used to pay off David’s mortgage. I wanted to go, but he wanted me focused on finishing work. What he didn’t realise was the not knowing was far worse.





Here we go I said to myself as I walked through the doors leading from the elevators to our team area. It was usual practice to decorate the desk of someone who was leaving, to go to another job or to have a baby. Just as it was for big, significant birthdays. This part of the day had my nerves twisted but I should have known better. Even from the doors, locked with a security swipe pad, I could see the outline of my desk and the lack of any decorations. I should have expected but didn’t believe it. They had ignored my last day in work. I’d agreed a return date in a year’s time but David and I knew I had no intention and a month before that return date I would resign.

In the last few months the two friends closest within the team had left the building. I was meeting both for lunch at a local sandwich shop since there was no point going to the pub. No one else had even asked me if I wanted to organise a team lunch. As I laid tubs of cakes and a bag of sweets on the cupboard top I realised none of them may realise that I was finishing today.

I flicked my computer on, took a glance around my blank desk, clear of all my pictures and assorted decorations. It didn’t look like my desk anymore. I’d been talking a little home each day for the last two weeks to prepare for today. Now as I sat down and looked around the empty department I could say goodbye knowing I gave it my all, every day.





It was ten o’clock before anyone approached the cache of sugar laden treats and no one said thank you, despite an email that said, enjoy. I didn’t say why, I figured since they witnessed me cleaning my desk and the fact I was the size of a whale was enough of a giveaway. If they wanted to ignore me then I would do the same, for one more day. Once one took something the flood gates opened. They were at the other side of the cupboards, a few feet away from my desk, but significantly for me, hidden from view by my monitor. I couldn’t eat any of them so didn’t want to see them. It sounds bad, but I wasn’t jealous of those eating, neither was I angry. I brought the cakes in to keep me right and bugger anyone else!





David text me to say they had gone in to the court. I wished him luck. He didn’t need it but I crossed my fingers anyway and hoped the session wouldn’t take long as I wanted him to meet us for lunch.





********





David





By ten o’clock and with shattered nerves the thought of facing my former father-in-law across a court room wasn’t high on my wish list. Not today. When the dates came through I couldn’t believe it. Lindsay’s last day. The one day I needed to be in work and yet here I was standing in the hall waiting. I hadn’t felt this useless in months but I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I felt like this. I wanted this over. Done. We needed to move on.

Gordon walked down the hall dressed in a blue pinstriped suit and dark tie. His hair had greyed since Jayne’s funeral contrasting his incredible tan. He stopped, turned his back on me from a few feet away and watched the door.

“Should I wander over and say anything?” I asked my lawyer. This kind of thing left me cold and unsure. Family member against family member. He was grieving for his daughter. That’s what I told myself. I repeated it every time I needed reminding but part of me wondered why he was doing this. They weren’t close at all. We rarely visited them all the time we were together. No family dinners, Christmas’s, nothing.

“No, I suggest you leave him to himself.”

I took his advice since he had never steered me wrong.





Ten minutes later we were inside a court room. Him on one side, me on the other. We’d been here two weeks previous to deliver evidence from both our sides and this was the results. As we waited for the sheriff to read his report my mind wandered back to the day I came home and she had left. He helped her clean me out and now he thought he was doing the same. I described it to Lindsay as a man on a mission to hurt me. Not her, just me and I wasn’t sure why.

We had never spoken of the reasons Jayne left. I couldn’t imagine what she told him or what he thought, but his actions told me he blamed me. I guessed as a father he thought if we’d stayed together she’d still be here. My lawyer agreed that’s exactly what he was doing. I was the object of his anger and he couldn’t move on. With my new family about to double in size that was a chance I wasn’t prepared to take, so we had to fight him head on.

My lawyer turned and shook my hand. I hadn’t heard a word of the sheriff’s judgement. Not one. “What?”

“I knew you’d phased out. We won. Case thrown out. The divorce decree and conditions she wanted are all upheld.”

“Wow,” I exclaimed. “No conditions, no nothing?”

“No. I told you the decree was the best thing we had, and that it was her conditions. Her wishes.” We both looked over and saw him talking to his lawyer. Deflated by the verdict. “He’s wondering if he should appeal.”

“Can he?” I whispered.

“He could try but he won’t win. That paperwork is ironclad.”

As we spoke I noticed him hovering by the table behind which we sat. “You win round one,” he spat. “I’m not done with you yet!”

“What is your problem?”

“You. You killed her!”

I recoiled in the chair as his lawyer grabbed his arm and tried to pull him out of the court room. My lawyer stood in front of me. “Your daughter left my client. He didn’t force her out. The divorce was her idea and these are her wants, not his,” he exclaimed and turned to point at me. “Listen, one father of a deceased child to another. Drop it or you will face more heartache.”





I got to town as fast as I could. I text Lindsay to say I’d fill her in at lunch time and even though she replied I could tell it wasn’t going well. It was time to switch my focus. Since I had the morning off and I was due into work for three hours I met her outside. She waddled towards me and I couldn’t wait to have her in my arms.

In the sandwich shop we sat and waited for her friends. She told me about the morning and it sounded horrific. Modern day emotional trauma inflicted deliberately. She didn’t deserve that, but she had a whole four hours to tough it out. We went over the morning’s developments and I tried not to worry her despite it sitting in the back of my mind. That was my job now. Not to lie to her or hide things but to protect her from every single detail.





On the way back into work, we stopped by security and dropped off the balloon and gift bags that her friends had bought her. If her team mates didn’t want to help her celebrate, we would not rub their noses in it. I’d love to, but she wanted to get through the afternoon as quickly as possible.

“Do you realise this is the last lunchtime you will walk back onto this floor?” I asked as I opened the door for her.

“Yeah.”

“Sad?”

“No. I think it’s time.”

Before we walked out onto the floor I stopped and pulled her as close as her bump would allow. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”

She looked at me and I melted in sorrow for her having to go through this. “Together?”

With a nod we walked around the corner and towards our respective desks, hand in hand.





I ran from one meeting to another all afternoon, with a quick coffee stop in the middle. I bought her one, taking a chance, unsure if she needed one since I hadn’t been back at my desk. She did. Sat with her eyes fixed on her computer, I saw the emotional drain this placed on her. I placed the coffee on her desk and bent down to kiss her head. Sod everyone else this was my wife, and they were hurting her. Her eyes glistened as she looked up. “Not long,” I whispered. “Wanna leave early?”

“Yeah. Just come and get me when you can leave. I’m done.”

With a new quickness in my step I headed back to my desk.





At half three, I emailed her to say – get ready – this is your five minute warning and don’t worry I’ve squared it with your boss. She replied with a quick and fed up okay. I walked across a few minutes later as she was logging off her computer. She took her name plate off her monitor, stuck it in the top drawer and locked them before signing out on the slip of paper on top of the cupboards. No one said a word to her, not even goodbye. They talked between themselves since their manager was in a meeting. We walked away past the rest of her team, still no one spoke. I took her rucksack and threw it over my shoulder before taking her hand in mine. As we walked out of the area one of her team leaders got out of the elevator. He held it for her before saying, “See you on Monday...”

“Maybe in a year’s time,” she replied, and the doors closed.





29.





Lindsay





My first week of maternity leave flew passed. At the weekend David built the two cots, two chests of drawers, one that would double as a changing table. Now it was my job to organise clothes, toiletries, nappies and everything else. I did a little each day. That was all I could do, it was getting too hard to move about too much. The pressure on my back and abdomen immense.





The second Monday morning something wasn’t right, and I stayed in bed. Everything hurt far too much to do anything apart from rest. We’d had a busy weekend shopping for the last few pieces and had been across at Adele’s checking out the pram and car seats we’d ordered. An old fashioned tradition I didn’t want them in the house until after their births.

I woke on Tuesday and felt much better. I had a little more energy which at thirty four weeks, pregnant with twins wasn’t saying much. Now all I could do was potter about. The bell rang. I climbed off the couch and waddled to the front door. We’d had so many deliveries of baby items I assumed it was more. The bell rang again, and again impatiently. “Hang on I’m coming.” I yanked the front door open as a man walked away. His back to the door he was about ten feet away, silver hair and older I guessed from the rear.

“Can I help you?” I asked. He’d made me rush from the couch least he could do was explain.

The man turned, and I recognised Jayne’s father, Gordon. “So this is what he bought with his money!”

“Excuse me?”

“David! Used his stolen cash to buy this grand place for his new floosie.”

“I’m sorry, Gordon isn’t it. This is as much my home as David’s and we bought it with money that was ours. Can I help you with something?”

“You can let me in so I can wait for them.”

“I’m sorry...”

“Get out of my way woman!”

He pushed me to the side and tried to walk in the door. It took everything I had to stop him but it wasn’t enough. He pushed me backwards, and I fell into the unit where we kept all our post and keys. My back scraped along the wood and I cried out.

“Where are they? Where are they?” he yelled running in and out of the living room and kitchen doors.

I reached for my mobile phone in my pocket. David had insisted that while he was at work I carry it everywhere in case I went into labour. Now I needed it. I called 999 as he ran upstairs. As calmly as I could, I explained my husband’s ex father-in-law had stormed into our home. He was running about threatening to hurt my husband, who was at work and me. They said they would dispatch a unit then I asked for an ambulance as I was thirty four weeks pregnant with twins and in agony. I don’t know if my calmness put them off but that snippet of information made her jump into action.

He ran upstairs and back down, he yelled at me asking where they were and I realised that he’d snapped. He didn’t even realise who I was. I guess swelled as I was I looked different to everyone. Finally, I heard the tones of emergency vehicles as he began to thrown items round our living room.

A police man appeared at the side of the door, crouched but in my eye line. Another one stooped his head around the door and looked at me. Before I could say anything crashing noses came from the kitchen. They entered bypassing me and one went into the living room, the other the kitchen.

I heard shouting and a few more crashes, then an almighty thud and I passed out.





********





David





The first I heard something was wrong was a phone call I almost ignored because it was from Lindsay. I was heading to a meeting and my first thought was to call her back. Given I hadn’t spoken to her for a few hours I answered it, then dropped the phone on the desk.

I ran out of the building and all the way to the car. The police said she was in the Infirmary and mentioned an attack in our home, nothing more and nothing less. Terrified I was about to lose her I drove like a man possessed, shouting and swearing at other road users. Accident and Emergency in a big city hospital was daunting with people shouting, swearing and I wanted to find out where she was and take her home.

“Hi,” I said politely to the receptionist. “My wife, Lindsay McClellan came in. She’s pregnant with twins.”

“She’s not here.”

I froze. Course she was, the police they said so. “Sorry has she not arrived yet?”

“No she was here, but they took her to maternity. She went into labour, about...” she looked at the clock behind her as my nerves screamed. “Half an hour ago. Upstairs, third floor.”

I took off running before saying thank you even crossed my mind.





After another fifteen minutes I found her in a small room hooked up to a monitor. The band of fear constricting my chest, released, and I took a deep breath. No matter what, this was it and I wasn’t leaving her side. I stepped into her room and slid across to her bedside. There was a strange white pad behind her head. I leaned closer and saw two small red blotches. Blood, shit, what the hell. I felt something touch my arm, and I looked down at her to see those eyes shining up at me.

“Hey, you’re here.”

My heart lurched with relief as I flopped into the plastic chair by her bedside. “What the hell happened?” I asked and raised her hand to my lips, placing soft, fluttering kisses on the back as I nestled it against my face.

“David McClellan?”

I heard my name and turned. “Yes,” I replied as a police officer walked into the room. He stopped by the bottom of Lindsay’s bed. Open notebook in his hand he stood glancing first at me, then her monitor behind my head. “What happened?” I figured he might have answers since it was the police that called me.

“Do you know this man?” He leaned across her bed and handed me a phone already turned on.

I looked at the screen not believing at first. “That’s my former father-in-law, Gordon.” Lindsay took her hand out of mine and squirmed around the bed. “Why do you have a photo of him?”

“This is the man we found running around your home. He assaulted your wife and caused damage I imagine will be in the thousands of pounds region.”

As he spoke I tore my eyes from him and stared at Lindsay. “He’s the reason you’re here?”

“He pushed me as I opened the door. Knocked me into the unit and I slid to the floor as he ran into the living room shouting for you and your new wife.”

“I believe she had a lucky escape. If he had realised she was your new wife, she’d be in a worse state.” He flipped open his notebook as I tried to take Lindsay’s hand in mine again. “He’s in the hospital at the minute...”

“Not this one?” I stated, panicked.

“No. It’s across the other side of town. In a secure wing.”

“You think he’s lost it?”

He nodded and said, “I think it’s obvious he’s had a break.” I glanced at Lindsay and she nodded.

Another officer entered the room but his face turned into his radio mike and I didn’t realise until he stopped listening that I knew him.

“Jason!” Lindsay exclaimed. “I didn’t know you were a police officer.”

He walked around her bed to the other side. “Sorry, I got there a few minutes after the original officers and realised it was you. It was me that called you, David. I grabbed her mobile and figured out what your number was.”

“Thanks,” I said with a smile. Unlikely as it was, I found reassurance that in her worst moments at least there was someone there who knew her. Someone was looking down on her.

“Look I have to step back from the investigation because I know both sides of the family.” Jason explained as he pulled another plastic chair to her bedside. “I play football with Mark, Gordon’s son, and you two. I’ll act as liaison between you and the police instead if that’s okay.”

Any help was always gratefully received although I did not understand why Gordon was reacting this way. Lindsay screamed and dragged me from my thoughts right back to her. “Are you okay?” I asked. I couldn’t think straight. The piercing sound rang in my ears.

“No, it’s starting...”

I grabbed her hand, and she clenched against it. Both Jason and his colleague looked at each other and left the room, Jason saying, “I’ll get the nurse!”





30.





Lindsay





When the first pain started my mind screamed it was far too early. I was six weeks early, this wasn’t happening, but it was and nothing anyone said was stopping it. In all honesty no one tried to slow the babies down or restrict their arrival, not that they had a chance. The doctors told us first babies take time to arrive and that sometimes the process may take a few days but these two had other ideas.

I don’t remember too much about their labour just the mad dash to the delivery room and David dressed in blue scrubs with a funny cap on his head. Next thing we both remember, our sons lay in our arms.





The next morning we went along to the neo natal unit to see them both. Whisked away in incubators last night named as Baby McClellan One and Baby McClellan Two. They were breathing on their own, if a little sluggish, and were smaller as they were twins but other than that they were perfect. When David pushed me towards the unit the nerves crippled my heart. No-one had confirmed their condition, preferring just to say they’re doing okay. But what did that even mean. I soon found out.

Both boys lay in incubators with leads off tiny monitors strapped to their hands but neither hooked up to tubes. David wheeled me in and parked the chair between both incubators.

A nurse walked across. “They’re doing well.”

“Are they really?” The love of my life touched my shoulder and squeezed. He’d been quite this morning, I assumed from the stress of yesterday, but it occurred that it was worry for his sons.

“You can feed them,” the nurse said. “Let’s set you two up in the chairs.” She nodded towards two rocking chairs in the corner of the unit.

David wheeled me over and I climbed into one chair. David sat in the other as the nurse brought a small tray containing two bottles, bibs and wipes and placed it on the table between us. She handed one baby over, wrapped in a light blue blanket, wearing nothing more than a nappy and a small baby blue cotton hat. Then handed the other to David.

“How unreal is this?” I said and smiled at him. “Can we do this?”

“You know we can.” The love for me and the twins evident from the smile that stretched around the room.





After a nap for both the twins and I, David wheeled me back down to the nursery. The leads were no longer attached to their skin and the sides of the incubators lifted. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“They are fine. Healthy and ready to go to the normal nursery, or by your bed for a while.”

I looked up at David from my chair and grinned. This was a miracle after the last few days. To hear that made everything else disappear.





Back in my room Jason sat on the chair by the bed dressed in his uniform. He was bent forward reading a small notebook.

“Jason,” David said, thrusting his hand out ready to shake. “Is everything okay?”

He jumped up, and I noticed how official he looked.

“Yes. Sorry thought you’d want to know Gordon’s sectioned. Twenty eight days in a facility where he‘ll be assessed because he’d not fit to be charged.”

“So he’s snapped?”

“Looks like it David. Grief probably.”

“That and the battle over money.” David looked at the floor, crestfallen. “I knew he wasn’t thinking straight.”

“What battle?” Jason asked. Pencil posed ready to make notes,

David sat in the chair by his side and filled him in while I lay back against the pillow.

“Wow, well that would make a father snap. Anyway his family want to assure you they want to put this mess right.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Help fix the house.” He looked at us, pity in his eyes. “He did a number on your new house. The damage, while not structural, will cost a few bob.”

“We’re insured.” I stated.

“Figures, but I think they want to make it right.” I watched as he gazed at David. “I take it you haven’t been home?”

“Err no I stayed with Lindsay and the boys last night. I guess I will tonight.” He glanced at me, then back to Jason. “Should I stay away?”

“No, just give me a shout and I’ll come with you. Ease you into the situation.” He turned to face me. “So how long are you going to be here?”

“Dunno why?”

“Need to fix that house up before you bring two little ones home.”

“It’s bad then?” David asked again.

Jason laughed. “Well mate, you need a new TV.”





Later that afternoon David woke me from a quick nap by kissing my forehead. “You have visitors.”

I opened my eyes and glanced at the door. Two nurses wheeled two small plastic bowls through the door. I’d never seen hospital baby cribs, but they seemed like long plastic tubs. “Two little boys are hungry.”

David handed me one boy. He took the other, and we fed our sons. “We need to give them names,” I said as my son sucked hungrily. “Any ideas?”

“I guess we didn’t get to thinking about them, did we?” He looked at me and I felt my heart twang with love. Tears rolled down my face, but I didn’t have a free hand to wipe them away. “Hey now,” he said and stood, balancing our son and a bottle in one hand to pass me a tissue. “Overwhelming, isn’t it?”

To nod my answer was as much as my shattered hormones could give.

“I have an unusual idea.”

“What?” I asked through the drips of tears that continued to fall.

“Name the boys after our Dad’s.”

“You know they will get shortened?”

“I do.”

He smiled. The one that started my tears.

“Okay. So say hello Thomas and Joseph McClellan.”





********





David





Hours later I left Lindsay and our boys in the hospital and travelled home. Jason told me to meet him at the end of the road. His comments scared me. Just what was I about to walk into? If the house was as bad as I feared my sons weren’t coming home soon.





I parked and called my grandparents and tell them of our choice of names. My grandfather approved whole heartedly, and that refilled my heart with joy. They intimated they wanted to travel over and I promised to call them back once I knew if they could stay with us. If not I would put them in the same hotel we would have to move into. Jason drove past, parking his patrol car just in front of mine as I finished my call.

“Ready for this?” he asked leaning against my car window frame.

“I guess.”

“Well, remember to let me know what’s missing but apart from that it’s damaged items for the Insurance claim.”

I nodded. “Is it still a crime scene?”

“No. You can have your home back.”





Jason drove down the road and I followed. He parked in front of one garage. I in front of the other. This was our dream home. Big enough to grow with our family and where we wanted to live. I hoped whatever lay inside didn’t change that. Jason stood by my front door, keys dangling from his hand.

“Lindsay opened the door to Gordon, he didn’t break in.”

I nodded.

“When the scenes of crime guy left I asked him to lock the door using her keys and let me have them. Least I could do was to save you the expense of a new front door.” Jason opened the door and handed the keys over. He clutched the handle. “Remember, no one’s been in, so it’s as is.”





Inside the first thing I saw was the unit shoved into the wall causing a crack in the plasterboard and a blood trail to the floor. “Is that where?”

“Yes,” Jason butted in placing his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t think about it mate. She’s fine.”

His hand eased me into what was our living room. My big TV lay on the floor, ripped from the wall. “What the hell?” I exclaimed. I expected the damage but to see the hole in the wall where his sheer strength ripped the bracket from its fixings. “What got into him?”

“Look I didn’t want to say anything in front of Lindsay but it took three policemen to tackle him to the floor.” Jason walked towards the kitchen. “It’s worse in here.”

I followed but just stood there aghast at the damage. Everything we had placed on the worktops now lay on the floor. Appliances stamped on, crockery and glass smashed. He’d lost his mind. “I don’t even know where to start!”

“Upstairs looked untouched, but you’d better check.”

I took off running up the stairs towards the nursery. It had been my pride and joy. The hours I put into getting it right flashed before my eyes. At the top I stopped. The door still closed. I gripped the handle, the lack of breath hurting my chest. Slowly I exhaled and turned the knob, opening the door. Tears fell from my eyes. The room untouched. Immaculate as we left it.

“David, how’s the upstairs?”

I heard Jason hollering and leaned over the stair banister. “Boy’s room is all okay. Just need to check the others.”

He smiled at me and I backed up to begin the search of other rooms. One by one, I checked the two guestrooms, closets and family bathroom to find nothing touched. I entered our bedroom feeling relief the damage wasn’t greater but once I opened the door an obnoxious smell assaulted my nostrils. Our bed untouched so I turned the corner towards the bathroom. Once again he had swiped the unit clear of everything and bottles of aftershave broke on the tile floor alongside Lindsay’s perfumes. Footsteps behind me stooped me moving further as I turned in surprise.

“Sorry,” Jason said. “I got a whiff of that smell and knew it wasn’t good.”

“Just the mix of liquids I think.”

Jason stepped into the bathroom before my mind focused and opened the small window in the far wall. “That should help.”





“Hello? Hello? Is anybody home?” Voices rang out from downstairs.

Jason took off walking out of the room before me. His protective nature on display. “Police on the property. State your business.”

His voice boomed through the upstairs hall and he was half way down the stairs before I was at the top.

“Guess he does this all the time,” I reasoned quietly as I took my first steps downstairs. I stopped halfway, red hot anger searing my heart. Below, standing in the doors were Jayne’s brothers.

“We’re here to help. Clean up, replacement things. Whatever you need mate.” Both of them looked towards Jason before looking back at me. “We don’t know what came over him but we’re very sorry, so is Mum and ashamed of him. Please can we help?”

Jason turned to look at me. I don’t know why but he moved towards the bottom of the stairs, maybe it was my red anger filled face. He took two steps up, stopped and said, “It’s up to you mate.”





31.





Five years later





I have a habit of standing still on an important day and looking backwards to acknowledge how far I have come as a man, husband and father. Only one major decision haunts me. I often wonder what life would be like if I’d made a different decision the afternoon I came home. I said yes not that it mattered. Her brothers helped with clean up and plastered the living room and hall walls but our home insurance arranged a delivery of replacement kitchen items, plus new TV within days. The boys came home with Lindsay a week after their birth and we settled into our new life, but trouble wasn’t far away.





A month after Gordon burst through the front door he appeared before a court to answer for his crimes. As his lawyer spoke of his family’s actions to help us, Gordon flew into a rage. The judge removed from the court and placed back into a facility where his mental state could be monitored. Six months later he hung himself after disowning his family completely.

I attended his funeral. That was the first time I’d wondered what might have happened if I’d said No?

“Not your fault.” That’s what both his son’s said repeatedly. It might not be but it took a while for their words to sink in.





I reached out a few months later, wanting to make sure Jayne’s mum was okay, and she was. She worried more about me and how things affected our lives so I invited her in to it. Lindsay welcomed her with open arms, keen to show that there were no long lasting effects on her or the boys. Now as we celebrate the boy’s fifth birthday Jayne’s family have become our extended family and are as much a part of their celebration as my grandparents. Lindsay stayed close with Brian’s parents and Jason and they popped in from time to time and I fully expected them to be a part of today.





Life had turned on its head. Lindsay’s generous gift of no mortgage on our home lifted the burden from my shoulders and allowed me to become the Dad I dreamed of. When the boys turned two, she surprised me with news of another pregnancy. We’d talked about it but months passed and nothing happened. Once again blessed with twins, this time girls, Laura and Emily joined our now finished brood. Four kids enough for anyone.





I walked the boys to school then biked over the bridge and along the road to work on the other side of the dual carriageway. I could practically see our home from my office window. Gone were the days of a lengthy commute.

Neither of us could believe how life changed for the better. How happy we were and the events that shaped them for good. It wasn’t all bliss. There were ups and downs but nothing we couldn’t handle together. Every day I walked into my little nest, kissed my children and my wife. Glad I took that chance to kiss her and overjoyed I grasped the courage to ask her to marry me.

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